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Dead Space Series Retrospective

It’s time once again to suit up and zero-g jump into action as Isaac Clarke, as Visceral Games and EA have released another chilling installment of the “Dead Space” franchise. “Dead Space 3″ launches this week, and to prepare we’re taking a brief look back on the first two entries in this horrifying series.

In the original game, the year is 2414 and Isaac Clarke (named after science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke) works as space age engineer for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (CEC). In this future, humans have constructed giant starships used for mining resources from other planets knows as “planet-crackers”. When one of these planet-crackers the USG Ishimura emits a distress signal the CEC dispatches Clarke, and supporting characters Kendra Daniels, and Commander Zach Hammond to investigate. What they find ends up taking them on a rollercoaster ride of chills, thrills, and bloody spills when the crew crash lands on the Ishimura and must figure out a way to restore power to the now defunct ship, while unearthing the mystery of the missing crew. Too make matters worse, Isaac’s wife Nicole was stationed aboard the Ishimura as a medic, so the dire situation becomes far more personal for Isaac as he searches for her amidst the turmoil. Within moments the crew is viciously attacked by undead abominations known as “necromorphs”, the reanimated corpses of the crew mutated into monstrous alien creatures in a fashion similar to John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. As the trio delve deeper into the dark corridors of the Ishimura they eventually discover the dealings of a religious cult belonging to the church of “Unitology” which has become one of the most widely accepted religions in space. These Unitologist’s worship an idol known as the “Marker”, a large alien artifact that possesses those around it, causing sinister hallucinations and dementia. It’s this very same artifact that is also responsible for creating the necromorphs on the ship as well. As a fan of the original game it would be unfair of me to spoil the final outcome, but needless to say things don’t exactly turn out too well for Isaac as he’s eventually double crossed, and learns the true fate of this wife Nicole. However, Isaac overcomes adversity and destroys the marker before jetting off into space.

Three years after the events of the first game we’re reintroduced to Clarke who was apparently picked up by the government and locked away in an asylum for the dementia he suffered from exposure to the marker from the original game. To make matters worse Isaac has amnesia and bares no recollection of what has happened in the time that’s passed since the events aboard the Ishimura. When he awakes he learns that he’s been situated on a gigantic space station known as the “Sprawl”, now overrun with necromorphs (perfect time to wake up, Isaac) which sets the stage of events in “Dead Space 2″. Soon after he wakes Isaac is contacted by a fellow loony-bin patient Nolan Stross, another engineer like Clarke who was a character featured in the animated film “Dead Space: Aftermath”. Although clearly a couple of cans short of six pack Stross manages to remember that during the past 3 years both he and Isaac were used to build a brand new marker (no thanks in part to blueprints buried in their heads by the old marker) and with Isaac’s aid vies to destroy this new marker they’ve unwillingly constructed. At the same time, Isaac is also contacted by a woman named Daina Le Guin who claims to have a cure to Isaac’s grotesque hallucinations and pits Isaac against the game’s antagonist and Sprawl administrator, Han Tiedemann. Further along in the game, Isaac meets up with a CEC pilot named Ellie Langford (who bares more than a striking resemblance to Chloe Frazer of Uncharted fame) and acts as a new potential love interest for Isaac. Just as with the first game, Dead Space 2 takes our hero and crew on a violent journey through some of the darkest reaches of space, leading up to an epic conclusion where Isaac comes to terms with his past and sets the stage for what’s shaping up to be a final hurrah for Clarke in “Dead Space 3″.

When the original “Dead Space” was released in 2008 it was often directly compared to “Resident Evil 5″ at the time and played a pivotal role in the downfall of Capcom’s survival horror powerhouse franchise. Dead Space played great—- and it still does. The controls were tight and easily accessible for those familiar with first person shooters and most action games. Over the years Resident Evil had taken massive criticism for failing to change with the time. The Resident Evil(s) of the 2000s still controlled like the ones from the 1990s—- in stark contrast Dead Space felt new and refreshing. Key to Dead Space’s unique gameplay centered around necromorph “dismemberment”. Each weapon features two modes of fire, and players were tasked with severing limbs from enemies instead of head and body shots. Aiming for a necromorph’s head would serve only as a waste of ammunition which was already scarce to begin with. Factor in great control with a killer artistic direction and it wasn’t hard to see that the staff at Visceral were playing for keeps in the survival horror genre. Necromorphs looked terrifying which wasn’t surprising considering that the art department studied real-life photos of victims who suffered from car-crashes and fires. While the first Dead Space provided “in your face/jump out” scares the game was criticized for not having a varied amount of enemies, and skirmishes relied far too much on a tactic where once a necromorph appears in the distance ahead of Isaac another would sneak up behind you for a cheap hit. Also, critics argued that Isaac Clarke was a soulless character who came off like an “idiot savant” due to the fact that aside from a few grunts and screams his performance was completely muted the entire time. Every other character was fully voiced, but Isaac was essentially a space mime. This was eventually remedied in Dead Space 2 when Visceral Games cast an actor to complete Clarke as a realized character. Not only that but Visceral Games also designed more necromorphs for players to contend with in Dead Space 2, in addition to doubling the amount a weapons at Isaac’s disposal. Gamers were allowed the ability of upgrading Isaac’s suit, and arsenal using credits littered throughout the games providing an incentive for exploring every last inch of the game’s terrain.

This week “Dead Space 3″ has been unleashed on the gaming world, taking Clarke for one more wild ride in attempt to destroy the church of Unitology and the markers once and for all, while carving his way through necromorphs on the frozen ice planet, Tau Volantis. For the first time ever cooperative multiplayer has been introduced in Dead Space 3 allowing two players to assume the roles of Isaac Clarke and series newcomer John Carver— in a move found ironic (considering this feature was considered a unappreciated addition introduced in “Resident Evil 5” when compared to the solo original “Dead Space”). Unlike the first two entries it seems as though the team at Visceral has taken criticism of Dead Space 1, and 2’s confined spaces, and opened them up for beautiful vast landscapes in 3. Also a first for the series the currency system from before has been removed in lieu an new system where Isaac is able to collect spare parts of machinery and utilize them to upgrade weaponry, or create brand new weapons altogether. Dead Space 3 launches in North America on February 5th, and is positioned to surpass the high bar set by the first two titles. A feat not difficult to imagine Visceral Games reaching, given the terrifyingly great experiences they’ve provided already in this wickedly wonderful franchise.