When it comes to Dead Space, what dies doesn't stay dead for long. Dead Space 3 launched in February 2013 and EA has said nothing since to indicate it's ready to revive the science fiction horror series. We've already explored the Dead Space 3 the developers wanted to make, but what about Dead Space 4? It turns out Visceral had ideas - some properly exciting - for a fourth game in the series. Unfortunately, Visceral never got the chance to turn them into reality. After Dead Space 3 flopped, EA put the studio on the Battlefield series with spin-off Hardline before assigning it a Star Wars game that was eventually cancelled. Now, Visceral is no more.
The environments of massive open-world games, particularly in recent years, have been rightly praised for their representation, scale and design accuracy. However, there are some gems at the other end of the spectrum - environments that make you feel cramped, tense and desperate for a break. This is an approach to environment design utilised in our real-world, from gardens to architecture, and is mirrored excellently in some game environments, creating areas that trap us in cramped, claustrophobic conditions.
Editor's note: In light of EA closing Visceral Games, we thought it would be a good time to remember the game and series the studio is known best for: Dead Space. This article was first published in February this year.
My initial plan for this article was to write about the space bits of Dead Space, also known as everyone's favourite bits of Dead Space. I was going to write something cool and arch and critical like "the true horror of Dead Space lies not in the snarling, gibbering Necromorphs that attempt to rip and tear the flesh from Isaac Clarke's body, but in how the game imagines the inky void of space as a direct physical threat. Throughout its length, Dead Space constantly reminds us the USG Ishimura is a tiny lifeboat spinning in a vast, black vacuum. It sucks the air out of Isaac's lungs, and forces us to fight in environments where even simple things like the concept of 'Up' become entirely redundant."
Something like that anyway. But then I played Dead Space, which I haven't done in about five years. I arrived at the first jump-scare, the one where Isaac is separated from his crewmates in the docking bay as Necromorphs start falling from the ceiling like coconuts on the galaxy's worst tropical island. I wish I could tell you that I was stalwart in the face of danger, hardened by my years playing horror games in the name of games journalism. Instead I completely bricked it. Again. I'd prepared myself mentally for it as well, playing the scene over in my head as the game downloaded. It made no difference. The moment Dead Space dropped the NecroMic I panicked, racing blindly through the corridors, fingers stabbing at the wrong keys, swearing with increasing volume as I tried to get the goddamn elevator doors to shut.
Like one of its horrible beastly necromorphs, Dead Space 2 is creeping up on us with unnerving silence. EA's action horror is out in three months, which means it's time to sit down with creator Visceral Games and find out what the hell is going on in here.
Unless it's Madden under that welding mask, EA must be serious about adding variety to its portfolio of familiar licences. Dead Space isn't based on a sport, a children's novel, or a sport in a children's novel. It's not family friendly - it's not particularly friendly at all - and it's certainly not casual. In fact, it's a chance to remember how broad EA's output can be: this isn't from the company that made endless Sims 2 expansions, it's from the company that sits back patiently waiting for Spore to come to the boil, and recently allowed Criterion to drive Burnout so far out of its comfort zone.
Full disclosure: I love Event Horizon. I own the odd-looking limited edition box set DVD, and cherish it despite it being precisely the wrong size to fit on any DVD shelves. I've seen it sufficiently often that I can probably lip-sync to most of the really good scenes.