I very much consider myself a gamer but I have a laughable confession to make on the subject: up until two weeks ago I hadn’t played a game released in 2017. Over the last couple of years, now I’m an ‘adult’, I’ve been busy and my free time has dwindled so most of my current gaming time is made up of catching up on stuff from two years ago. No doubt this buffer in time will continue and I probably won’t get ‘round to playing Horizon: Zero Dawn or Mass Effect: Andromeda until 2019 but while on my work lunch break one forgettable day last month I watched a Let’s Play of the new Prey game. Also by ‘lunch break’ I mean I watched it for 6 hours secretly when the boss wasn’t looking. I just had to get my sweaty palms on a copy because it looked like the perfect game for me: claustrophobic sci-fi horror, loud guns, an easy mode and the ability to root around in corners for junk that could then be recycled into vaguely helpful stuff. Then it dawned on me just why I liked the game so much: It reminded me of Dead Space (and Bioshock). Then, much later in the day because of my slow cognitive ability, I had another thought: there should be a new Dead Space game!
Dead Space was a formative experience for me as a gamer because it was a survival horror game that I was actually good at. Sure, it feels more action-oriented at times but it was damn scary for 13-year-old me. The first Dead Space, set on the derelict USG Ishimura, followed Isaac Clarke as he battled gruesome undead creatures known as Necromorphs (think Alien meets John Carpenter’s The Thing meets Event Horizon) created by a virus emanating from a mysterious extra-terrestrial monolith called ‘The Marker’. Dead Space 2 moved the action and gore to a space station and was very much the Aliens to Dead Space’s Alien, not quite as good but still great. Dead Space 3 then followed and was a complete misfire. Set on a bright, snowy and definitely not scary planet it was pure action with little horror and a weaker storyline. It pretty much killed the franchise with the developers Visceral Games, part of the world-dominating EA, deciding to make the masterpiece that was Battlefield Hardline instead (sarcasm, people). Visceral are now busy with a Star Wars game headed by Amy Hennig but EA has any number of developers suckling at their cash-spewing teats to tackle Dead Space.
Prey should also dictate how the franchise returns to our monitors and TV screens; Dead Space needs a complete reboot. The acclaim that Dead Space gained with its first outing was taken advantage of immediately with the release of animated movies, unnecessary spin-off games and novels that burnt out the franchise quickly making for a convoluted universe and lore. Dead Space should return with a back-to-basics horror game set on a ship or space station in the midst of a Necromorph outbreak. That’s not to say I don’t want backstory and world building but a stripped-back approach should be taken. Prey is an in-the-moment game but also has a fascinating world that can be discovered if the player wants to find the time through picking up books, documents and audio logs. This should be optional and the plot shouldn’t rely on the wider universe. Assassin’s Creed had this problem after AC3 where, and I say this an enthusiast of the lore, it just became too confusing and complex and hopefully after taking a year off that franchise will return to us this year with a more streamlined and accessible game in Assassin’s Creed Origins.
I do feel like there is a gap in the market for a new Dead Space as long as it stays with its horror roots and doesn’t stray too far into action. Sure, I’m constantly referring to Prey but that feels more action based ‘Metroidvania’ psychological horror than the body horror of Dead Space. The subgenre of body horror is lacking nowadays with even film series like Alien going in a more cerebral and grand-scale direction with Prometheus and parts of Alien Covenant (the good parts). Whether a full-on reboot or set in the same universe as the older trilogy but just so far away the events don’t play a part, a new Dead Space should get back to what made the first two core games great.
Just imagine the first demo/trailer they could debut at E3 next year. Start with a dark and vaguely industrial hallway, flashing lights hanging by torn cables from the ceiling, distant bangs and incomprehensible screams from off-camera, upholstery drenched in blood, you know the score. From an over shoulder view of the lead character who is bathed in shadow we see glimpses of a horrific creature. Then the lead character’s instantly recognisable RIG suit lights up as the audience erupts into applause at the recognition of the series’ signature image. The Necromorph is dispatched with a plasma cutter, limb by limb and the Dead Space title fills the screen to even more thunderous applause. Pretty cool, huh?
Do you want to see a return to the Dead Space franchise? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt. I also apologise for the amount of colons in the first paragraph and the pun in the title, I don’t know what came over me.