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Dead Space

Entry updated 5 May 2016. Tagged: Game.


Videogame (2008). Electronic Arts (EA). Designed by Brett Robbins, Wright Bagwell, Jatin Patel. Platforms: PS3, Win, XB360.

Dead Space is a Survival Horror game, displayed from the perspective of a Third Person Shooter and very much influenced by the arthouse terror of Alien (1979). The player character, the significantly named Isaac Clarke (for Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke), is an engineer on the starship Kellion. At the beginning of the game the Kellion is investigating a distress signal sent out by the Ishimura, a gigantic vessel engaged in mining operations on the colony world of Aegis VII. Not long after the start of the game's linear story (see Interactive Narrative) the Kellion crashes into the Ishimura, trapping the crew on board the distressed ship, which turns out to be overrun with hideous monsters. Eventually it emerges that the colonists had uncovered an alien artefact known as the Marker, the most sacred relic of the Unitologist church, and brought it aboard the Ishimura. Shortly after the object's arrival the crew began experiencing mass hallucinations and murdering each other; the bodies of the dead were then infected by a virus associated with the Marker which resurrected them as deformed, homicidal monstrosities known as Necromorphs. Ultimately the player can return the Marker to Aegis VII, where a Hive Mind entity controls the Necromorphs, before destroying both the colony and the controlling entity. At the end of the game Clarke is left drifting in space in a small auxiliary craft.

The game includes much embedded narrative, with the disastrous history of the Ishimura's mission being conveyed though various journals and logs in a similar manner to that used in System Shock 2 (see System Shock). The script, written by Warren Ellis, Rick Remender and Antony Johnston, makes frequent references to previous works and other features of the genre. Notably, the Unitologists are suggestive of Scientology, the Marker resembles the monolith discovered in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the game's somewhat convoluted backstory – in which Earth's secret government is experimenting with the Marker, which appears to be a copy of an original of extraterrestrial origin – is reminiscent of the conspiracy theories which underpin both Alien and its various sequels. Even the Necromorphs, reconstructed corpses with altered, and supposedly improved, genetic structures, may have been suggested by the effects of the parasitic cruciforms in Dan Simmons' Hyperion (1989).

The end result is a very visceral game, in every sense. Severed limbs pile up as the player frantically dismembers attacking Necromorphs with improvised weapons in the Ishimura's dark corridors, lit only by dim, flickering emergency lighting. Some time is spent repairing malfunctioning equipment and solving simple puzzles, but the gameplay emphasizes escape, evasion and occasional mayhem, in the manner of the Resident Evil series. Ultimately, Dead Space is a well crafted example of Gothic horror, full of exciting shocks and disturbing grotesqueries, but its background and story are derivative and predictable.

Dead Space 2 (2011 EA, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Wright Bagwell, John Calhoun, Jatin Patel, Ben Walker, Matthias Worch essentially repeats the plot and design of the first game, with a rescued Isaac Clarke trapped on a Space Station orbiting Saturn where another Marker has become active, creating another infestation of Necromorphs. One remarkable feature is the number of characters in Jeremy Bernstein's script who appear to be named after science fiction writers. In addition to Clarke, Dead Space 2 offers Nolan Stross (see Charles Stross), Daina Le Guin (see Ursula K Le Guin), Ellie Langford (see David Langford) and – in the prequel film Dead Space: Aftermath, for which see below – Nicholas Kuttner (see Henry Kuttner).

The next entry in the series, Dead Space 3 (2012 EA, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Ben Walker, Jean-François Chabot, has something of the relationship to its predecessors that James Cameron's film Aliens (1986) does to Alien. In an attempt to reach a larger market which would better justify the development costs of the series, its designers decided to make the third iteration more of a Third Person Shooter and less of a Survival Horror game than its precursors. Thus Clarke – who returns as a protagonist – is here accompanied by a constant companion who can be controlled either by the computer or by another player, Sergeant John Carver. There is also much more emphasis on setpiece battles than on the frantic flights that characterized the play of the first two games, with new mechanics which allow the player to create personalized weapons which combine the various horrifically lethal devices they discover. Dead Space 3's linear plot also represents a revision of the formula established by the original game. A somewhat convoluted and unlikely narrative follows an expedition to the frozen world of Tau Volantis, which is thought to be the home planet of the Necromorphs. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that Clarke is now involved in a melodramatic love triangle with Langford and a new character, Robert Norton. Eventually it emerges that the Necromorphs did not originate on Tau Volantis; instead, it is the homeworld of a sentient species long ago destroyed by them. Various alarums and excursions follow; ultimately the Necromorphs on the planet can be defeated, though it appears that only Langford remains alive. An expansion pack, Dead Space 3: Awakened (2013 EA, PS3, Win, XB360), continues the story, revealing that Clarke, Carver and some of the Necromorphs have all survived. The story ends with the protagonists' return to Earth, only to find that – as in one of the rejected concepts for the third film in the Alien franchise – the monsters are there before them.

Related works: Dead Space: Extraction (2009 EA / Eurocom Developments, Wii; 2011 PS3) is an excellently constructed First Person Shooter in which the player is faced with a predetermined sequence of enemies to kill. The plot follows the attempts of several colonists to escape from the Necromorph infested colony of Aegis VII immediately prior to the events of Dead Space. Dead Space: Ignition (2010 EA / Sumo Digital, PS3, XB360) designed by Tim Spencer is an action Adventure which serves as a prequel to Dead Space 2; reviews were mixed. Dead Space (2011 EA / IronMonkey Studios, Android, iOS) is a well received Survival Horror game, set between the first and second entries in the main series. Dead Space 2: Severed (2011 EA, PS3, XB360) is an expansion pack for Dead Space 2, including some of the characters from Dead Space: Extraction.

Dead Space: Downfall (2008) and Dead Space: Aftermath (2011) are animated films. The first is another prequel to the original Dead Space, concentrating on events aboard the Ishimura. The second deals with the final voyage of the O'Bannon, a ship dispatched to investigate the situation on Aegis VII after the disappearance of the Ishimura; it is also a prequel to Dead Space 2. Dead Space (2008) is a six-issue Comic series, written by Antony Johnston, the plot of which occurs immediately before those of Dead Space: Downfall and Dead Space: Extraction, making it a prequel to the prequels to the original game. Dead Space: Salvage (2010) is a Graphic Novel, again written by Johnston, in which a group of independent salvagers find the remains of the Ishimura, abandoned after the events of the original game; carnage ensues. Dead Space: Liberation (2013), written by Ian Edginton, is a graphic novel which explores the backstory of John Carver, the second protagonist of Dead Space 3. Dead Space: Martyr (2010) is a novel by Brian Evenson writing as B K Evenson, which describes the origin of the Church of Unitology, several centuries prior to the Ishimura's arrival at Aegis VII. Of all the various games, films, comics and novels associated with the Dead Space franchise, Martyr may be the most interesting as a work of science fiction. Martyr was followed by the same author's Dead Space: Catalyst (2012), which tells a separate story of Necromorph infestation set in the same time period as the games. [NT]


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