Envisioning Concepts is a brand new series where we examine some of the best developers and franchises of the industry, and envision what direction could be taken next. This can vary from possible locations, new mechanics and new directions we think could fit. As we have now entered a new generation of gaming, there’s a lot of possibilities ahead for new games and new ideas for existing games. The article is a light-hearted look at “What could be?” and we encourage you, as a reader, to help contribute to the article in the comments below.
The Dead Space series has been one that, like other survival horror series, has steered away from a horror atmosphere in favour of something more action orientated. The initial Dead Space entry in 2008 took everyone by surprise and delivered a horror game experience that relied equally on a level’s atmosphere as it did jump scares. Borrowing the storytelling elements of BioShock’s audiotapes, the resource management of Resident Evil and the look/feel of great sci-fi horror movies like Event Horizon and The Thing, Dead Space was hailed as a fresh “nail biting experience”. However, the game was not perfect. Many people were critical of the game because of how repetitive the horror was. Dead Space relied heavily on too many jump scares that, while initially scary, left the gamer feeling almost too prepared with the knowledge that there was always something around the corner. Here’s what the series can do to revitalise the horror in the game.
More Weapon-Free Sections
So what can Visceral Games do to help bring back the horror into Dead Space? Maybe they should take a leaf from its protégé Alien: Isolation and do something radical like take away the combat. Now before you act like Necromorph and bite my head off, hear me out. Many successful horror games as of late have adopted the “run away” approach where the main character is much weaker without any weapons and is faced against a huge enemy that relentlessly hunts down the player. You might think to yourself, “But dismemberment is one of the cores of Dead Space! You can’t just cut out the combat!” And you’re 100% correct. Dismemberment really is what gives Dead Space the edge over the other horror games, but I feel that Dead Space should try to take short breaks from the constant gore implement and add more sections where the main character has to run for his life to give back a sense of terror and helplessness.
Both Dead Space and Dead Space 2 have had these moments in the beginning and they’re legitimately some of the most terrifying parts of the game because Isaac Clarke is being hounded by these demonic creatures that are snarling for his blood and all he can do is run as fast away as he can. If the game had more of these moments where you have no choice but to run, it would get your heart pumping.
More Ways To Use Stronger Kinesis
One thing most Dead Space fans can agree on is that the Kinesis is incredibly fun. You can slow down enemies and use it to traverse through fast moving obstacles, but most important of all, you can use it to pick up spear-like objects, hurl them at Necromorphs and impale them on the wall. Nice. However, that’s about as far it goes. Kinesis needs to have more use in the Dead Space series for sure. Imagine combining the destructibility of Battlefield with Dead Space; the Kinesis would have limitless opportunities as a weapon by combining gravity and rubble as a weapon. The player could shoot off a piece of the environment and then use the Kinesis to throw it at the Necromorphs, either crushing it or impaling it depending on the size and shape of the object, but at the cost of a huge chunk of the Kinesis power.
Another way to make Kinesis more useful is to make it more powerful. Try to conceptualize using the Force powers of The Force Unleashed but in the Dead Space series. The player could use an increasingly upgrading Kinesis to trigger traps, collapse a ceiling, or split Necromorphs in two. One thing I know for sure is that Kinesis needs to get an upgrade and become just as powerful as the primary weapons.
Back To Basics: Smarter Combat
One of the key points to the original Dead Space is that Isaac Clarke is an engineer caught up in a nightmare on board an abandoned ship, and his arsenal consists of tools and equipment that he would use more so for repairs than defending himself. However, as the game progresses, Isaac gains more and more weapons that resemble tools less and less. This is more prevalent in 2 and 3 as Isaac acquires guns like a shotgun, pulse rifle and a force gun. Unfortunately, Dead Space has lost its way with the weapon choice as you no longer feel like you’re underpowered. I can definitely get behind the idea of using flamethrowers, Ripper saws and the iconic Plasma Cutter, but when you start to use highpowered rifles and explosives, Dead Space loses its horror for something akin to squashing flies with a giant paddle.
One of the very few areas where I feel Dead Space falls down is that the enemies are too easy and the combat is too simple. Now I don’t mean that I’ve been playing on an incredibly easy difficulty and the enemies are just cannon fodder, but rather the nature of the enemies is too easy to defeat. Most enemies in the game can be permanently killed by hacking away at their arms and legs and stomping on their heads. While this is entertaining for the first 30 minutes or so, more variety needs to be in place with the way you defeat enemies. Sure, some enemies can crawl on walls and need to be shot down and other enemies rush at you, but there needs to be a variety in how you kill enemies and not just the enemy types. Imagine if one enemy could only be defeated by slinging your heavy Plasma Cutter at its face and shooting at it causes it to split into two smaller enemies. You could also have an enemy where you can only defeat it with fire so you would either have to have a flamethrower for a quick kill, or you would have to use Kinesis to throw an explosive into the air before shooting at it—similar to Uncharted 2.
Dead Space has a huge variety of weapons, but the same can’t be said for how you defeat the Necromorphs. One can play the entire game with only the Plasma Cutter, and while that’s fun from a “hardcore” perspective, it can’t hurt to utilise all the tools in Isaac’s arsenal. Since Dead Space loves its gore, it should take a cue from Dark Souls and use death as a teaching tool. If the plasma cutter just makes the enemy more aggressive, the player should learn from Isaac’s inevitable death that maybe they ought to use a rivet gun to shoot at the enemy’s limbs first.
No More Human Enemies
One of the issues I had with Dead Space 3 is that at times, the Necromorph enemies take a back seat at times for an enemy soldier to challenge the player. While it does make sense in the context of the game, the flavor of the game diminishes into a generic “space marine 3rd person shooter”. Dead Space is not Gears of War and it shouldn’t try to be. The huge variations of disgusting Necromorphs that transform is what gives Dead Space that sense of panic and urgency. If it’s just another human enemy, then it’s just a case of shooting him in the head and that’s the end of that. If that was a Necromorph, its head would be blown off but it’d still crawl towards you like something out of the Exorcist. It’s incredibly chilling to watch, but that level of fear is thrown out the window when the enemy is just an enemy soldier.
Pick A Path
This is a bit of tricky suggestion as Dead Space thrives on narrow corridors and streamlined progression but I believe the series could do with a shake up of how you progress through a level. One thing Dead Space 3 did right was allowing for more exploration and side quests, giving players the opportunity to explore the world more than ever. While I appreciate this step, I would like to see a combination of an open style of traversal but with a linear path.
Here’s an example. Isaac Clarke is walking slowly through an office on a space station. He hears creaks and moans, and suddenly, a huge Necromorph bursts into the room. It seems that the Neromorph cannot be defeated and is practically invincible. Here’s where you have 2 options. You can either shoot out the large window at the end of the room but risk the chance of being sucked into space, or you can attempt to barricade the room and lock the doors before continuing on. If Isaac chooses the former, he can use his thrusters to navigate back into the station but he would still end up at the same spot if his original choice was the latter. It’s like two roads diverging but meeting up at the same spot. You get a different experience depending on which option you pick, but you still get to the same destination. This sort of “branching progression” could allow for some fresh gameplay and interesting discussion as it gives a level of customisation to the story as the player dictates what they feel Isaac would do in the situation.
Those are a few suggestions I think could help improve Dead Space. While I’m not a games designer by any means, I think it’s always fun to debate with others about what would be interesting to see in a beloved series. That’s what Envisioning Concepts is all about, and that’s why we want your opinion! If you think you have an even better idea or a cool concept for Dead Space, let us know in the comments!