Dead Space made its inaugural appearance in 2008. It’s a futuristic, third person horror shooter, akin to the much-vaunted Resident Evil 4 (well, y’know, with more spaceships and less syphilitic farmfolk with craptacular beards/furious albino monks brandishing Medieval maces at your genitalia) in many respects. The rural, (presumably) urine-stained streets of Resident Evil‘s ‘somewhere ghastly in Europe’ village and Dead Space’s circa-2400, clinical spacecrafts are shockingly disparate notions, of course, but the two titles are both contemporary pioneers of the same genre-splicing sensibilities.
Nevertheless, while recent entries in Capcom’s seminal series have been the subject of disdain and contempt, and caused flaming bags of excrement to be placed on the doorstep of their HQ (how many expensive Japanese businessmen’s shoes were ruined by these -hypothetical- antics? HOW MANY?) for eschewing its horror origins in favour of balls out action WITH ITS BALLS OUT, this has not been the case with Dead Space. Why, prithee? I’d venture that it’s primarily due to the weaponry.
Lest we forget, Isaac Clarke (protagonist and possessor of the finest designer stubble in the cosmos) is an engineer. He is in no badass, renegade space marine from the depths of the devil’s dangling manplums (a la the entire cast of Aliens). As such, there was scope for EA to bolster the impact of this sci-fi horror franchise with elements pertaining to Isaac’s personality and abilities.
Psychological horror has always been a stalwart feature of the series. I’ll concede, there’s excessive gunplay, cruising inadvisably through darkened corridors only for something to spring from a corner and leave a trail of terror-urine streaking down your trouser legs and other such archaic elements of the genre -as seen in every damn horror movie in existence– but they are there merely to complement the tension of the mental aspects. Dead Space’s hallucinations, its traumatic visions (those of Isaac’s girlfriend Nicole beset him with alarming frequency throughout the second title, for instance), demonstrate the effects of a Necromorph outbreak beyond the physical. To wit: they’ll pluck your sanity from your ear with gleeful abandon, caress it momentarily in a manner akin to a lonely pensioner with their cat Herbert, before trampling it into the muddy, muddy ground.
Assailing an average, non-military ‘everyman’ with these psyche-ravaging events makes our protagonist and his plight more relatable. Do we want another space marine, unfazed by the fact that hell’s anus has opened in the middle of his kitchen linoleum and spewed all manner of demon abominations RIGHT AT HIS FACE? We don’t. What we need, and what we have in Isaac Clarke, is a guy that proclaims, “Holy balls. This is, to be frank, rather an uncool situation just here. Have I just fouled my space underpants? Yes, yes I have.” Or something to that effect.
Most pertinently, though, his occupation dictates the manner of combat that we indulge in with Dead Space. The ‘pistol,’ with which we begin every game of the franchise, has been dubbed the plasma cutter. It is a reappropriated mining implement, firing streams of laser-esque plasma to penetrate mineral obstructions and to ‘dig.’ Nevertheless, in hazardous situations (for which ‘having you gonads bitten on by a zombie/alien/ungodly thing’ would, I’d venture, qualify) it can function as a rudimentary gun.
This notion of improvisation and opportunism prevails throughout. Other series stalwarts include the line gun (or, to use its technical moniker, the ‘im-82 handheld ore cutter line gun’), which -in Dead Space lore- was originally utilised for heavier-duty mining work than the plasma cutter. In our hands, it will dispatch opponents with a ludicrously lethal, wide beam-o-death. I’ll concede, the Dead Space trilogy has also granted us more conventional weaponry, such as the recurring military machine gun that is the pulse rifle, but these merely serve to complement the resourceful, scavenged air of your arsenal at large.
Further, it is the concept of brandishing cutting tools as opposed to bullets that enabled the games’ much-vaunted dismembering mechanic. Your hideous assailants, the necromorphs, cannot be dispensed by a simple headshot, as is often the wont of the genre. Instead, we must slice away their limbs by means of our laser beam-tinged equipment. It is, naturellement, rather a ghastly concept, to use rock-cutting tools to cleft the limbs from these ungodly marauding beasts, which is precisely why developer Visceral Games revels in it. Dead Space is renowned for its disconcertingly gore-drenched gameplay. It is exuberantly, excessively violent -rather akin to an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, with less cats being stabbed in the eyeball- and conventional gunplay alone would do little to facilitate this. Remember that day it rained BLOOD-LEAKING LIMBS? Isaac does. That’s every setpiece in the game, right there.
When a series exhorts us to stamp on the bodies of fallen foes to shatter body parts further (so as to accrue extra pick-ups from them) we can expect nothing less.
The most recent iteration, Dead Space 3, bestows a remarkable range of weapon customization upon us. Again utilising our man’s proclivity for engineering-ness, he can assemble parts that you have gathered into you own perfect demise-dealer. Convention has a place once more with such business as a shotgun, and you can fuse an upper and lower tool (serving as primary and secondary fire) to enable all manner of oddities. An acid-spewing machine gun AND a freezing force gun in the same weapon? Huzzah!
Introducing this capacity in the third game was a masterstroke on Visceral Games’ part. It demonstrates how wonderfully disparate the gunplay of the series is from other games. It renders Dead Space 3 infinitely more replayable than its predecessors. I’d venture, also, that these new mechanics demonstrate how effectively these absolutely NOT a gun tools have been implemented. Working in tandem -in the most literal sense, they’re fused together in the same weapon- with coventional ballistics so seamlessly.
Images source: onlinegames.cat