Dead Space 3 contains lessons on how to mess up a video game franchise, by DeadSpace3-ing it up.
Working my way through a backlog of 2013 games, I recently discovered to my horror that Dead Space 3 was a sour end to a promising trilogy.
Whereas the Resident Evil franchise had veered so far away from what it was originally, the Dead Space series seemed to take up the slack by providing an atmospheric, measured experience packed with moody environments and desperate tactical decision making. All as you would expect from a game that depicted you as a survivor, not a warrior. Dead Space 3 by its end became synonymous with how to sully a franchise. It became a verb. All squashed up. Like this: DeadSpace3.
The way to DeadSpace3 a promising franchise is a simple, yet methodical process that requires planning, time, effort and money. The first step is to run out of ideas. This is crucial. You must ensure before you proceed that you have absolutely zero ideas of substance to add to a franchise. And if you do come up with new ideas then they must be counter-intuitive. Always think backwards and keep in mind the genre you’re trying to subvert. Dead Space began as horror survival, a tale of slow impending doom slowly ratcheting up to a spine-tingling orgy of monster mayhem. So naturally you’ll want to sabotage player expectations in the third game by creating as many frenetic action packed sequences featuring clunky third person shooter mechanics as possible.
Taking the necromorphs of the first game and giving them crack cocaine so that they run at you like zombies from 28 Days Later is one of the many nuanced ways you’ll want to destroy the allure of the franchise to horror fans. Giving players no time to organise their thoughts and make use of whatever specialised weapon they’ve created, you’ll ensure players have no choice but to create a spray-and-pray mentality, and avoid any thoughtful weaponry.
Your primary objective is to ignore the franchise’s once-unique angle of killing enemies via severing their limbs by having dozens of necromorphs racing towards Isaac at breakneck speed, causing players to forget anything about limbs and just scream while firing chain guns like Jesse Ventura in Predator.
Implementing an exhaustive and time-consuming crafting system that would be more at home in a stat-obsessed JRPG is a great way to throw the player off-balance. Offering them blueprints for over thirty (thirty!?) different weapons yet not allowing them access to enough crafting components to build many of them for most of the game was breathtaking in its lack of foresight.
When a player under stress of necromorphs, makes it to a bench, they will be confronted with 8 different ways to modify each weapon in their possession, and with numerous upgrade options within those 8 areas, you just know they will spend hours fiddling about with crafting, utterly shattering the illusion of a narrative that has you surviving the time-sensitive horrors of an alien menace on a deteriorating ship and planet. Players will stumble across upgrade circuits, frames, and attachments and will waste hours and hours of their lives comparing and contrasting them rather than actually playing as a guy trying to save the universe.
As a fan of storytelling over spectacle, this aspect of how to DeadSpace3 up a franchise was the highlight for me. Paying homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing by setting the game on a snowy planet was a nice hook and baited me in, I won’t deny it. But then filling the story with a paper-thin plot and boneheaded characters was a masterstroke of bait and switch. Making every single character unlikeable, turning Ellie into a whining exposition-spouting damsel with her breasts hanging out was a stunning reversal of the character we’d come to know in Dead Space 2.
Kudos must go to Visceral Games for also inserting a love triangle that they must have known no player would appreciate. Having Ellie be in a relationship with a man with no redeeming features was both inexplicable and jarring to the player, kudos Visceral Games. Though by the end certain revelations about the source of the necromorphs and markers were indeed intriguing and in direct contrast to the mediocrity that the player endured for most of the game, it was too little too late.
Dead Space 1 and 2 were filled with memorable moments. From a random guy head-butting himself to death in an eerie corridor, to a close encounter with a needle, to baby necromorphs terrorising a nursery, it’s a franchise filled with atmosphere and surprises. Dead Space 3 will be memorable for how unmemorable it was, with repetitive corridors and tiring jump-scares, to the point that areas were literally re-cycled forcing you to traverse corridors you’d already been through before.
The seams begin to show when you realised all the ammo in the game was universal across all your Frankenstein weapons, and spare ammo and components magically reappeared in rooms when you returned to them. In its defence, the game’s implementation of co-op was a new addition to the franchise that opened up a new kind of experience, which some fans appreciated. But it was ultimately just an intriguing garnish to an overcooked main meal. Nobody ordered co-op, it was just served whether we liked it or not.
To DeadSpace3 a franchise, you merely create dead space when once before there was atmosphere. Here’s hoping Visceral Games can inspire a different kind of horror in this player next time around.