Remembering When EA Tried To Make Dead Space Into The Biggest Franchise Ever
Dead Space was the first PS3 game I ever played. Back in 2008, it was part of a new era for EA. The late ‘00s was a time when the now infamous publisher produced classics like Mass Effect and Mirror’s Edge on the regular, keen to give developers the resources and time they needed to produce new properties for the first HD generation. It was a success. Arguably too much of one, since so many of these experiences became bloated monoliths with unjustified side projects and ambitious sequels that eventually spelt their doom. Dead Space was not spared this fate.
It seemed cool when I was a kid. This survival horror game I loved and played through so many times I can remember most of it by closing my eyes also had a film, novels, comics, and loads of other stuff I could dig into. If I had the money that is, since I was a bad little gamer and pirated most of them. Dead Space couldn’t just be Gears of War on a spooky mining installation that clearly riffed on Event Horizon. Nope, it had to be drenched in extra lore and ideas with no place in the base game, so off they went to other mediums.
With the remake arriving this week and likely spelling the return of Dead Space as a major player in the current landscape, it feels fitting to look back on how big a role it once played in games. It outclassed the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill at their own game with a dark, bloody, and often self-indulgent grasp on the horror genre. Yet like many other blockbusters, it seemed determined to overcomplicate itself.
The original Dead Space is dead simple. You are Isaac Clarke, an engineer journeying to the USG Ishimura to run a routine repair job and meet up with his long distance girlfriend. Turns out she’s now a ghost and the place is filled with alien monsters brought to life through evil scientologists. Sorry – I meant unitologists. Cue a relentless rollercoaster ride through the bowels of the ship and beyond as you try and put a stop to this evil plot before finding a way home. While text and audio logs filled in the gaps and provided more than enough context for the outbreak, much of it was also left to our imagination. This was a strange place, and didn’t need to explain itself. If anything, it was scarier for letting us bask in the mystery.
Then along came Dead Space Downfall. This animated film documented the destruction of the Aegis VII colony and how the USG Ishimura became infested. While there is a definite appeal to seeing all the gaps filled in and having questions answered, we didn’t need a new cast of supporting characters and extra nuggets of lore that were pulled from much better media in the first place. It only served to complicate a narrative that thrives on its simplicity. We had other films like Aftermath alongside prequel novels and comics that gave more context to religious institutions and generic corporations that aren’t that interesting. With each sequel came more lore to digest and less reason to care.
I’m not saying any of this additional media is bad. Downfall is a decent film with a slick style and diverse character designs – I am here for the butch lesbian lead – but that doesn’t mean they don’t needlessly overcomplicate things. EA didn’t look at Dead Space as a surprise hit it could build on gradually, but a multimedia empire that needed everything thrown at it immediately. When you think about where Dead Space ended up after the original trilogy, it’s hard not to blame this oversaturation of products as a big reason for its demise. The definitive ending and last crumb of narrative seen from this universe is found in a piece of DLC where Isaac returns to Earth only to see it surrounded by a bunch of necromorph moons from across the galaxy. It was stupid no matter how you slice it, but EA sold it to us as an extra, making it extra gross.
I love Dead Space. Back in the day I was big enough of a fan to absorb all this extra media in the hopes it would lead somewhere. It didn’t, and now the universe is being reimagined for a new generation with a chance at a redemption. The remake seems rather faithful though, so I imagine much of its existing lore will remain intact. If we’re lucky, EA will do a better job implementing it all, instead of spreading itself too thin and turning Dead Space into a joke.
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