Opinion: Eulogy to Visceral

Once again, Electronic Arts has decided to shutter a prominent development studio under its wing, this time Visceral Games, the creators of Dead Space. As I’ve noted on my Top 111, I loved the first two entries of that series very, very much and am dismayed to see that the original team will likely never get the opportunity to ever return to the franchise to give it another shake. Although after Dead Space 3 and its rather questionable story beats, co-op emphasis and early push for microtransactions, I’m not sure how well a fourth entry would have come out in the end.

But let’s not focus on the low point of that otherwise amazing set of games. Along with the co-developed Extraction, the first two games and its Wii prequel all were excellent examples of their respective genres. Dead Space married the gameplay of Resident Evil 4 with the psychological terrors of Silent Hill more effectively than any other game I’ve come across, and while that alone sounds sensational, Visceral brought plenty of their own mechanics and twists to that delightful hybrid. The Necromorphs stand out as some of the greatest enemy designs in any game, with their limb based combat that made encounters with them so delightful. Excellent maps, splendid sound design, and genuinely terrifying scares — insanely good first effort. While the game did tend to take linearity to a new climax, with protagonist Isaac Clarke both being silent and constantly being told what to do, otherwise there’s so much excellence with DS that I was eagerly awaiting more from this universe.

Dead Space 2 topped its predecessor in nearly every way. Isaac has personality now which works, he gets NPCs around him that are more dimensional and interesting, the combat is better, the environments far more diversified, the more egregious enemy types and gameplay modes toned down or removed entirely, and an immense polish to every quality component of the previous title to a glorious sheen, DS2 is one of my true classics of the last generation and really close to being in my Top 15. I can barely find anything to complain about. It’s just nigh-perfect.

While Visceral were not the main studio on Wii spinoff Extraction, it’s still a solid on-rails shooter that sets up the crazy events that dictate the other titles. The characters are likable enough, the gunplay solid (thanks to the series’ focus on limbs), and has some great co-op elements and decent puzzle bits that helped fuel the chaos.

Alas, Dead Space 3 fell off the rails as I noted earlier, killing any interest I had in playing it. I watched my ex play through the game and I loathed the character development between Isaac and Ellie (why force them to be a couple? Then force them to be separated and in a love triangle?), the shifts in map design, and the obvious pandering towards shilling the better gear behind pay walls. It just didn’t look fun. And that’s never been the case with the previous games.

So while the last game in the series was a dud, the others are all exceptional and the loss of the team that made them is truly heartbreaking for me. Perhaps some of the Visceral staff can reunite outside of the bounds of EA and craft a spiritual successor. That is my best hope, because the EA of the present will likely never ever give Dead Space a renewed lease on life.