In a recent interview, former Visceral creative director Ben Wanat briefly resurrected Dead Space 4 to describe what they had planned for the long-lost game. The survival-horror sci-fi franchise debuted to critical acclaim in 2008. It earned a pair of sequels along with a variety of spin-offs and other media before disappearing after the disappointing Dead Space 3. Wanat later moved on to work Crystal Dynamics. while last year Electronic Arts dissolved Visceral games entirely.
The series focused on Isaac Clarke, an engineer aboard a doomed mining ship. Players skulked through dark hallways fending off waves of nasty reanimated bodies called Necromorphs. Twisting story lines and gameplay elements focused on dismembering enemies combined into a tense experience. The first two games won praise for both the dark tone and body horror elements. Then the third game shifted the emphasis toward action over horror and sales dropped off. Enthusiasm waned, and finally the publisher quietly dropped the series.
Speaking with Eurogamer, Wanat talked about some of the gameplay and story ideas they were developing for the possible fourth game. From the sound of his comments, the team would have focused on refining the player experience. Expanding on a sequence from Dead Space 3, the player would be able to scavenge and fight through a flotilla of ships. This could have let them open up the world of the game while still delivering the distinctly creepy atmosphere that worked so well.
The team would have tweaked the combat system as well. In the interview, Wanat singles out the third installment's weapon crafting system as a misstep that could be corrected: "There would have needed to be a focus on re-perfecting the weapon balance while still giving players plenty to tinker with." More focused combat would be essential, given they intended to make the Necromorphs more dangerous. Isaac would encounter new forms of the undead creatures, some even in zero-gravity.
At its best, the Dead Space series raised the bar for frightening gaming experiences. The setting traded on the claustrophobic horror of movies like Alien and Event Horizon. Meanwhile, the gameplay used a number of strategies to keep the tension high. Weapons required experimentation to use well. Ammo was hard to find. Even the menus played out as holograms, so you couldn't take a break by checking your inventory. Few games delivered as well on a visceral level. The tweaks Wanat describes sound like they would have improved on that mix and perhaps re-energized the series.
According to Wanat, the series' high development costs finally killed it. With the price tag for AAA content in the industry always on the rise, EA simply put their resources somewhere else. Considering if the franchise could be work and make money, Wanat said "I think you'd have to focus much more on a fantastic core experience: dread, horror, and great dismemberment combat - you'd also have to forego some of the ridiculously expensive one-off action moments."
Unfortunately, Dead Space has plenty of company on the list of EA franchises gone awry. From the sound of it, Wanat and his team knew how they intended to right the ship. It's a shame they never got to try. Still, as he himself acknowledges, these things can always come back.
Source: Connor Makar
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