The first two games in the “Dead Space” franchise remain classic works. A strong blend of “Alien,” H.P. Lovecraft and David Cronenberg, the games pulling off that tricky blend of grotesque survival horror and true science-fiction.
Yes there were plenty of action scenes ala “Doom,” but there was also strong world building and real care towards conveying atmosphere in what is now a seemingly dying out genre – the third-person perspective single-player game. Still, even its heyday, it was a bit niche and certainly wasn’t popular along “Call of Duty” or “Far Cry” lines.
So when the second title underperformed against overly high expectations, Electronic Arts retooled the then-in-the-works third game to be far less about horror and much more a shoot-em-up action title whilst utterly destroying what was a unique crafting system, jamming in online co-op and what was then still fairly new microtransactions.
EA seemingly misunderstood what was so simple and compelling about the earlier titles and try to steer them towards a more mass market appeal. Instead, much like their mishandling of the “Mirror’s Edge” franchise, by changing things up they ultimately ended up sinking the franchise with the third one bombing on the market just over five years ago now.
As EA has effectively made their lack of interest in single-player games stance quite clear in recent years, the franchise appears to have gone the way of many of the other great gaming franchises from the turn of the decade like “Bioshock” or “Mass Effect” – it’s dead. When EA closed the door on game creators Visceral Games last year after cancelling their planned “Star Wars” game with “Uncharted” creative director Amy Henning, that made the death official.
This week though, Eurogamer spoke with former “Dead Space” creative director Ben Wanat who confirmed that a fourth game was in early development before EA shut them down. Wanat, who is now at Crystal Dynamics where he’s been handling the “Tomb Raider” games, revealed that the fourth game would have picked up after the third with humanity reeling from the growing infestation of the necromophs:
“The notion was you were trying to survive day to day against infested ships, searching for a glimmer of life, scavenging supplies to keep your own little ship going, trying to find survivors. We would have finessed a lot of existing mechanics, the flotilla section in Dead Space 3 hinted at what non-linear gameplay could be, and I would have loved to go a lot deeper into that.
I figured you’d start in a section of space, maybe following a trail of ship carcasses to an orbital station you think might have the parts and fuel needed to get your ship Shock-capable. You’d start to form a picture of what happened in that region while fighting through scores of Necromorphs from ship to ship. And you’d learn a new, critical bit of plot info along with the means to Shock to a couple of nearby sectors.
The ships you would visit are where the game would get really diverse. The Ishimura had some inkling of that diversity with the variously themed decks. But imagine an entire roster of ship types, each with unique purposes, floor plans, and gameplay. Our original prototypes for the Dead Space 3 flotilla had some pretty wild setups that I wish we had been able to use.
I don’t want to give away the lore, but I will say that we spent a bit of time working out the origin of the Necromorphs and what purpose humans held in this dark universe. Would players find a way out of the Necromorph apocalypse? I’d say yes, but they might be sorry they did. Sometimes you’re better off with the devil you know.”
Wanat adds they would have had to fix the weapons crafting system to be much more in line with the earlier games, and the game was to offer more zero-g based enemies. Talking about the franchise’s collapse, he says it came down to simple economics with the development cost of the games too high and the sales too low. He does believe it could continue someday and even be profitable given a smaller budget, but that would forgo some of the “ridiculously expensive one-off action moments”.