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Resident Evil 4’s influence has become immeasurable since its release in 2005. Games like Gears of War and Uncharted owe much to the game that revolutionized third-person action controls. However, one popular sci-fi horror game would look a lot like an entirely different sci-fi horror game if not for Capcom’s reinvention of its seminal series. I got the opportunity to sit down with Dead Space designers Ben Wanat and Wright Bagwell to talk about the early days of development and how Resident Evil 4 helped them shape their own horror series out of another.
"When Resident Evil 4 came out, we were just awestruck by it," Wanat told me. "We were all playing it and we were like, 'Holy shit, this is a really awesome game. They're actually trying to tell a story; they've got some cool cinematics; the gameplay systems are fixing a lot of problems, bringing it into this action realm but keeping this intense horror feel to it. It was this amazing combination and—oh, the enemies were so freakin' cool."
Wanat didn't shy away from admitting that Resident Evil 4 is one of his favourite games of all time. And it's clear looking at Dead Space that he wasn't alone at EA Redwood Shores (now Visceral Games).
"It's pretty obvious when you play Dead Space, to look at it and go, 'Yeah, it's almost like they decided to make Resident Evil 4 in space,' which is exactly what we were doing."
But it wasn't always that way. Early on in its development, before Resident Evil 4 had even been released, Dead Space was a completely different game. Rumours have circled around the sci-fi horror game's early days, reinforced by similarities found within Dead Space. During our discussions, Wanat confirmed them to me.
"Originally, we were pushing around this idea of maybe we could make System Shock 3. And you can look at the Dead Space blueprint and be like, 'Oh, this is kind of like System Shock,'" Wanat said, smiling.
"To do a System Shock 3, you're really tackling a monumental task, to make people happy with a sequel that wasn't made by the same team as the original," he explained. And while the game didn't make it out the door and live on as the third System Shock, Wanat said that a new entry in that series was the goal they shot for early on.
"It was like, 'Everybody, get your System Shock 2 copy, play it start to finish, and let's figure out what we're going to do,'" Wanat said, recalling the early days of development. "Then Resident Evil 4 came out and we were like, 'Oh. No, this is the shit.'"
However, Redwood Shores couldn’t just change the name of its project and work on something completely new.
"It was at a time at EA when there was no appetite for original IP. It seemed like everybody else was doing it except for us," Wanat lamented. While Redwood Shores created games based on James Bond, Lord of the Rings, and The Godfather, Wanat said the desire to make something original was fervent within the studio. And Resident Evil 4 was the catapult they needed.
"We were so hyped about Resident Evil 4 and we got obsessed with improving the mechanics," Wanat said. The team truly wanted to develop a first-rate survival-horror game. However, convincing EA to bet on an original idea wasn't going to be easy, and it was something that co-director Glen Schofield, now the GM of Sledgehammer Games, would work on for a long time. Schofield would break the ice on the idea, show some promising progress, and over time, slowly build the confidence EA needed to give the project a thumbs up.
"Eventually everybody accepted it, they saw how cool the things coming out of it were. That confidence continued to grow," Wanat told me. "Having that group there from the get-go and building this stuff without a greenlight was a little weird, but it's probably what got that whole thing working because we could all put our expertise into a pool and make something tangible.
"And once people saw that it was a real thing, they got it much easier than if you were trying to say, 'I want to make this totally scary-ass thing,' to which they'd look at their portfolio and say 'Nope, scary-ass thing is not in our language.'"
The executives weren't the only people impressed by the Dead Space demos. Wright Bagwell, who was working on another game at the time, played through one of these demo levels and was so enamoured with the experience that he absolutely had to work on the game.
"One of the level designers came over and said 'Hey Wright, we're testing this out. I want you to come into this dark room, I'm going to turn the lights off and turn the sound up really loud.' And we played through this demo level, and I remember feeling like I was going to shit my pants," Bagwell said, laughing."I was working on another game that got cancelled, and EA was trying to get me to work on something I didn't want to work on, and I was like, 'No, I want to work on Dead Space or I'm going to quit.'"
So Bagwell joined the Dead Space team, and at this point, it was starting to come together. Controlling Isaac was becoming a smooth experience, thanks to some of the big improvements to Resident Evil’s formula that the team was working on. Wanat specifically pointed out the ability to move while shooting. Despite the relatively simple-sounding nature of this change, it wasn't as straightforward as flipping a switch and letting someone walk around.
"I love in Resident Evil 4, the tension of not being able to move. But it caused a lot of problems for us to put movement in because we were making a new game," Wanat explained. "The enemies couldn't follow the same formula. It breaks a lot of the mechanics. We didn't know it was going to happen until we did it and were like, 'Oh, I think we broke something fundamental about the tension,' so we had to get it in other ways.
"It was like, 'It's a game changer. Let's embrace it and make this the best, polished survival shooter. Let's try to be the gold standard.'"
The move from System Shock 3's first-person view to the over-the-shoulder perspective that we know from Dead Space was something else that Wanat was increasingly happy about, as it allowed players to more easily care about Isaac.
"Even though Isaac didn't have a voice in the first game, seeing him and seeing him get grappled and eviscerated, I felt like there was a better chance to make a connection with the character. And that kinda gives the player a sense of who he is and the place he's in that we could have missed out on if we went the first-person shooter route and—man, we ripped off so much stuff from Resident Evil 4," Wanat stopped himself mid-sentence, laughing.
"But in a way, the modifications we made to the formula gave it its own style. Things like the outer space setting gave us a way to include new mechanics that weren't really available for the time and setting that Resident Evil took place in."
Dismemberment by way of plasma cutter, perhaps Dead Space's defining feature, was one such mechanic that joined the movement system to set itself apart from its Earth-based counterpart.
"It was very interesting to get those two things together and see that something special was taking shape," Wanat said. "But we do owe tremendously to Resident Evil 4. We were really big fans. We had so many of those water-cooler moments after that game came out."
Dead Space released in October of 2008 and was met with an overwhelmingly positive critical reception, in addition to sales of over two million copies. When Dead Space 2 was announced less than two years later, it was no surprise that EA wanted to push the series into a more action-focused direction to appeal to a wider audience. Bagwell moved into the creative director's chair, charged with a delicate balancing act of making sure there were moments of adrenaline-surging panic, but also time for the player to relax among the nameless horrors and dismembered limbs.
Despite its obvious inspirations, Dead Space had become its own thing. The studio was no longer praying at the altar of Resident Evil 4, but Wanat says there were some leftover influences that didn't make it into the first game.
"We didn't really have the ability to do any elaborate cutscenes," he explained. "I mean, we looked at Resident Evil 4, and we thought those were elaborate at the time. I love the intro. They're in the jeep, a guy goes to pee in the bushes, it's this really cool moment. And we couldn't really do those things, but we all wished we could. So in Dead Space 2, you get a lot more character moments and those over-the-top moments."
Like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 garnered high praise from critics and, according to EA, sold nearly two million copies in its first week of release. However, that success wouldn't carry over to the third game. With less positive reviews and significantly less sales, Wanat, the creative director of Dead Space 3, expressed disappointment with how it closed out the series.
"I think in Dead Space 3 we kinda destroyed what we had because we pushed too far on it, but it was a deliberate decision in each of those instalments to make it faster, more relevant to a broader audience," he said. "It's a hard thing to do, to make a horror game have mass appeal. They're two diametrically opposed things."
Wanat and Bagwell went on to co-found Outpost Games, a developer that's currently working on a multiplayer survival game. Not much is known about their upcoming game, but the two designers wouldn't be surprised if Dead Space fans found some pieces of the sci-fi horror series woven throughout it. However, speaking to Wanat, it sounds like he's not quite done with survival-horror.
"Personally, I've got so much of that stuff in my system, that one way or another I will make another survival-horror game because I can't stay away from that kind of creative expression. That's just part of my DNA now."
Oh boy, am I conflicted. Fallout 4 s main plotline requires that I do this thing> and as far as things> go, it s a pretty major thing> and a major thing> that you d expect someone with the maternal instinct of my character Halle to crack on with straight away. The trouble is, rather than doing this major thing>, for at least an hour now, she, and when I say she , I mean I , have been poking around Sanctuary, scrapping anything that glows yellow so I can salvage enough materials to build a house big enough for me and my Minutemen companions. I had largely avoided Bethesda s drip-feed of Fallout 4 pre-publicity but when I somehow found out that the game had settlement building, I think I might have involuntarily passed a little wind in joyous anticipation.
That’s because I ve felt a similar rosy inner glow while hanging around other hubs and houses in many other games I ve played. I think it s easy to underestimate the value of having a home base option, especially in open world games where there is a free-roaming element, but it’s a part of why I love certain games.
Below you will find the 25 best horror games ever released on PC. To ensure the list was as accurate as possible, the compiler was locked in a dark cellar with a copy of every game in existence and a computer capable of running them all. Two weeks later, the following article was found written on the walls in blood (the postscript was recorded on an audiolog). The writer was nowhere to be seen.
Dead Space is a game so unsettling it took me years to finish it. Soon after its original 2008 release, I abandoned my first attempt. I d played and enjoyed horror games before, but something felt different about what Dead Space had to offer. I couldn t take it. Years later I would end up completing the game, but I ve never forgotten the initial anxiety that it stirred up in me. Setting aside the missteps the series would end up taking in its second and third entries, what the original Dead Space accomplishes is simple in its frightening elegance: You re trapped on a ghost ship in the midst of its own industrial/organic nightmare and you have to escape.
Much of the anxiety that I find simultaneously attractive and repulsive in Dead Space is tied to the worn-down, blue-collar approach of its story and setting aboard the massive Ishimura mining vessel. As a kid growing up around the deep, dark waters of Puget Sound, WA, I would watch big tankers roll into Commencement Bay and anchor in the shadow of the giant copper smelting tower that used to overlook the area there. It was a filthy place and I d wonder what part those mysterious rusty ships had to play in that toxic wasteland. Where in all the world had they been and what had they brought back with them?
This was the image Dead Space had drawn from my memory and that had bothered me so much. And it s one that still fascinates me, even as the game s jumps scares and lighting tricks lose their intended effect on repeated playthroughs.
This edition of If you like deals with big ships and the mysterious, sometimes evil cargo they carry. I ve picked out some novels, comics, and films that deal with what I think is Dead Space s central theme—machines that bring us into contact with new fears as well as show us the ones that travel with us all the time.
Clarke s 1973 novel anticipates and works with many themes that have become a staple of late-20th century science fiction. The development of planet earth in response to catastrophe, the limits of technology, and the difficulties of inter-species communication. But just like Dead Space, Rama also functions as a hard-sci-fi adventure story that puts a host of problems at the feet of some pilots and engineers and asks them to find a solution.
In the novel, a massive celestial object appears in earth s solar system. First thought to be an asteroid, it s actually an interstellar spacecraft. But the destination of the ship is unknown. The drama of the story plays out as the crew of the only ship that s near enough to make contact—a solar survey vessel—begins to explore the alien craft. The novel is a great example of Clarke s tightly controlled characterization and attention to scientific detail and plausibility. While Rama isn t a novel of space horror per se, its sense of urgency, claustrophobia and mystery should appeal to fans of Dead Space.
Beyond the obvious references to the 1982 John Carpenter classic in terms of Dead Space s body horror and gore, the psychological dimension of this film also has a lot to offer. We re confronted fairly early in the film with the horrific implications of an alien being bent on murderous replication. But it s the response of the men to the psychological challenges brought on by their isolation in Antarctica that lends the film its true narrative pulse: Who can they trust? How do they escape this scenario?
Carpenter gathers a superb group of character actors to play out this test of wills, led by Kurt Russell who turns in a sardonic performance as a chess-playing helicopter pilot bent on survival. It s also worth checking out the original novella upon which the film is based—John W. Campbell s Who Goes There?
For a slightly less-serious take from Carpenter on isolation and the horrors of space, you might also be interested in his 1974 movie Dark Star. The movie follows a stressed-out group of men who work as a kind of wrecking crew in deep space, launching bombs to destroy dangerous or problematic planets and moons. Sometimes billed as a comedy, the low-budget Dark Star helped kickstart the career of Alien writer Dan O Bannon who acts in the picture.
A new comic from Image that s only on its third issue, Southern Cross hits all the right notes for dark and ambitious ship-based sci-fi. The narrative so far follows the journey of Alex Braith, a woman traveling from earth to the Titan moon in order to collect the body of her dead sister. A solitary and—perhaps—troubled woman, Braith has to find a way to make it through the voyage to Titan on the giant Southern Cross spaceship, an industrial tanker and personnel carrier that appears to have a few horrors of its own to reveal.
Along the way Braith encounters a variety of strange types all looking to dig some kind of meaning out of a solar system structured around the faceless corporations that keep the fuel flowing. The writing is pithy and authentic, an approach that gels nicely with Belanger s Moebius-influenced art style. Belanger s art not only captures the sharp edges of Braith s emotional landscape, but also works brilliantly at depicting the technological complexity and scale of the comic s grimy industrial universe.
The movie follows a rescue crew on a mission to investigate the sudden reappearance of a ship that had been missing for seven years. That ship, the Event Horizon, was tasked with attempting to make mankind s first interstellar voyage through the use of a new propulsion system that exploits gravity. Now that the Event Horizon s returned, and in a decaying orbit around Neptune, the rescue crew and the ship s designer head out to try and find out what s become of its mission.
It s no secret that horror films like Event Horizon lose a bit of their punch on repeated viewings. But I ll never forget the sheer bizarreness of my first encounter with this movie in the late-1990s. Although it was a critical and box office flop, it was the kind of film you d pick out and watch with friends just to see how they would respond—kind of like The Shining in this way.
The film s look and story owe a lot to earlier movies such as Solaris and Alien, and were an obvious influence on the aesthetics of Dead Space. And from its costuming to its acting and practical special effects, the nearly-20-year-old film holds up remarkably well. If you like Dead Space and haven t seen Event Horizon yet, it s a must-see.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today, Andy goes out on a limb to reexamine Dead Space.
There were 1,332 crew members on the USG Ishimura, but it took an unassuming engineer with a power tool to defeat the ungodly evil that devastated their ship. Isaac Clarke (see what they did there?) is the unlikely hero of Dead Space, an atmospheric space horror game that came out of nowhere at the end of 2008.
After losing contact with the Ishimura, a massive planet cracker mining ship, the owners send a small team—of which Clarke is a member—to find out what happened. When they get there the ship seems abandoned and its lights are mysteriously out, so they go aboard to investigate. Bad idea.
There s nothing that unique about Dead Space. Its mix of cold, industrial sci-fi and gruesome bio-horror has been done many times before, from Alien to System Shock. But it makes up for a lack of original ideas by just being really good.
Borrowing heavily from Shinji Mikami s peerless Resident Evil 4, it s an over-theshoulder shooter that blends slow, atmospheric horror with bloody action. You can trace almost every moment back to a film, but it s so fun, so atmospheric, and so well-designed that it doesn t matter. It s a loving homage to classic horror and sci-fi cinema.
Playing it now, seven years later, I m amazed at how good it looks. A few blurry textures and low-poly character models aside, the Ishimura is still a wonderfully atmospheric environment. It s a claustrophobic warren of oppressive metal corridors that owes a lot to Alien s USCSS Nostromo. The single setting is one of its greatest strengths, giving the developers the chance to really flesh it out. It feels like a real, lived-in place that was once teeming with people, which makes its current abandoned state even more eerie.
You move through different areas—engineering, medical, the crew quarters—and in this sense it s reminiscent of BioShock s Rapture, revealing more about the place and its former inhabitants as you delve deeper into it.
The Ishimura has a lot of dark secrets to be discovered, chiefly its ties to Unitology: a fairly obvious Scientology spoof that would come to form the backbone of the series mythology over the two sequels. There s a reason why the crew are all dead and the ship is swarming with monstrous creatures, and a desire to find out keeps you engaged.
The enemies, called necromorphs, are straight out of the Stan Winston book of creature design John Carpenter s brooding 80s horror classic The Thing is a clear inspiration. To design them, Visceral s artists studied photos of car crash victims and war casualties.
Compared to, say, the genuinely unsettling denizens of Silent Hill, they do look fairly ridiculous. They re bloody constructions of squished-together body parts that flail and screech as they predictably burst out of vents. But in the heat of the moment, with five of them bearing down on you, pincers swinging, they re an effective foe.
Dead Space isn t scary. It falls into the Resident Evil camp of horror games, with cheap jump scares and tension-building looming large in its vocabulary. It won t affect you on some deep, psychological level, and it won t tease out deep-seated primal fears. It s more like a ghost train, with people in white sheets popping up and going Boo! But that s fine, because the game has no pretensions otherwise. Never knowing when a necromorph is going to come bursting through a door or out of shadowy corner is what keeps the tension taut and constant.
To defeat these creatures, you have to take advantage of the game s strategic dismemberment gimmick. You can t kill a necromorph just by blasting at it with the game s array of deadly engineering tools—you have to sever its limbs.
The game teaches you this by having the words "CUT OFF THEIR LIMBS" scrawled on a wall in blood. Then it tells you in a tutorial. Then an audio diary. Then another tutorial. Subtlety is not really the game s strong point. There are a few quieter, more thickly atmospheric moments, which sadly fall by the wayside as the game gets increasingly louder and more action-packed: a crescendo that kept on going until the end of the underwhelming Dead Space 3.
The score, although largely forgettable, makes use of Krzysztof Penderecki-style timpani rolls and sharp, piercing strings to build the suspense, a ploy straight out of Kubrick s The Shining. Visceral watched hours of horror films during the game s development to get ideas for scares. Cult scary sci-fi flick Event Horizon is another obvious influence, with a story, locations, and monster designs so similar, it almost feels like an adaptation at times.
This is a game that s quite unashamedly steeped in imagery and sounds from the silver screen. As a result it can feel overly imitative, but a few visual elements—particularly the green glow of Isaac s clunky helmet and the Unitology stuff—are distinctly its own creation.
PC gamers were short-changed with the port, and you ll need to tweak a few things to get it running satisfactorily on modern machines. Disabling vsync on modern GPUs causes certain events not to trigger, making progress impossible. But with it enabled, the game feels unplayably slow and clunky. You have to disable it in-game, then enable it through your graphics card control panel to fix this.
There s also appalling mouse/controller lag on some PCs. But wrestle with this stuff successfully and you ll discover an enjoyable horror romp with a memorable setting and great set-pieces.
In moving away from a single, focused setting and introducing more third-person shooting, the sequels never really recaptured the magic of the first game. Hopefully the next—if they ever make another—will take a step back and try another smaller, slower game like the first. Alien: Isolation is proof that bigger and louder isn t always better.
What is the most terrifying thing? I mean aside from spiders. And human nature. And that one episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yep, that’s right: being forced to admit there is a legitimate> reason to open Origin, to dig it out of your PC’s sullen grave of a start menu and rack your brain to remember your password. But at least now you can pair terror with terror, as Dead Space will be completely free on Origin until May 8th. And that’s free to keep> – not just to play.