Motive’s Dead Space remake is perfectly putrid in every way, and its take on gory horror game carnage is front and centre from the get-go. Yet, while the blood-splattered walls of the USG Ishimura set the stage for a revamped sequel, I’m itching to play a Dead Space prequel and explore the mining vessel before the proverbial hits the fan.
Before I dive into why now is the perfect time for a Dead Space prequel, it’s only right to acknowledge EA’s spin-off from 2009. By rights, Dead Space: Extraction is a precursor to the original, and gives us a motion-controlled glimpse at events before Isaac Clarke’s really bad day at work. The same applies to the animated film, Dead Space: Downfall, but Motive arguably now has a chance to present a prelude from a fresh perspective using its refined mechanics and stunning visuals.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with previous Dead Space prequels, but they’re not what I crave from the series as a horror fan. Sure, the backdrop journey to Aegis VII to retrieve the mysterious marker feels a lot like the first act in Ridley Scott’s Alien, and all hell breaks loose later in a similar fashion. I still want that influence to remain, but Motive could do so much more with the way the game arrives at its chest-burster scene equivalent.
Naturally, the Dead Space remake is functionally different under the hood, and its new peeling system adds substance to the gory glow-up. The mechanic completely uplifts the original game’s excellent take on body horror, but it’s hard to appreciate how grotesque it is during the chaos of survival combat. Letting the player experience life on an untainted version of the Ishimura first could help create the perfect build-up to an iconic inciting incident, one that influences the best horror games of tomorrow.
Even without its blood-soaked walls, the Ishimura is a sci-fi capitalist hellhole, adding gore only serves to distance any feelings of comfort or safety. Facilitating both in a Dead Space prequel is admittedly a difficult task, but Bioshock Infinite’s ‘Burial at Sea’ proves you can remove the surface-level horror from a disturbing game world. Life almost feels too normal within the DLC’s take on Rapture, a vibe that ultimately adds spice to the eventual environmental U-turn.
That’s exactly what I want from an unscathed USG Ishimura – a functioning ship that feels like a normal workplace, albeit with worrying undertones. Working lights? Check. Living co-workers? Check. Dead Space rarely gives players a chance to breathe, even while dwelling within “safe” areas. However, if Motive was to give the aforementioned Alien-inspired incident the punch it deserves in a prequel, initially slowing things down to provide a false sense of security would serve as an eerie catalyst.
Slowing down to “enjoy” the view won’t be to everyone’s tastes, even if EA’s Frostbite Engine is visually delicious. While I don’t think gameplay should remotely take a backseat within a Dead Space prequel, slowing players down will provide them with an excuse to appreciate Motive’s meticulous attention to detail and build tension. There’s nothing creepier than catching a silent glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye, and creating that sense of player doubt and dread will only bolster its own gruesome turn of events.
I’m not saying Dead Space needs its own John Hurt, nor am I implying I want that exact same shocking setup. Instead, I’d like to see something that recognises why Ridley Scott’s scene makes an impression, as it’s as much about context as it is about creepy little puppets creating body cavities. Simply put, I want to feel like my protagonist is safe and sound in the company of their colleagues, only to inevitably watch helplessly as that aforementioned peeling mechanic rips through the flesh of on-screen friends, remodelling their malformed bodies into something incomprehensible.
I won’t delve into which specific characters I’d like to see in a Dead Space prequel, but giving a ragtag band of blue-collar workers we can fall heartbreakingly in love with would help hammer home the above goals. In a sort of Star Wars: Rogue One fashion, I don’t think anyone /should/ survive Ishinmura’s outbreak, but I want to find myself egging on every helpless crewmate right down to the mandatory final girl, only to have hope slowly snatched away by mutating flesh and bone.
If you need a visual aid for the above, you should look no further than Dead Space 2. Visceral Games’ original sequel teases us with the prospect of a companion in the opening act, only to force us to watch as tentacles rip out of their once friendly forehead. Emulating this sort of delivery in a prequel would hit so much harder thanks to Motive’s peeling system, and giving us a doomed cast to dote over would make it even more heart-wrenching.
Of course, you could apply the above to the next chapter, and the remake’s composer says EA should “skip ahead” to Dead Space 4. Still, it feels like now is the right time to delve into prequel territory, and it’d give the series a chance to paint its gnarly narrative, body horror, and world-building onto a brand-new canvas.