Dead Space and beyond: the weight of Visceral’s legacy between influences and remakes.
From the flop of The Callisto Protocol to the upcoming Dead Space Remake, we see how the legacy of Isaac Clarke’s saga has been embraced and reworked over time.
It was 2008 when Dead Space, the unforgettable cult title of Visceral Games, landed on the shelves, expanding the standards of the horror genre thanks to its perfect combination of action, adrenaline and chilling atmospheres.
Claustrophobic and disturbing, Dead Space had the ambition to bring not only the cult of terror back to consoles, but also to propose a decidedly atypical and little-used Sci-Fi setting in products belonging to the genre. The result was a horror adventure that managed to be appreciated not so much for the playful formula – which did not bring any revolution to the shooter genre – but rather for the excellent atmosphere and the skilful use of scenographic expedients, capable of transmitting to the player a constant sense of awe and palpable tension.
A horror magic that, after a fluctuating sequel and a third chapter below expectations, has never returned, or at least not concretely. After the release of The Callisto Protocol and in view of the arrival of the remake of the first Dead Space , let’s try to understand how the legacy of Isaac Clarke’s saga has been accepted and reworked over time and if it really is possible to bring the masterpiece back to life by EA, trying to recreate exactly that visceral horror that still makes it a truly unforgettable title today.
The flop of The Callisto Protocol: between shortcomings and inspirations
Conceived as what should have been the spiritual heir of Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol landed on PC and console last December 2 with the ambition of recovering all the character and sci-fi horror atmospheres of EA’s work to give life to a much more solid and structured experience than the one proposed by Isaac Clarke’s journey. With Glen Schofield , the father of Dead Space, at the helm of the project, The Callisto Protocol therefore immediately appeared in the eyes of fans of the saga as that title capable of bringing to light all the qualities of the 2008 horror epic, albeit with the necessary differences.
Those who have always seen in The Callisto Protocol an emulator of Dead Space, however, are only partially right because, if it is true that on the one hand the horror adventure of Striking Distance Studios incorporates many of the iconic characteristics of EA’s work , on the other it differs greatly from the claustrophobic and anxiety-provoking dimension of the reference title. Let me explain better: although Glen Schofield’s work presents a whole series of similarities with Dead Space , starting from some design elements up to the gameplay mechanics, the game actually ends up failing right there where Dead Space, instead , excelled, that is, in recreating that visceral horror that made Isaac’s epic truly unforgettable.
The 2008 title, if you remember, in fact tended to build tension through some scenographic and sound expedients that contributed to giving shape to an imaginary with highly disturbing aesthetic and sensory traits, capable of instilling tension and dismay even only on a purely visual level.
In The Callisto Protocol, on the other hand, all that care and attention in characterizing the atmospheres and in generating that palpable tension capable of transmitting a constant sense of terror and unease to the player is missing.
If, for example, in Dead Space , the sound effects had the task of deceiving the player about the position of the source of chilling noises and generally placing great emphasis on the moments preceding the appearance of his horrid creatures, in The Callisto Protocol, the horror component is more a mere aesthetic frame than a vector of fear, a tinsel of a playful system that veers more towards naked and raw action than on the purely horror dimension. An aspect that weighs enormously on the balance of the experience, if we consider that we are still talking about a survival horror that unfortunately only ends up proposing the packaging of a product like Dead Space.
The impression one gets at the end of the adventure is that The Callisto Protocol ends up collapsing under the imposing and oppressive weight of its own ambitions. Let’s understand each other: the fact that the game shares the same playful DNA as Dead Space is certainly not a bad thing. The problem arises when you choose not to introduce any new weight or interesting variations within a playful formula belonging to the title of 13 years ago and which in fact would have deserved a greater modernization.
Let’s take the power of the Gravity Gauntlet . In Dead Space, stasis could be used to slow enemies, tear off their limbs, however it could also be used to solve some environmental puzzles. In The Callisto Protocol there is none of this, on the contrary: from this point of view we are also witnessing an evident step backwards. Jacob’s GRP glove is only useful in combat to lure enemies and hurl them into one of the many blades and traps scattered throughout the stages. Furthermore, even the idea of leaving the protagonist’s face uncovered, unlike what happens in Dead Space, could have provided the team with ample margin as regards the characterization of the character which, however, remains in fact poorly defined.
Probably Glen Schofield’s choice to remain so much anchored to his creature is what makes The Callisto Protocol a half-product today , the perfect image of a Dead Space castrated in intentions, driven by so many good intentions but lacking that charisma and of that substance that makes Isaac’s journey memorable today.
Dead Space Remake: between fidelity and innovation
If the Callisto Protocol actually represented a blow to those hoping for a return to the EA saga, now it’s up to the Remake of Dead Space to bring Isaac Clarke’s adventures back to life and in great shape. Even if we are in fact faced with two essentially very different operations – one more similar to an emulation and the other a real remake – the objective in fact always remains the same, namely that of restoring prestige to a saga who made the history of the sci-fi horror genre, making it current for new users and taking care to give back to fans those same identical sensations that have remained engraved in their memory for a long time.
If on the one hand, however, the remake of Dead Space aims to package a remake that is essentially very faithful to the original work , on the other it still intends to offer a whole series of small surprises and new features to make the experience even more complete and more structured.
A choice that definitely gives a more interesting imprint to the operation and which was clearly designed to offer veterans of the series one more reason to venture back into the dark corridors of the Ishimura.
The first significant change that has been introduced since the 2008 game is that the protagonist Isaac Clarke can now speak and converse with NPCs. A feature that will allow the plot of the game to explore totally new paths, offering new insights and details on the past and on the psychological depth of the protagonist. Also on a purely playful level, the Montreal studio has acted without making any distortions of any kind, making useful adjustments to favor playability without compromising the feeling of the original experience: the shooting system, for example, has been made yes more fluid and responsive, but still consistent with the sensations conveyed by the game in 2008.
Likewise, the dismemberment mechanics remain a fundamental component of the combat system, which in this new edition will be reinforced by the presence of the new “Peeling System” which introduces stratified flesh, tendons and bones that break, tear and shatter in new and shocking ways. While strategy is key, players will also have more opportunities for creativity in using the variety of weapons and unique abilities to battle enemies.
In addition, a whole series of new mechanics inherited from the second and third chapters of the series have also been introduced, such as the possibility of impaling opponents using the Kinetic Module of Isaac’s suit or the three-dimensional movement system introduced with Dead Space 2 for the sequences in zero gravity.
Alongside the obvious restyling of the graphics sector, the progress made by videogame development will also have consequences in terms of gameplay. For example, the possibility of giving life to a realistic fog animated in real time by the engine will allow you to hide lurking enemies inside it. Furthermore, the new plays of light made possible by Ray Tracing will help create an incredibly immersive atmosphere in Dead Space Remake, thanks to the continuous contrasts between light and shadow and much more.
In short, it goes without saying that it is still too early to evaluate the effectiveness of the operation and the depth of these innovations, but the developers have already assured us that every single modification has been developed by working closely with the community, in order avoid dangerous missteps. Obviously, when dealing with a sacred monster of the kind like Dead Space, it is necessary to understand which choices to adopt to make the product not only in line with current market standards, but also capable of preserving the qualitative depth and character of the original work.
Everything that The Callisto Protocol lacked to make its mark, so to speak. Since while it is true that we are talking about two essentially different works, Schofield’s game looks directly at Dead Space, without ever finally being able to faithfully follow its steps. Whether the remake of Dead Space will be able to live up to our expectations is still to be seen, but if even only in part the team’s promises will be kept then on January 27th we could really be able to fully relive Isaac’s nightmare and with the same eyes as then.