For some reason, at around episode five of my Dead Space video playthrough, I started getting bizarre audio distortion. As a result, I've given up of the longer less edited videos with included commentary. The playthrough will now be much shorter and bereft of my text prattling. Anyway, my thoughts on the game as a whole are pretty well summarized in an older blog post. But I did want to get these thoughts down somewhere.
Chapter Ten: End of Days is where the shine really fades off the apple, so to speak. The game becomes much more about resource draining enemy encounters rather than a sustained, tense atmosphere or suspenseful exploration. Dead Space puts Isaac in a room with enemies to use up ammo and health packs, ensuring the way forward is scary. It has been done many times already. The fear now is drawn from distracting game design.
“What weapon or ability does the designer want me to use here?”
“Am I supposed to just run away from this fight?”
“I’m pretty sure I already destroyed that body, but now it has re-spawned intact. Is the game setting up a scare even if I’ve already out-thought it? Joy.”
This is the unofficial padding section of the game, and it continues through most of the remainder of Dead Space. It’s a problem that carries through the two main sequels as well. These games don’t have good third acts.
Another issue (for me, at least) is the stereotyping on display at this point in the game. Dead Space doubles down on unappealing horror cliches by exploiting mental illness and religious dogma. I won’t defend fanaticism or narrow, inflexible thinking here. However, the Dead Space universe only appears to have one religion -- though I think I heard someone shout “Christ!” at some point. And this one religion/suicide cult appears to be peopled entirely by dangerous fanatics. No other perspective is offered. You’re either an non-theistic victim of crazy people or a crazy person victimizing the generally level-headed faithless. That’s a different kind of narrow mindedness. It gets worse with each subsequent game until the Church of Unitology becomes an actual in-game foe in DS3. And I wish Dead Space could be more sophisticated than that.
I don’t think any of the games clarify who Altman was. But the peripheral fiction expands upon his life and legacy. He did not found Unitology. It was founded around him. Altman didn't worship the marker; he understood its danger. His fate is apparently explored in the book Dead Space: Martyr. I haven’t read it. In further expanded universe lore it’s revealed our man Isaac has a history with the church. His parents sacrificed his college fund to the Unitologists, likely hurting his career prospects. Self-destructive fanaticism has chased after his footsteps over the years. Even within the first game’s fiction Isaac has an understandable axe to grind with religious fanatics. Unitology seems to have endangered the woman he loves, killed thousands, and threatens all life in the universe.
But where’s the other side to this conflict of ideologies? It isn't hard to imagine a species scattered by interstellar distances might feel a lack of wholeness. The promise of unity could be quite enticing to humanity’s space-born generations. Unitology, regardless of its origin offers that to the believers. Can’t we have one moderate Unitologist who examines their faith and acknowledges the horrors inflicted by the church and still manages to keep their head on straight? It would be nice, yeah?
Whatever; they’re all religious and therefore crazy. And therefore dangerous. And therefore deserving of the brutality inflicted upon them throughout the trilogy. I guess. Or so Dead Space seems to want us to believe. Keeps it simple.
I’m not asking Dead Space to pick a one side over another when it comes to religion. Rather, I’d like to see many sides, like an icosahedron of nuanced ideas. I want more sophistication from this game I adore.