November 8, 2008

Alive in Dead Space: The Marker Will Save Us

Commentary

necromorphWarning! The following is a spoiler-filled retrospective on the story of Dead Space.

Altman be praised! Dead Space is one of the few crossmedia tales that accomplishes the unique goals of its medium. Each piece of the puzzle is connected for the most part, adding something to the universe, and never contradictory. It is a step in the right direction for cross/transmedia, but whether the overarching plot is worthwhile or not is up for debate.

While fun, Dead Space never goes beyond the trappings of its horror/Sci-Fi roots. It borrows heavily from Aliens and The Thing but never reaches that level of quality. The threads running throughout the plot are fully realized, but convoluted. A conspiracy of religion and government, zealots, lovers, and mad scientists, the conclusion is epic but ambigious - and not in a good way.

isaac clarke
The walls of Dead Space run thick with blood and plot holes.

The biggest issues with the plot of Dead Space seem to play out in the game, and thankfully so. The ARG, the comic, and to a lesser extent, the DVD remain entertainingly simple, with hints of a big conspiracy thrown in for good measure. The game, as great as it is, wraps up the story in a way that is ham-fistedly complex. It gives the impression of a writer unsure how to end their story.

The cheap scare ending seems to be the most obvious sign of a surrender to poor writing. It's an open admission to how flimsy some aspects of the plot are. Is Isaac's girlfriend a hallucination or real? If she's real, why is she alive and attacking him? If she's a hallucination, do the effects of the marker and hivemind linger despite them being destroyed? And if she's been a hallucination this whole time, how does she unlock a door for you and help you recall Kendra's ship?

The Unitologists play second fiddle to a government cover-up.

Kendra herself is another example, with her betrayal feeling more implausible than shocking. Maybe it's that she played her part so well in the beginning, but her jump from sympathetic character to antagonist made her a completely different person. Past games have used similar plot twists, with Atlas's betrayal in Bioshock fresh in most people's memories. While Bioshock's twist may have been predictable, the bits that gave it away also gave it some credence. Something was up, and that got you thinking. Kendra's betrayal felt like a cheap last-second rewrite to stir the pot.

Her motives remain a mystery. It's revealed that she worked for the government, but if that's the case why would she be trying to retrieve the marker? The government knows that the marker stops the necromorphs, shouldn't their motives be in line with Doctor Kyne? If anything, the Unitologists would be the ones trying to claim the marker. I don't understand why the writers would marginalize the Unitology thread when it seemed to be the largest conspiracy connecting the whole story together.

The way the stories connect remains quite satisfying.

The marker itself, the monolitic relic that binds the whole story, manages to convolute even further. The government created a copy (maybe several) and this is what caused the monsters to show up. Again, the motives aren't clear; what drove them to make copies of something they don't understand? More than anything, the copy seems more like a hook for a sequel than a genuine plot point.

Going into this article, I didn't intend to rant about the failings of Dead Space's final act. I actually enjoyed the comic series and ARG a lot, and the DVD was entertaining for what it was. The way the stories connected helped to strengthen my interest in the game's plot - for that I have to give it credit. I'd anticipated arriving on Aegis VII because I'd seen it so much in the comics, and finding Brahm's audio log was one of the more exciting bits of crossmedia I've experienced. Dead Space wasn't a groundbreaking genre-buster, but it pulled me in enough to write five paragraphs about the ending. In that respect I see it as an accomplishment.

For the rest of my Dead Space coverage: http://www.redringcircus.com/2008/10/alive-in-dead-space-multipart-series.html
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