Dead Space

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Resident Evil 4 HD screenshot
Resident Evil 4 HD screenshot

As Capcom abandons the genre, and rumours point to a co-op Dead Space 3, will this year's E3 spell the death of survival horror?

This year it feels like E3 could be the final nail in the coffin for survival horror. After Dead Space 3 was unofficially confirmed by several sources, and South African retailer BT Games started accepting pre-orders, I started to get excited at the prospect that one of the last bastions of the genre would be getting a new entry. Then IGN sources reported that Dead Space 3 will include drop-in, drop-out co-op, and my excitement levels plummeted.

Ask any survival horror fan why co-op doesn't work in the genre, and they'll invariably cite the same example: Resident Evil 5. Whenever there was a sniff of danger, Sheva came running to drop-kick a few enemies and make life a cake-walk. Even with an equally-fallible friend taking the place of overpowered AI, the essence of fear is lost. The key features of survival horror are isolation and powerlessness, and these qualities quickly evaporate when a chum is right by your side. Heaven forbid you should die in a modern video game, because Sheva simply won't allow it. Even the most mortal of wounds can be dealt with via a quick slap on the back, getting you straight back into the action.

And that's the key word, 'action'. Capcom has stated that straight survival horror games simply don't sell enough to warrant triple-A releases anymore. Series producer Masachika Kawata stated himself in an interview with Eurogamer that the survival horror market is "small, compared to the number of units Call of Duty and all those actions games sell".

These are damning words for the genre, and seem to spell the end of Resident Evil as the flagship series for survival horror. But beyond that, these comments underscore the current trends of the industry. Rather than pursuing the ideas they are genuinely passionate about, many developers seem to be pro-actively pursuing the same basic premises as other games that have already sold millions. It's an understandable tactic up to a point, but this is exactly how video game series stagnate - by regurgitating the same ideas over and over, until gamers start to lose interest.

And then there's Dead Space. The first Dead Space was a true survival horror title - and had praise heaped upon it as a result - but its sequel definitely started the move towards action gaming. We'll have to wait and see what happens with Dead Space 3, but if the rumours of co-op play turn out to be true, it's hardly a promising sign. The apparent industry perception is that the only way a survival horror series can survive is to quickly deviate into another genre and speed up the gameplay. Why do publishers have such little faith in a genre when Dead Space's first entry alone proved that it can be successful? Not only do publishers remove fundamental gameplay elements, but with the addition of bland multiplayer, we horror-junkies are destined to go unsatisfied.

The argument goes that Capcom and EA are moving away from survival horror because the market is too small, but if that was the case, Dead Space wouldn't have succeeded in the first place. By moving these franchises into another genre, they are no longer a huge fish in a small pond, but a small fish in a very sizeable ocean. Dead Space and Resident Evil may be big names, but they are far bigger in the survival horror market than among the action crowd.

Resident Evil 6 screenshot

Capcom and EA are attaching action games to survival horror franchises, not the other way around. Capcom made the god-awful Operation Raccoon City, which was a critical flop, as well as The Mercenaries on 3DS, which wasn't great either. Dead Space and Resident Evil are well known as survival horror franchises, not action series. They have achieved success and acclaim as scary games, and that's why people love them. Many people will buy Resi 6 and Dead Space 3 based on their experiences with older entries in the franchises, which were survival horror experiences, which surely means that the genre still has a place in the industry.

But this is a flawed strategy because Capcom runs the risk of alienating both audiences. The survival horror faithful will no doubt be pissed off by the fact their beloved franchises aren't what they once were, and if action fans wanted to play Resident Evil, they would have done so by now. For an example of how such tactics can backfire, one need only look at EA's recent misadventures with Syndicate, or 2K's troubles with its XCOM brand. Fans went berserk when 2K announced a new XCOM game, only for it to be revealed as an FPS. 2K quickly back-tracked and have repeatedly delayed the game's release, while simultaneously announcing a new, more familiar turn -based strategy game. The overall lesson to learn from this? By throwing all their eggs in the action basket, publishers run a very real of risk of ruining their franchises.

For people like me, thankfully, all hope is not lost. The godfather of survival horror, and creator of the Resident Evil series, Shinji Mikami, announced recently he is working on a new "true survival horror game". Codename Zwei is being developed by Mikami-san's Tango studios, and published by Bethesda, the powerhouse behind The Elder Scrolls series. Mikami said he is "striving for pure survival horror", and is "being very hands-on with the development of this game to ensure the quality is there". This is music to my ears, and flies in the face of Kawata's comments, not only does it have the man behind the genre making sure the game is a pure example of survival horror, it's also backed by one of the biggest publishers in the industry. Mikami hasn't said much about Zwei, but he's said more than enough to get me excited.

If you want to know the kind of impact Shinji Mikami can have on a game, play Resident Evil 4 and 5. Mikami worked on Resi 4 and left before 5, and the difference was palpable. Even when Capcom started the push towards action in Resident Evil 4, Mikami still found a way to retain the series' focus on horror. Resident Evil 5 lost sight of this goal; it tried to do exactly what Mikami did with 4, only bigger, and without his genius - and it failed miserably.

It's obvious that we currently have a lot more questions than answers, but all that is about to change. With E3 right around the corner, hopefully EA, Capcom, and Bethesda will no doubt shed some light on what they have in store. At the very least we will see how Dead Space 3 plans to use co-op; maybe EA will prove me wrong and do something truly innovative and make co-op horrifying, but somehow I doubt it. Hope is all but lost for Resident Evil. E3 will no doubt allow Capcom to showcase all the new action-oriented features that promise to make Resident Evil 6 the least Resident Evil title yet. If anything, I expect the footage to be more akin to the mundane movie series.

We must all keep our fingers crossed for Bethesda and Mikami, and hope that Zwei makes an appearance that puts the other two to shame - not only to raise the spirits of survival horror fans, but to show the rest of the industry that it can be done.

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User Comments

skyhawk02's Avatar


The direction dead space 3 is going in does not spell the end of survival horror because Amnesia: A machine for pigs is coming out fall 2012. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was in my opinion a scarier game than Dead Space anyway, and A Machine for Pigs promises to carry on the tradition. I can't believe that you didn't mention Amnesia anywhere in your article but you probably just hadn't heard of it I guess.
Posted 14:03 on 04 June 2012
Isaacrules's Avatar

Isaacrules@ munkee

Definitely. Reminds me of what happened with Lost Planet and Lost Planet 2. I loved LP1 (despite the often nonsensical story) and bought LP2 without realising there'd be no choice but to play 'single'-player with three idiotic AI buddies. Decent game in co-op - but that wasn't what I bought it for. The thought of playing a Dead Space game with one or more AI partners (who'd probably be dumber than the dumbest necromorph) is more terrifying than the wildest moments in DS2's mental '3-saves-per-game-no-checkpoints-tear-your-hair-out-when-you-die' mode!
Posted 16:32 on 31 May 2012
munkee's Avatar

munkee@ Isaacrules

Exactly that mate. I'm presuming (hoping) that co-op will be optional and you won't have to play with another human. But, I fear that if you're not playing with another human, then you'll be forced to play with an AI partner. That would be a really bad move.
Posted 15:19 on 31 May 2012
Isaacrules's Avatar


I'm dismayed and saddened at the prospect of co-op in Dead Space 3. If there's no choice but to play 'drop-in drop-out' co-op I'll be avoiding DS3 like the plague. What'll happen to the isolation, paranoia and bone-juddering tension that made DS1 and 2 so great if random others are dropping in and out of your bubble of terror?! Is there even going to be a bubble of terror? Will the whole DS1-and-2 mindset be diluted into Gears-type buddy-combat? Such a shame that games companies and their masters seem determined to alienate the fanbases of genre and sub-genre games in their apparent pursuit of the Ultimate Mish-Mash COD-sibling Super-Seller! DS2 is my all-time favourite game;I'm praying that DS3 is not my all-time biggest gaming disappointment!
Posted 14:37 on 31 May 2012
Isaacrules's Avatar


I'm dismayed and saddened at the thought of co-op in a Dead Space game. If it's anything like the awful multiplayer in Dead Space 2, and if you have no choice but to play co-op, I'll be avoiding Dead Space 3 like the plague, despite Dead Space 2 (single-player) being my all-time favourite game. What happens to the isolation, paranoia and bone-juddering tension that made DS1 and 2 so great if you've got random others dropping in and out of your bubble of terror? WTF!!! Such a shame that games companies and their masters seem determined to alienate the fanbases of genre or sub-genre games in their pursuit of the Ultimate Super-Mish-Mash COD-sibling Super-Seller!
Posted 14:25 on 31 May 2012
altaranga's Avatar


Dead Space 3, Co-Op, and the Death of Dead Space.

Survival Horror will survive. It's in its very nature to do so.
Posted 23:12 on 30 May 2012
s_h_a_d_o's Avatar


Many publishers seem under the illusion that to serve up a game that amalgamates aspects of multiple genres, is to *improve* the experience (or appeal to a broader potential market at least). What they fail to understand is that the purity of nature found in a specifically idiosyncratic experience is what sets it apart and makes it superior. Look to those independents free from the yoke of AAA oppression for successfully-realised creative vision... keeping my eye on 'Deadlight' and 'Machine for Pigs', as well as the newly revealed 'Among the Sleep' (pity about the title)
Posted 21:27 on 30 May 2012
clangod's Avatar

clangod@ dav2612

So it is...

Must have a closer look then.
Posted 15:50 on 30 May 2012
guyderman's Avatar

guyderman@ munkee

The PS3 version can be played using the Dual shock, but it's impossibly hard to play it like that - it really needs the motion controllers to be played well. It was brimming with atmosphere and genuine tension I really recommend it to anyone who has a Wii or Move for the PS3. Obviosuly it's not quite as shiny looking as Dead Space 1 or 2, but believe it or not, it's not far behind!

EDIT - and it really adds something to the story of Dead Space 1 & 2 aswell!
Posted 14:35 on 30 May 2012
munkee's Avatar

munkee@ dav2612

It is. It was a freebie with the SE Dead Space 2 :) It's a move controller game. Not sure if it works with a dualshock.

There's also a pretty good Dead Space iOS game.

I do think that Dead Space 1 was good enough to be the only Dead Space game. But, Dead Space 2 is REALLY good too. It's just different. I personally prefer 1. The USG Ishimura is an incredible environment.

Something else worth noting is that the Dead Space franchise is good enough that it sparks a pretty big debate every single time its mentioned ;) I think that's what it's so important that they get it right. There's too much to lose.
Posted 14:17 on 30 May 2012
dav2612's Avatar

dav2612@ clangod

Pretty sure Extraction is available on the PS3, some special edition of Dead Space 2 I think.
Posted 14:15 on 30 May 2012
clangod's Avatar

clangod@ guyderman

I never played Extraction as I do not play the Wii. If you believe it belongs in the Dead Space realm then I'm okay with that :)
Posted 13:48 on 30 May 2012
guyderman's Avatar


the survival horror market is "small, compared to the number of units Call of Duty and all those actions games sell".

wait till they see how small the market is for 'ex-survival horror games that have become action games in an attempt to sell more copies'. There is no chance of getting all the single minded CoD players of that franchise - dedicate your time and effort to presenting a top notch SP experience with a great story, great characters and great atmosphere and you will have a title that sells - the Batman Arkham titles have proved this!
Posted 13:38 on 30 May 2012
guyderman's Avatar


Dead Space 1 was fantastic and I disagree that it should've been a one off game as Extraction on the Wii was also fantastic!

I think I hate Co-op being forced into SP games more than I hate MP modes that are tacked on!
Posted 13:31 on 30 May 2012
clangod's Avatar


It sure is a damn shame. I've played Dead Space enough to know how terrifyingly awesome it is.

Why change something that is damn near perfect into a hybrid action joke? To betray the original is deplorable.

I hated Resi 5. Nice looking and all but terrible to actually play. All before were brilliant in their own way. Such a shame.

You know what though? I will most likely play both Dead Space 3 and Resi 6. Mainly because of what they used to be. But also because the games might still be fun.

FM seals the coffin though. Maybe I didn't agree the first time I read the comment (some time ago) but Dead Space should have remained a one time masterpiece. There's only so far you can stretch that unique Dead Space feel before you change it completely. I'll settle for two.

Is there any likelihood that the devs will change tac with Dead Space 3's development? Any hope this side of the Ishimura?
Posted 13:23 on 30 May 2012

Game Stats

Release Date: 24/10/2008
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Third-person shooter
No. Players: One
Rating: BBFC 18
Site Rank: 17,951 34
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