Recently it was announced that EA is shutting down Visceral Games, the developer best known for the Dead Space Trilogy and Battlefield: Hardline. It’s always tough to hear about a studio going under, especially when some of your favorite games came out of it. Such is the case between myself and the team at Visceral Games.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Visceral Games had their hand on the James Bond gaming license for some time, releasing such titles as 007: From Russia With Love, Everything or Nothing, and, my personal favorite, Agent Under Fire. I also really enjoyed how they brought the town of Springfield to life in The Simpsons Game. I recall borrowing it from a friend, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had with an animated show in the format of a video game.
However, Visceral Games’ true claim to fame, for me, was with the Dead Space Trilogy. Prior to the release of the first Dead Space game, I wouldn’t have been caught dead playing a horror game, much less a survival-horror game with some of the most intense jump scares. I consider myself to scare very easily. What I find most unsettling about horror games is that you are the one in control of what’s going to happen. Movies just don’t have the luxury of being interactive with the audience to that degree. Movies are laid in stone, you can’t really change that. In gaming, however, you are the one who gets to decide whether going off the mission path and into a dark corridor is a feasible decision or not.
Yes, it really is because of Visceral Games that my palette for gaming has expanded considerably within the last near decade. The horror genre notwithstanding, today I have more of an open mind to games of all shapes and forms. Visceral Games helped me ease my way out of my comfort zone and taught me to not necessarily depend on my established norm all the time. That’s something I’ll always be grateful for. Otherwise, I’d still be stuck in my ways, and gaming just wouldn’t be flavorful. Thanks for doing that, Visceral Games.
Yet it’s their work on the Dead Space Trilogy that keeps me coming back year after year to immerse myself in terror and chills. Quite honestly, I haven’t played a game since that kept me as wide-eyed and gripping my controller in fear as Dead Space. What Visceral Games did with the original was give us a silent protagonist we could identify with. Isaac Clarke was not an action hero. He wasn’t a soldier. Isaac is an engineer who showed up at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
The weapons of Isaac’s arsenal weren’t top of line rifles either. In keeping with his background as an engineer, the player repurposed tools such as plasma cutters, rotary saws, and torches. Where monsters or zombies had to be killed off with headshots, Dead Space made dismemberment the funnest thing. When a dreaded necromorph begins to rush you, don’t aim for the head, cut off those arms and legs to immobilize it! Goodness, those necromorphs. They were exquisitely and disturbingly designed. Not only were they reanimated corpses, but the necromorphs also took on abnormal and monstrous mutations. The most cringe inducing necromorphs (in a good way) were the babies and children from Dead Space 2.
Speaking of Dead Space 2, Visceral Games came up with some haunting visuals and settings. The Sprawl was such an interesting place to explore. What stuck out the most were the blood-streaked chapels of the Church of Unitology, the absolutely petrifying halls of an abandoned school, and the fact that Isaac returned to the Ishimura, the ship and main setting of the original game.
I had the gall to play the trilogy wearing surround sound headphones. While the scares were intense, I never regretted it. Those are some of the best memories I have with gaming, and some that I come back to renew and experience again.
Another great thing that Visceral Games did with Dead Space was create and uphold a sense of legend; a mythology. I won’t go into detail, as I would love for you to enjoy it for yourself if your interest is piqued, but the mystery surrounding the Markers, the monoliths that cause men to mutate into those ghastly necromorphs, always intrigued me. I’m very much a lore and expanded universe kind of guy. I can pour over lore and think and interpret it for hours. Dead Space did this well, with these strange artifacts having a history millions of years before the events of the games. Yet you don’t have to understand what’s going on to enjoy your time with the game. If all you want to do is eviscerate necromorphs in all kinds of ways, you can do exactly that.
It pains me to think that the Visceral Games logo won’t be on the cover of another game. In fact, Star Wars is one of my life’s greatest passions, and I was ecstatic to hear that Visceral Games was working on a new entry in the series. It was to be something original and fresh. Thanks to Visceral Games, it would have been something I would have picked up on day one, no holds barred. Sadly, that work is going to be restructured into something else.
That isn’t to say that we won’t get that Visceral Games touch to some degree. Already, other developers are reaching a hand out to the employees of the studio, ready to accept them on other projects. I’ll try to rest assured that some good can still come out of this. Graphic designers, storytellers, sound technicians- these are some talented individuals coming from Visceral Games that can share their passion on new projects.
My heart goes out to all those affected by the closing of the studio. There’s a legacy that Visceral Games leaves behind, whether you were impacted by one of their many games or several of them. I’m confident that we’ll see that legacy continue to live on in the studio’s wake. We express our sincere thanks to everyone at Visceral Games. Thanks for your hard work. Thanks for your talent. Thanks for the memories. Thank you for broadening the horizon. May you all continue to game on.