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Game of the Week-Dismemberment Is Not a Theme: On Dead Space and Marketing

Hello all! Last week’s game had a great combat system, and fantastic art, but to me it represents the beginning of an insurmountable gaming backlog.

This week’s game is something I actually did finish, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Mostly because of marketing.


Dead Space is a survival horror title set on a derelict mining spacecraft called the Ishimura. You play as Issac Clarke, here a silent protagonist, as he tries to find a way off the Ishimura, as well as find out what happened to his girlfriend, Nicole.

Being a survival horror game released in the wake of Resident Evil 4, Dead Space plays in a similar fashion (I mean, you can move and aim at the same time, but still). As with most great SH titles, you need to conserve your ammo and health pickups, because they’re relatively scarce. You conserve ammo in Dead Space primarily by dismembering your enemies; shoot off arms and legs of Necromorphs to slow them down. This also does more damage to them, as the majority of Necromorphs generally consist of “thick bodies, thin limbs.” Still, there’s a healthy variety of enemies to chop up.

What I like about Dead Space is, it’s much smarter than it appears to be at first glance. Take a look at that box art up there. It’s a hand in a brown glove, floating away from a brown spaceship, and towards the brown title. Also, some of the space is inexplicably brown. It’s not that great. It pushes the “theme” of dismemberment, sure, but ugh.


Speaking of, read this old article about Dead Space’s executive producer calling dismemberment the primary theme of the game.

So really, I didn’t have high hopes for the game when I picked it up. Yeah, I saw the trailers and commercials, and I certainly knew the game existed...but really, I just picked up the game randomly on sale (though it was fairly soon after release). What I expected was a game that wouldn’t last too long, where I would shoot some space monsters over a weekend.


What I got, however, was a fantastic horror experience. There’s something about space that’s perfect for horror; it’s simultaneously infinite and claustrophobic. Like most survival horror games, the game becomes less scary as you progress, due to the increasingly powerful weapons you acquire, but much of the game is intense; there’s always a feeling of dread, especially when all you have is your plasma cutter (it’s super effective! But still).

What I also got was a story I actually cared about (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 5). Once again, this supposedly “shoot aliens until you win” game surprised me, by featuring a wonderful sense of place and much more lore and backstory than it really deserved or needed. That’s a plus, by the way, because it means the developers went the extra mile. They crafted a world instead of a game environment (there’s a big difference, people).


Let’s not forget the gorgeous graphics and a successful HUD-less design, the latter of which is tricky to pull off—hence it’s lack of use.

But I still keep thinking back to the marketing of Dead Space—EA had convinced me that this new game was generic as hell, and that, if I bought the game, I’d be in for an “awesome” experience devoid of any real substance. I was wrong, of course, but see, that’s what EA’s marketing campaign made me feel. And frankly, I might not have bought the game if the marketing was that accurate. Hard to say, really; I can’t remember what I was into in 2008.


Dead Space makes me think about the often contradictory nature of games marketing: Dead Space, after all, is a hard sell when you really think about it. I mean, try to sell it to a friend, except you can only sell it on its themes (not dismemberment). “So it’s a scary game in space with a lot of audio logs exploring the backstory. Also *MILD 8 YEAR OLD SPOILER* there’s this obelisk thing that’s making these mutants, except other people think it’s a religious symbol...wait, where are you going?”

“Issac! Patching you through to this freaking awesome promo for this game—it’s gonna blow your &%#$ing balls off.”

It’s true that some of us would buy the game based on its innovation and themes, rather than the gory dismemberment. Then again, “some” isn’t “lots.” And gaming is a business, whether you like it or not. And even if the game isn’t (and I hate this term) “dumbed down,” the marketing has to be, sometimes, to some extent. That’s really what bugs me about game trailers and sizzle reels—there’s a lot of games out there with great writing and something to say, and that often gets lost in “48 WEAPONS! 19 MULTIPLAYER MAPS!” Or, in Dead Space’s case, “DISMEMBERMENT! VIOLENCE!” And those of us who appreciate a smart game will likely miss said smart game because the trailer made it look mindless.

Side note: ignore the trailers and naysayers and play Call of Duty: Black Ops if you’ve missed it. It’s brilliant, and is one of just two Call of Duty titles that gets my full recommendation. It’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about here, and it’ll probably be Game of the Week soon.


Back to Dead Space...How do you avoid the hype train? Like 90% of game footage you see is trailers where gameplay footage wooshes by, and giant buzzwords fly at you, attempting to tattoo themselves on your brain. These days, by the time a game comes out, you’ve already made your decision, because everyone’s talking about how great Game X is gonna be, and let’s face it: no matter how cool, or smart (read:elitist) you claim to be, sometimes you get swept up in it. Sometimes the hype is pretty justified (Bloodborne) sometimes it’s not even close (BioShock Infinite—great art, everything else is trash).

I don’t really have the answers, though. Marketing is a funny thing. Like I said, it’s a business in the end, and of course they have to sell these big, expensive AAA games to as many folks as possible. I guess the point of all this is: stay informed, and keep an open mind about that game that you think won’t appeal to you...because it just might surprise you.


Thanks for reading my stuff! Especially this lengthy post. Leave comments and suggest games to cover! Tweet at me! And find more of my stuff (and the stuff of people more talented than me) at Current Digital!

Next week-Well, I’ve done the first two games in this series, so I might as well finish it off with the third entry in this slow-mo Bullet Time film noir shooter.

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