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Isaac Clarke ventures carefully through a biomass-infested part of the USG Ishimura in the Dead Space remake. He wears a sensible engineer’s suit, with a heavy helmet with three horizontal teal lines behind its plating.

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Dead Space’s changes open possibilities for the series’ future

The “new” Isaac begs the question: What else could Motive tweak?

Image: Motive Studio/Electronic Arts

In the original Dead Space, engineer Isaac Clarke is silent. We see the back of his head, hear the raspy breathing in his helmet, and control him as he cuts, stomps, and slices his way through hordes of Necromorphs. In the Dead Space remake, Isaac’s arc hews closely to the original template, but he’s no longer a silent protagonist — he not only vocally reacts to the events on the USG Ishimura, but offers more context for each of the game’s tense chapters. Now, Isaac feels more like a character — and he feels more in line with the fully voiced Isaacs of Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3.

In the original Dead Space, Isaac is a cypher. You are free to project whatever characteristics you’d like onto him as his crewmates Kendra Daniels and Zach Hammond explain the plot and give him orders. In the intro of the remake, however, he makes a suggestion that saves the crew’s life. A simple, voiced line of sympathy shared with Hammond, and things going wrong afterward, makes Isaac feel like part of the story instead of just an avatar.

This could have been executed poorly; sometimes, a speaking protagonist threatens to crush a game with the weight of their narrative. I had to stop playing the 2018 game Vampyr because Dr. Jonathan Reid wouldn’t stop talking about every last thing he saw, instead of just letting me take it in with my own two eyes. A common complaint about God of War Ragnarök is that Atreus is a little too helpful, chiming in with hints and suggestions during puzzles before frustration even has the time to set in.

This is a particularly tough balance to hit with horror: If the protagonist talks too much, it breaks the tension. A silent protagonist is a simple solution, and it worked well in the original Dead Space. But in the remake, Motive Studio had the benefit of hindsight, and the knowledge of who Isaac would become in the sequels.

 Isaac Clarke, in his heavy engineer RIG suit, stands next to a welcoming sign on the USG Ishimura in the Dead Space remake. Image: Motive Studio/Electronic Arts

The faith of Unitology comes up throughout the campaign (much earlier in the remake), and it soon becomes clear that our protagonist has a history with this group, which is absolutely not Scientology. He was raised by parents who were in the faith, and that’s a source of trauma for him. If you find Hammond’s notes on his colleagues, he writes that it’s probably safe to talk to Isaac about politics — but avoid religion.

A more fleshed-out protagonist makes the rest of this sci-fi world feel richer. While I’m still not a huge fan of the graffiti, the interactions that Isaac has with the rest of the crew and the few Ishimura survivors gives him personal stakes and goals outside of silent survival. Isaac’s dialogue and presence extend all the way to a new alternate ending, which is much more unnerving and worrisome than the original finale.

Hearing Issac speak in Dead Space 2 was initially a shock. But as the trilogy continued, it felt only natural that he would have more of a say in the narrative (much of it was about his own interior journey, after all). Now, seeing how well Motive has retroactively given the first incarnation a voice, I’m extremely curious as to what other series pillars the developer might topple.

The Dead Space remake still feels very self-contained, and nothing of the original experience was lost in the attempt to build the franchise’s future (unless you require a silent protagonist in all of your games). But I’m still intrigued to see what Motive Studio is doing with the Dead Space franchise, and this new foreshadowing has me equal parts chilled and thrilled for Isaac’s next big, terrible adventure.

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