Let's make one thing clear from the get go; I'm a big fan of the Dead Space universe. I think it's one of the best multi-medium franchises to exist, and other game companies that try to release connected movies, comics, and books, should really pay attention. That said, the series' main returning character is the least interesting, and I'm tired of playing as him. Here's why: *SPOILER ALERTS*
I liked Isaac in the original Dead Space. Sure, he was voiceless and faceless and that made his motivation (saving his girlfriend) seem kind of unbelievable, but coupled with his occupation as an unarmed engineer (not a burly soldier or a even a baton carrying security guard) made him a kind of everyman to whom I could relate (no small feat in itself). But then Visceral decided to not only give him a voice for Dead Space 2 but make him suffer from hallucinations of his dead girlfriend. First off, suddenly giving Isaac a voice seemed to make him an entirely different character. Where he once witnessed gruesome creatures and near death with stoic silence, he now drops F-bombs at every other crashing transport ship and suicide he comes across. And the only thing more bizarre than these moments are now the ones when he doesn't speak up! At one point he sees a clearly necromorphed baby crawling to an unsuspecting mother. Does he warn her? Tell her to GTFO? Nah. He just watches her explode when she picks it up. You're a sick man, Clarke.
And then there's his girlfriend. Man is she annoying! She pops up about once a chapter to remind us how guilty Isaac feels about not being able to save her. And that gets really old really fast. To make matters worse, Isaac spends most of this game without any real direction beyond trying to find out what's happened in the last three years.
In the end, Isaac does mature as a character. He forgives himself the guilt of being unable to save the woman he loves and possibly sending her to her death in the first place. He even manages to destroy the new Marker he's unwittingly helped to create–which also makes him the cause of the events in Dead Space 2. And I fully expected and wanted him to die at the end of the game; really, it would have been the perfect ending, and Visceral still could have thrown in their sequel teaser. But no, Isaac Clarke lives to fight another day, and I'm sort of upset about it.
My favorite aspect of the Dead Space universe (the book and movie tie-ins) isn't that they try to retell anything. Sure, they might be parts of the same story, but they tell it from different perspectives. I loved not knowing exactly what happened on Aegis VII prior to Isaac arriving to the Ishimura. But I also loved finding out from the perspectives of the characters in Antony Johnston's comics, as well as the perspective of the rag-tag team of survivors in Extraction–which I also felt had the strongest story of any of the games–because these are good characters with good stories, as well. Isaac Clarke's story? I think it's over, and it wasn't as interesting in his as some of the others to begin with. Here's some examples.
B.K. Evenson's prequel novel Martyr is the single most important piece of narrative in the Dead Space franchise, since it tells the story of the original Marker on Earth and the reluctant hero who understood it: Michael Altman. The founder of the Church of Unitology, Altman is only mentioned briefly in the original Dead Space and a bit more so in the sequel when Isaac stumbles into a recruitment center and church on The Sprawl. In the games, he's explained as a martyr, someone murdered for trying to spread the message of oneness from the Marker. But the novel truly tells Altman's story, and he certainly didn't mean to die a martyr. In fact, he didn't even believe in Unitology–the religion that worships the Marker is barely explained in the games either. Instead, without giving too much away, Altman saw through the Marker's message of "Make us whole." He understood that Convergence was a very bad thing.
There are several other characters in the book, and it isn't only told from Altman's point of view. And yet all of them are better developed and more interesting than Isaac Clarke if only because of the kinds of hallucinations the original Marker causes. This Marker is different from the one found on Aegis VII or engineered by Isaac. Some of its hallucinations are good, warning the seers to avoid the Marker, leave it alone, destroy it even. Consequently, the visions that Martyr's characters have are way more interesting than Isaac's crazy ex-girlfriend.
In the end, Altman realizes he must destroy the very artifact he discovered, helped dig up, and so desperately wants to study.
I felt really bad about killing Nolan Stross in Dead Space 2; I mean, it's not his fault he went crazy and started trying to poke people's eyeballs out. But then I saw the second animated movie Aftermath. Long story short, Stross is a jerk. Secretly sent to study the remains of the Marker after the Ishimura incident with a ship sent for the purpose of investigating, Stross is neglectful of his family, cheats on his wife, and ends up murdering her and his newborn son. By Dead Space 2, like Isaac, he is racked with guilt that he is unable to overcome, and it is this that causes him to lose it so much more completely than Clarke. Clearly, he's a complex character made tragic by his inability to redeem himself.
Lexine is arguably the most important character in Extraction for the simple fact that she's one of the only characters present throughout the entire story, even though she's portrayed as young and weak thoughout. Though she has perhaps more reason to be so than any other character in the Dead Space universe, which is populated by loner characters, those without too many attachments–perhaps explaining their ability to withstand the Marker's influence more than others whose visions of dead loved ones drive them mad. Over the course of her story, Lexine loses her boyfriend Sam Caldwell, her father, her rescuer Nathan McNeill, and her husband Gabe Weller, not to mention her friends on Aegis VII and The Sprawl. And yet she survives not one or two but three necromorph out breaks. And to top it all off, she's the only known character immune to the Marker, making her and her unborn child a very dangerous threat to the ones responsible for so much tragedy in her life. She's like Sarah Conner in space.
Gabriel Weller is such an interesting character to me because he represents such an underused archetype in games, that of the aged warrior. Sure, he's not ancient or anything, but when we first meet him in Extraction, he's already a grizzled veteran training some fresh recruits on a cushy assignment aboard the Ishimura. When all hell breaks loose, he's calm, cold, and calculating, making resolute decisions about how to get the survivors first off of Aegis VII and then the Ishimura. We see it again in Severed, the DLC for Dead Space 2, when once he realizes that The Sprawl is infected he calmly contacts Lexine (now his wife) giving her important instructions that will help him rescue them both.
I also find it incredibly interesting that by Severed Weller has married Lexine, the only person he manages to get out alive when initially he wanted to leave her behind. It suggests that her presence staves his guilt over being unable to save his unit, his good friend Nathan McNeill, or any of the colonists of Aegis VII or the crew of Ishimura. He's Isaac Clarke's what-might-have-been, and it makes his final sacrifice not only believable but extremely poignant–to have come so far and still not make it.
It has to be said; Ellie Langford is the most badass character in Dead Space. She makes Isaac Clarke look like a wuss. Not only does she survive the incident on The Sprawl, but she does it with no armoured suit, only a plasma cutter, and one eye! And she saves Clarke in the end. She saves Clarke–the one with the awesome engineering suit, whatever other awesome weapons you bought, and two eyes. While Clarke's snoozing in his padded cell, Ellie's fighting her way out of The Sprawl's factories, her close friends dying around her–I don't know who Kaleb is, but Ellie sure won't forget him anytime soon. And when Isaac's taking a stroll down memory lane in the Ishimura, she's babysitting Stross. A woman's work is never done.
All this is well and good, but I don't actually expect Visceral to abandon Isaac Clarke anymore than I expect Nintendo to abandon Link. But it does feel like they did some of their best writing around their main character rather than about him. And it also feels like his story is told, while some others' are only beginning.
Share the spotlight, Visceral, and let Isaac have a well-deserved rest.
Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?