Even before the monsters arrived, USG Ishimura was a nightmare.
I mean, yeah, the massive spaceship where Dead Space takes place isn’t exactly a Hilton float once its crew was flipped inside-out by a bunch of falling flesh moths, but there’s ample evidence that the Ishimura was a miserable place to live and work long before this happened. that. This is why the Planet Cracking class ship is still fondly remembered as other popular spaces like City 17, Rapture, and Spencer Mansion. Despite its fictional contexts, Ishimura is a believable site in which the work itself is more important than the workers who perform it.
When I first played Dead Space in 2008, I became infatuated with the Ishimura. I felt it lived in. TRUE. Each section of the ship justifies its placement within the broader whole. Each room provided a conceptual context. Engineering sat next to the engines, because of course it did. Bags were strewn around the arrivals hall. Medicine was evenly divided between clinics that assisted with ailments of the mind and body. And he helped you, the protagonist of Isaac Clarke, I was an engineer. Someone who understands the joints and braces that used to hold everything together. You too were a functional part of this larger machine.
When returning to the game this week in preparation for the upcoming remake, I was pleased to see that my memories weren’t fooling me. Ishimura is still an impressive feat of environment design, though the mysterious “Peng” posters have different connotations than they did fifteen years ago.
This time, however, I found myself particularly surprised by the crew quarters. Rows upon rows of empty bunks, piled together in little rooms in the dirtiest corner of an already dirty ship. It’s horrific. Horrible. It signifies a society that cares little about its workers, and with an angry sigh, I realize Ishimura is more believable than I remember. The people who designed it thought of the people who would live on it as an afterthought, and boy is it not that realism in its most subtle form.
Ishimura is a cracking planet. Its sole purpose is to penetrate the surface of a planet to pluck out its glistening entrails. Those on board then use a variety of tools—the same tools Isaac uses to cut through flesh and bone—to separate the valuables from the rock. It is not surprising that the interior of the ship looks like a ship that has penetrated many planets. It’s gloomy and stuffy. Endless corridors of gloomy metal. Heavy doors to protect from the dangers of this profession. A medical bay the size of a processing plant, likely because cutting off limbs was a problem before everyone got away with their blades and decided it would be fashionable to pop small intestines on the wrong side of their stomachs.
You might think, given that the rest of Ihsimura looks like the inside of a washing machine (and, thanks to the sheer amount of machinery it contains, looks like one, too) that the crew quarters would offer its inhabitants some kind of light comfort in a rug, or perhaps a single plant. but not. Apart from having endless rows of narrow bunk beds, it is almost indistinguishable from the rest of this derelict ship. The Concordance Extraction Corporation couldn’t care less about your comfort, and why would they? Ishimura is a workplace, and just because you’re stuck there for months (years?) at a time doesn’t matter to those stuffing their pockets full of delicious planet rock.
“But what about the officers!” You cry. “Where’s the captain, his first mate, and his cook?”. Well, that’s a good question. The reason we know Ishimura so closely is because Dead Space takes the player to every corner of its sprawling layout, and Isaac spends time exploring the officer’s quarters. It’s brilliantly — laughably — average. Here we find the rugs the crew has to crave. Each officer has his own room. Double bed. velvet sheets. Closet complete with hard liquor and pictures of the house. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. The walls are the same stuffy metal as we see everywhere else on the ship. Your rank among your classmates means little to Ishimura’s groaning bones. Dress her in scarlet as often as you like. If you’re on board, you’re worthless. Madness and decay are both inevitable and a welcome conclusion.
I hope, if anything, that the remake will reinforce that suffocating feeling. I want to see more evidence of the misery that existed apart from the mutant monsters. From the firm grip of capitalism on the throat of comfort. USG Ishimura is as believable as he is bad. This is exactly why I like him to this day.
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