Favorite Dead Space Necromorphs! (Major Series Spoilers)
The science-fiction survival horror Dead Space is another of the site's most-requested Halloween topics, but admittedly, I was never especially drawn in by its creature designs at first glance; fangly ghouls like this are something I've seen so many times that I kinda kept getting too easily distracted before looking any deeper into the series monsters, always telling myself I'd come back and read about them in further detail some day for a good review.
Well, "some day" has come at last, and now that I've actually dug through every last one of these fangly ghouls, I know there's a lot more to some of them than the straightforward brute here or earlier slasher, especially in terms of actual background lore and origins, which is quite a bit weirder and more fun than just another "zombie virus."
For the condensed version, this fun begins in the 25th century. Humans have achieved interstellar travel and colonized many other worlds, but apparently still struggle with renewable energy sources, somehow. It doesn't have to make sense. The solution comes when we discover an ancient, alien monolith that apparently generates electromagnetic waves from seemingly nowhere, and a new era of prosperity is born until it turns out that the monolith, or "black marker," also causes dead things to get up and grow spider legs out of their eyes.
So what is the black marker, really? We'll get to that after we admire some of its all-time greatest hits.
The TormentorI'll start off with one more that kind of isn't much deeper than a fangly ghoul, even pretty gauche as my spouse put it, which is exactly the word I was always trying and failing to recall when I wanted to explain why a lot of mainstream monster designs kinda miss the mark for me, but the Tormentor is a pretty fun kind of gauche. It's huge, for one thing, with a ridiculous gummy overbite tearing out of a sad little baby-face and gnarly, excessive appendages you can tell are just a whole lot of corpses all melded and mashed together like play-doh.
The PregnantThe "Pregnant" necromorph is another design I might have passed on - a bloated corpse with dangling finger-tongues is just kind of another Saturday for me - but sometimes, it's what's on the inside that counts:
The Pregnant is "pregnant" with a big load of little whosits the game simply calls "swarmers," and just look at that adorable wiggliness! You would never guess these are supposed to be the leftover mutated pieces of a decomposing fetus, according to game text.
The CrawlerSpeaking of babies, here's a dead baby with an upside-down head that puffs up with noxious gas until it explodes. When I was younger, I might have thought an exploding dead baby monster was knee-slapping shock comedy, then for a while I might have thought it was an eye-rolling attempt to be edgy, then I went through a period where I would have felt no strong feelings towards exploding babies either way, and now, as a sophisticamatered growny-up, I've come to terms with the fact that I think exploding babies are perfectly viable monsters and that they don't need any deeper justification to my discriminating standards. What a roller coaster life can be.
The coolest thing about the crawler, though? In Dead Space 3, it comes in *alien* baby flavor, because yeah, Earth isn't at all the only planet, or anywhere near the first planet, to get itself a marker.
The ExploderAnother exploding monster, but a lot more complicated in design than just a fat baby. The Exploder's explosives are concentrated in that huge, cumbersome, pustule-encrusted left arm, which can't even bend at the elbow anymore, leaving its weirdly fused right arm and legs to pick up the slack. It basically moves around like a one-legged man with a crutch, except the crutch explodes when he decides to beat you over the head with it.
The icing on the cake is the Exploder's fractured head, which can split open like a mouth when it feels more like biting something than exploding. I enjoy the look of absolute misery on that split zombie face; it's quite a bit spookier than the more bestial visage of other necromorphs.
The TripodWe're still not done with dead babies, if that's what's going on with the Tripod's retractable tentacle. Did you find the fat, little baby limbs already? Did you want to laugh? Where did its head go!? Why does the tentacle just have a pudgy baby torso dangling half-way down!? It's almost silly enough to distract from the fact that this is something with entire corpses for legs. It does not get a whole lot farther over the top than this.
The DividerOne of my favorites, the divider already has a beautifully simple "emaciated meat scarecrow" look that doesn't need any superfluous mandibles or bone scythes to look scary as hell. It would even be scary without its secret trick, but it's a GREAT secret trick.
Did I mention the completely unique player death scene associated with every single monster? This is definitely a feature almost every violence-oriented monster-centric video game ought to include. Here, we see what happens when the player is killed by the severed head of the Divider, because as its name indicates, the Divider can divide. The head alone isn't even especially dangerous, and it's not too often you'll get killed by one, but when you do, you get to watch it commandeer your body and be ahead in the game all over again.
The MedusaThis is another Necromorph from the third game, seemingly mutated from an extinct, alien life form. A floating, vaguely jellyfish sort of monster is another of those designs I've seen so many times that they seldom stand out to me anymore, though that may be in part because I was OBSESSED with the trope for a big chunk of my childhood. I could not get enough floating jellyfishy monsters. This one is pretty unique in that it also gives me a mantis-like impression, what with its angular foremost pair of tentacles and its looming, thin, predominantly greenish shape!
The NestOne of my favorite designs, this necromorph spends too much of its time either retracted into a giant pustule or flailing around wildly for me to find any clear screenshots, but the final version in-game doesn't differ much from this late conceptual art. Like a huge, horrible coral polyp, it waits in its retracted form before extending its fleshy, stalk-like body and multiple tubular arms. It's those fat, maggot-like appendages that can belch forth nasty, tentacled nodules which, of course, follow you around until they explode. I love how those things seem to be derived from human brains and spinal columns.
...And it all happens exclusively in zero-gravity environments, in case a big grenade-launching boob tree wasn't frightening and disorienting enough on its own.
The WheezerYou may have noticed Dead Space doesn't usually go for subtlety, but the Wheezer here doesn't spit acid, doesn't vomit killer fetuses, doesn't explode, doesn't even directly attack at all. All the Wheezer does is sit in place, its arms and legs fused to each other by nasty membranes of skin, and generate a continuous stream of toxic gas from its huge, external lungs.
The Wheezer is a human body transformed into a pollution factory, aiding the spread of necromorphs by creating an environment where nothing else can live very long. It's the least directly violent creature in the game, but it may very well be the most disturbing.
The InfectorI think this might actually be my very favorite design in the series, and it's an important one, too; the Infector is the necromorph that actually begins every outbreak, adapted especially to find viable corpses and pump them full of the alien contagion, pretty much the macroscopic equivalent of a viral body! I know I just said that things are actually reanimated by the black markers, but I guess their range is limited, or something. A prequel novel, Martyr, offers the explanation that a scientist, driven mad by the black marker, engineers the first infector from a genetic code hidden in the marker's signals, which I think is both a more elegant and more interesting story.
From below, you can really appreciate how streamlined the infector is from its original, inferior human form. It's dropped a pair of limbs, the entire head and most of its organs, leaving a lightweight, compact torso with handy gliding membranes stretched between its single, twisted set of legs. What used to be the spinal column is incorporated into its stinger-like infectious proboscis, while what may have been intestine has been repurposed into a long-distance grappling appendage.
It's really the animations and sound effects that bring all these monsters to life; I just love the chittering sounds and frantic movements of these things, especially the way they walk around on their "wings" like an agitated vampire bat!
The SwarmUnfortunately, Infectors aren't present anymore in Dead Space 3, but perhaps that's just because the third game takes place on a planet already long overtaken by the undead. Fulfilling a similar role are "the swarm," which aren't really as interesting in terms of design, but they're charmingly small at least, and reanimate corpses into necromorphs by crawling all the way down their throats. A Swarm body can even escape from a dead host, wiggle into another body and start all over, which sounds like a lot of fun to have to deal with. The frustrating kind of fun, which is sometimes one of the best kinds.
The Swarm are another one significantly improved by their animation; the little things are just so hyper, with the most delightful breathy gibbering as they clamber all over their hapless victim. Still a little too similar to the Headcrabs from Half-Life, though. The series definitely had something more signature going on with the Infector.
The HivemindThe final boss of the first game, the hivemind is a titanic amalgamation of fused-together human corpses forming what looks a very great deal like a parasitic worm with a tapeworm-like scolex for a face. As the name implies, it seems to serve as the ultimate control center of the necromorph outbreak on the planet Aegis VII, where humans had foolishly set up an artificial "Red Marker."
Later, a very different, arthropod-like hivemind known simply as "The Nexus" is encountered on the planet Tau Volentis, and seems to have been formed eons prior from the planet's native fauna. The implications here are pretty cool; that every planet taken over by necromorphs would have its own special, unique hive-minds in charge of it.
These monsters are, however, not the ultimate villains of the series...they're just the go-betweens, or sort of equivalent to "army generals," and this is why I had to include a spoiler warning, because if you didn't know what we're about to talk about and you have any plans to ever play a "Dead Space" game, I really don't want to be the one who ruined a surprise this outrageous....
THE GODDAMN MOONYes, the nearly city-sized Hiveminds are teeny, tiny babies compared to the true ultimate villains of the series, who call themselves The Brethren Moons or Brother Moons, because they talk by the way, which is also wonderful. A bunch of giant talking balls of zombie flesh in space are simultaneously as preposterous and as badass as antagonists could ever possibly be, even if their dastardly plans are a little convoluted.
The moons, it turns out, form a network all across the Milky Way galaxy, and appear to be the true reason humans have yet to encounter any other intelligent life. A planet with the potential to produce a civilized species is seeded early on by one of the black markers, which may even further encourage the evolution of high intelligence. Inevitably, an advanced and densely populated enough species will discover the marker, attempt to use it as a power source, replicate it artificially and end up turning most of their world's biomass into all those fangly ghoulies. This in turn finally triggers a "convergence event," during which, I kid you not, all the undead life on a planet is just thrown out into space where it all melts together into a beautiful new baby moon. All the moons seem to want is more moons. More moons, and "to live forever." Together forever. Just a big, happy family!
These Big AssholesMy favorite thing about these goofballs, though? The "true" head appears to be the one dangling inside their giant beak like a uvula. A uvula with giant, yellow googly eyes.
After the lackluster sales of Dead Space 3, a fourth game in the franchise was put on indefinite hiatus, so we may or may not ever learn some deeper twist in the story of these giant dorks. They had to come from somewhere, didn't they? A moon made of zombies doesn't feel like something that just up and "evolves"...but if you ask me, it's a lot cooler and scarier if we never do find out where something so absurd could have actually originated.
All in all, the Dead Space series is difficult for me to take too seriously, but I feel like it neither needs nor wants me to. Now that I've got a better handle on what it's really all about, I can tell just how much sheer, cheesy fun was poured into this setting and its story.