Remembering Visceral Games

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A few months ago Visceral Games was shut down by its parent company, Electronic Arts, supposedly over disagreements with the direction of Visceral’s singleplayer Star Wars game.  Through its 19 years developing video games, the studio has made over 25 titles — the most notable being part of their very successful horror series, Dead Space.  

Visceral showed that it was adept at creating a number of different types of video games.  From sports and racing games to adventure and shooter games, this studio was diverse in its talent. Let’s take a brief walk through the studio’s history as a developer of many beloved video games.

The studio was founded in 1998 as EA Redwood Shores (EARS for short).  Their first game was Future Cop: LAPD.  Released on August 31, 1998, this was a singleplayer and multiplayer third-person shooter where the player controls huge police mechs.  The studio went on to develop four Tiger Woods PGA Tour games — 2000, 2003, 2004 and  07 as well as CyberTiger in ’99.  Mixed in throughout the years were games from different franchises like 007, The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather.  Not to mention NASCAR Rumble, Road Rash: Jailbreak and Rumble Racing, all of which released in 2000-01 and really showcased their ability to make any type of game.

007 : Agent Under Fire released in 2001 and was their first game for the original Xbox.  Under Fire was followed by James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing in ’04 and James Bond 007: From Russia with Love the very next year in ’05.

EARS was also responsible for two games set in The Lord of the Rings universe.  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, released in 2003,  is described as a third-person hack and slash action adventure. It was followed up by The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age in 2004, an RPG with turn-based combat.

After 2005 the studio moved on to develop The Simpsons Game (’07), two Sims games (MySims in ’07 and MySims Kingdom in ’08), the first installment of their most popular series Dead Space (’08), and two The Godfather games, the first releasing in ’06 and the second in early ’09.  The Godfather II was the last game developed under the name of EA Redwood Shores.  In mid-2009, the studio changed their name to Visceral Games to encompass the more mature style and tone of their upcoming games.  Games like Dead Space: Extraction, which came out near the end of 2009.  Extraction was an on-rails first-person shooter and served as a prequel to Dead Space.

In 2010 the team created a new IP, Dante’s Inferno.  The game puts you in the boots of Dante, a somewhat religious figure, on his journey through Hell.  The title features third-person action adventure gameplay with puzzle elements and some quick-time events.  Inferno became one of Visceral’s better known games alongside their Dead Space series.

Taking a breather from dark horror themes, Visceral developed an expansion pack for the third Sims game: The Sims 3: Ambitions, which released in mid 2010.  The year 2011 also saw the release of Dead Space 2, a true sequel to their 2008 hit Dead Space.  The studio took a brief release hiatus in 2012 to prepare for 2013, their biggest year yet with three projects releasing.  Early in ’13 came the third (technically fourth) installment of their blockbuster series, Dead Space 3.  Shortly thereafter Visceral released the fifth and final DLC for EA DICE’s Battlefield 3 called End Game.  In the same month (March), the studio released its third and final project of 2013: Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, a third-person shooter set in Mexico with the focus of bringing down a drug cartel.  This was the third installment of the Army of Two series, the first two being developed by EA Montreal.

While 2014 was a quiet year for Visceral, 2015 was another big year for the studio.  They released arguably their biggest game ever, and unfortunately, their last.  Battlefield: Hardline was released in March of 2015.  This title in the Battlefield series was one with a new direction.  Instead of the traditional military setting and theme of the series thus far, Hardline focused on a “cops and robbers” theme.

The game had a lot of hype surrounding it leading up to its launch. To most, it unfortunately fell flat.  I, on the other hand, thought very highly of Hardline as the story and its characters were very compelling.  I loved the level design and environments and have never before seen such a polished stealth system with its intuitive mechanics incorporated into an FPS quite like this.  I loved the campaign so much that I gladly jumped in and played through it four more times to obtain the difficulty achievements.  The game’s multiplayer admittedly had some serious issues, but it didn’t ruin my love of the game as a whole.

Visceral’s future included a delve into EA’s world of Star Wars.  Their next project was a story-heavy third-person adventure game taking place in that galaxy far, far away.  A lot of fans of video games and Star Wars alike were very excited to see more of the game down the road.  I remember seeing a short clip of the game in EA’s Star Wars dev-diary at their 2016 EA Play press conference and being desperate for more.

Unfortunately, staff issues caused delays in the game’s development — problems so large that Electronic Arts assigned EA Vancouver to help Visceral.  Over time, it felt to Visceral that this move by EA was an attempt to have Vancouver seize control of the project.

Then, on October 17, 2017, EA made the decision to shut down Visceral Games entirely, kicking all the developers out in the cold.  It was nice to see other development studios reach out to these developers with encouragement and even open employment opportunities the day Visceral was put down.  As for the Star Wars project, EA’s plans post-Visceral were to rework what was already done, making the linear story style more open, as this seems to be the trend in video games nowadays.  Soon after, the entire work in progress was scrapped by EA as well.

Visceral Games played such a big role in the evolution of the game industry, especially in the horror genre. Losing a veteran 19-year studio like Visceral Games hurts a lot — for everyone.  Visceral Games, along with all the joy that their games brought hundreds of thousands of gamers from 1998 to 2015, will be seriously missed.

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Gamer, Writer, Filmmaker, Contributor here on Obilisk.

My absolute favorite game is Fallout 3. Don't even get me started...

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