SPOILERS: The following includes both minor and major spoilers for both Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Discretion is advised.
So, I have been playing a fair amount of Dead Space and Dead Space 2 as of late. Many a year ago, I was gripped by the atmosphere and suspense in both games. Now that I am older, however, I find myself combing both games with more of a fine-toothed, analytical comb.
My particular comb tugged on something that never stood out to me beforehand, and that’s the different physical characteristics of Nicole Brennan, protagonist Isaac Clarke’s late girlfriend. Sure, I noticed the difference back when I first played Dead Space 2 for the first time, and, because I didn’t know any better, I was more than willing to go along with it. Now that I’ve had a look at it again, however, the sheer difference between her appearance in Dead Space and Dead Space 2 is quite jarring.
In the original Dead Space, Nicole Brennan looks like a young adult, while in Dead Space 2, she looks like a more mature adult. Considering the two games (from the ending of Dead Space to beginning of Dead Space 2) are only a few weeks apart from when Isaac is picked up from floating around Aegis VII and transported to Titan Station, that’s an incredibly short period of time to have a sudden and dramatic growth spurt.
I would describe Young Nicole in Dead Space as youthful and timid, and Mature Nicole in Dead Space 2 as older and experienced. The two descriptions are the same person, however, and changing such appearances just doesn’t happen in an incredibly small space of time from a story perspective, considering Nicole went from a mature adult to a young adult and back into a mature adult when you take into account the very beginning of Dead Space 2, then Dead Space, and then the rest of Dead Space 2.
So why the change in appearance? More importantly: what does it imply for Nicole Brennan as a character?
Nicole Brennan was a senior medical officer on board the USG Ishimura, a deep-space mining vessel. I have added emphasis on “senior” because that is what stands out to me the most about her character. That rank stays consistent with Nicole in both Dead Space and Dead Space 2.
To be a young adult and have a senior ranking is an impressive feat to achieve.
Even with Young Nicole’s youthful looks, it is very probable that she was taken seriously on board the Ishimura because of her skills and expertise. The same can also be said for Mature Nicole, too. She is still a senior medical officer, but now she has age and laugh lines. It is still very probable that she was taken quite seriously.
Changing Nicole’s appearance from youthful to mature just so she “better fits the part” undermines Young Nicole’s success in becoming a senior medical officer at her age.
I don’t see a problem in continuing the character’s original appearance into Dead Space 2 (it would certainly eliminate the jarring continuity error for one thing). She’d still be Isaac’s dead girlfriend, she would still haunt and torment him, and she would still try to kill him, and it wouldn’t entertain the trope that young adults can’t be highly proficient in their jobs.
Perhaps the change was made because Dead Space 2 demanded a more serious role for Nicole, and perhaps her appearance was altered to reflect that.
Even with Nicole being more mature in Dead Space 2, however, and even with it making more contextual sense with her position as a senior medical officer and her relationship with Isaac, her change in appearance undermines that her character can be high up in the ranks of their fields of profession and still look young.
Had Dead Space 2 been a standalone game, however, it would have been fine for Mature Nicole to be around, but since Dead Space 2 is a sequel, Nicole’s appearance had already been established, and Mature Nicole’s appearance breaks a portion of the Dead Space canon.
I dabbled in research to try and find out the official reason why Nicole’s appearance was changed. All I could find, unfortunately, was just speculation among fans of the Dead Space series.
A recurring speculation for why Nicole’s appearance was changed was because there was a different voice actor involved, that Visceral Games allegedly model their characters around their actors. Some speculations pointed to the difference in graphics engines, others so that both her and Isaac would look more compatible as a couple, decreasing the supposed age gap in the original Dead Space.
Regardless of speculations, however, for story and continuity, it’s still a jarring issue that Nicole’s appearance was changed. Changing the character’s appearance because the voice actress behind her is different just seems like a poor choice from a story perspective.
I can, however, understand why it would have been changed due to a different graphics engine, but having that change be so drastic did more than just throw me off when I got back into playing Dead Space 2, and it goes against what was already established.
Sure, it makes contextual sense in Dead Space 2 that Nicole looks more mature than her earlier iteration, but, to me, that would have been only excusable if Dead Space 2 was a standalone game and not a sequel. Since Dead Space 2 is a sequel, however, it makes a very jarring difference between Nicole’s young and mature iterations, overwriting Young Nicole in favour of Mature Nicole and creating a major continuity error in the Dead Space canon.