sci-fi horror

All posts tagged sci-fi horror

The Colony was one of those movies that crept up on me, hard. The first I heard of it was only about a month before release, which is kind of embarrassing for a guy who tries to stay somewhat informed when it comes to sci-fi. Furthermore, as I mentioned in my Oblivion review, hard sci-fi is a movie genre that’s actually fairly undersaturated, at least compared to other mediums, so my ignorance was inexcusable. Anyways, The Colony‘s trailer had me fairly optimistic. It had a desolate setting and a small crew, which is always a good recipe for sci-fi horror, and it stars Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne, each of which are legendary for sci-fi. The last time I remember seeing Fishburne in a sci-fi was Predators, a cameo that was the biggest highlight in what I thought was an excellent movie. Judging from the trailer, I knew The Colony was obviously made on a tight budget, which is fine for this sort of movie. Another movie that was made on a tight budget, and took place in a similar environment, was John Carpenter’s The Thing, my second favorite sci-fi horror anything of all time. Going into The Colony, all I could think was: “please, please let this be like The Thing“. My head was swimming in fantasies of deep cold body horror.

The Colony Poster

So far so good.

The Colony
Director: Jeff Renroe
Writers: Jeff Renroe (main), Svet Rouskov
Producers: Paul Barkin, Matthew Cervi, Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Zegers, Bill Paxton
Studios: Alcina Pictures, Item 7, Mad Samurai Productions
Distributor: eOne
Country: Canada
Release Date: April 19, 2013

The Colony -- Laurence Fishburne Bill Paxton 4

The lighting in the move is excellent, as evidenced by these photos.

The year is 2045, and humans have been living in bunkers underground due to environmental catastrophe. To combat climate change, humans built giant weather manipulating machines, but the machines backfired, sending the planet into a man-made ice age. As Sam (Kevin Zegers), the lead character, describes, “one day it just started snowing, and it never stopped”. Sam’s colony is led by Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), and Briggs’ fellow veteran and friend, Mason (Bill Paxton). Conditions in the bunker have gotten so bad, that anyone who catches a cold or flu is quarantined, lest they infect (and subsequently kill) others. If they don’t recover after a certain period of time, they have a choice between death, or a trek through the snow. Mason has become trigger happy, killing the sick rather than letting them take the trek; his increasing militarism serves as a point of tension throughout the movie. Partway through the film, Sam’s colony gets a distress signal from a neighboring colony. Briggs leads Sam and another young adult to investigate the situation at the second colony. The second colony has been eradicated; blood coats the walls. Eventually, Sam and crew encounter the menace, and the remainder of the movie is spent in heavy-duty survival mode.

The Colony -- Laurence Fishburne Bill Paxton 1

One of the only “future-tech” designs in the movie, the weather machines are really neat looking.

The Colony has a light pro-ecological message, which I’m always happy to see, but it’s really nothing to write home about. As any sci-fi fans know, ecological destruction is an incredibly common theme in science fiction. So common in fact, that I’m 90% sure that every Japanese RPG and anime of the 90’s took place in a setting where humanity had screwed up the environment. Maybe I’m just too engrossed in the genre, but is human-induced environmental catastrophe actually a unique concept for the average moviegoer? To be honest, I’m not especially surprised or impressed that the movie tackles this real-life issue. Perhaps if the movie had gotten into the real science involved, and been slightly more educational, I’d have been impressed, but as it stands, The Colony‘s take on climate change is too brief to qualify as a cautionary tale. It’s like when people say, “dude, this band is deep, they write about politics and real-world stuff”. Sorry buddy, but even the most uninformed people can tackle real-world issues; I won’t be impressed unless it’s done well.

The Colony -- Laurence Fishburne Bill Paxton 7

Sam’s girlfriend Kai, as played by Charlotte Sullivan, is an interesting character who I wish had gotten more screen time.

For horror fans, The Colony is shamelessly unoriginal. I say shameless, because this movie had so much potential. The acting is good, the screenplay is bland but solid, the special effects are decent, and the mood, atmosphere, and directing are all pretty good for a low-budget movie. So what ruins The Colony, at least for me? I’ll call it the Pandorum-effect. 2009’s Pandorum was one of those movies that had everything going for it. Like The Colony, I had high hopes for it, and everything was going great, that is, until the villains were introduced. Pandorum‘s villains were the worst kind of dull; they were essentially undead humans, although technically they weren’t undead. They jumped around and hissed like any good Gollum-reject should. I can understand the incentive to use cannibals; they’re cheaper to pull-off than more elaborate monsters or aliens, they’re guaranteed to be creepy, and they appeal to the never-ending hordes of zombie fans. However, for me, they’re about as dull as movie menaces can get. My two favorite sci-fi horror villains are xenomorphs, and the thing. Both are extremely original and well-designed. Cannibals in a sci-fi movie, on the other hand, are a sure sign of moviemakers that are afraid to take a risk, or are devoid of originality. If you haven’t yet surmised from my rant, The Colony‘s antagonists are of the cannibalistic variety. Remember the possessed forces from Ghosts of Mars? Well, The Colony features a nearly identical, but considerably more boring group of foes.

The Colony -- Laurence Fishburne Bill Paxton 5

The ferals. Although they’re mindless, they use weapons, which is kind of cool, I guess.

I’m giving The Colony a hard time, because like I said earlier, it had a lot going for it, but the cannibals were a huge let-down. If you’re the sort of person who really digs zombie movies, you might not be so put-off by this factor, but even then, many zombie movies have done this scenario much better. The problem with The Colony, is that for a movie that is primarily horror, the action and scares are way too short-lived. The movie could’ve used an extra 10 minutes of action and violence. Unfortunately, the brief thrills never manage to create much tension. There are two memorable scenes that sent a light chill down my spine (you’ll know what I’m talking about), but they were only just enough to wet my appetite.

The Colony -- Laurence Fishburne Bill Paxton 6

Bill Paxton’s acting has definitely improved since his Aliens days.

I’ve spent an awful lot of this review highlighting what I thought were The Colony‘s shortcomings. The thing is, it’s not a bad movie; far from it. It’s exceedingly average, which is too bad, because it could have been much more. No one element of the movie is handled poorly, but on the flip side, there are few standout moments. For all I know, the movie might be more enjoyable to viewers who haven’t seen much sci-fi or horror, but I really doubt my audience fits that description. This is a worth a rental if you liked movies like Pandorum, Ghosts of Mars, 30 Days of Night, or The Descent, and you’re okay with a duller example of the same concept. The sci-fi in this sci-fi movie is basically non-existent, so if you’re looking for a pure sci-fi experience, you’ll be disappointed. The Colony‘s problem is that it’s a decent film experience, but every concept has been borrowed from better movies.


I vividly remember a discussion on a gaming podcast a few years ago about how the overabundance of collector’s editions has gotten ridiculous, and that it makes absolutely no sense for the first game in a series to get a special edition release. According to the hosts of the podcast, a franchise should have to prove itself before it can be deemed worthy of a collector’s edition release. Well, if any series is more than deserving, it’s StarCraft. Personally, I love collector’s editions, albeit only when they’re done well. Since they’ve become the norm, it isn’t uncommon for publishers to make a quick cash grab by releasing a sub-par package with a bloated price. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with the StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Collector’s Edition. Unlike many recent special editions that feature unique but forgettable trinkets, HotS plays it safe by including the standard special edition fare. Specifically, you get a behind-the-scenes DVD/Blu-ray combo, a soundtrack, an art book, a mouse pad, and a few exclusive digital avatars. As far as I’m concerned, the art book and soundtrack alone are worth the price of admission. HotS also has a digital special edition: the Digital Deluxe edition. If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, I recommend the collector’s edition. The digital deluxe edition is nearly the same price, but only includes the digital avatars. This review will make frequent mention of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, so if you haven’t done so, I recommend reading my review of it here.

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm Collector's Edition

The mousepad has a nice cozy spot on my desk at work.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC (Featured), Mac
Release Date: March 12, 2013

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 8

Kerrigan’s detailed facial expressions really add to the believability of her character.

If you still haven’t played StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, you might want to avoid this spoiler heavy paragraph. WoL ended with Jim Raynor teaming up with Valerian Mengsk, and then successfully using an ancient artifact to turn Sarah Kerrigan back into a human. HotS starts shortly after the events of WoL. Raynor and Kerrigan are still on Char, and Valerian Mengsk is testing whether Kerrigan still has the ability to control the swarm (hint: she can). Soon enough Arturus Mengsk crashes the party with a battalion of troops intent on killing Raynor and Kerrigan. Kerrigan escapes and manages to meet up with the Hyperion, only to find out that Raynor has supposedly been killed. Devastated, she summons the zerg swarm to destroy Arcturus Mengsk.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Peter Lee

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Peter Lee

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 26

No other game gives you control of an alien force in as gratifying a way StarCraft.

It isn’t exactly a secret that HotS has you playing the bad guy (or more accurately, the bad girl). Mengsk might be an evil dictator, but Kerrigan goes to extreme lengths to see him dead. To amass an army large enough to kill Mengsk, Kerrigan must unleash the zerg on countless planets, at the expense of millions of civilian lives. Although I’ve never seen this scenario explored in a video game, the original Dune books had a protagonist who was responsible for at least as much bloodshed. I find this angle more interesting than your standard good vs. bad scenario, but I’m still unsure of how I feel about Kerrigan as a character. I don’t tend to like the “badass chick” archetype who’s always in a bad mood and scowling, and Kerrigan definitely fits this mold. On the flip side, Kerrigan is about as strong  a female lead as they come, and to be fair, she has a reason to be pissed. Every once in a while, we see a hint of her soft side; it was these scenes that made me feel sympathetic towards her struggle, and did the best job of developing her as a multidimensional character. Unfortunately, these scenes were too few and far between, and I feel like Blizzard fell just short of creating a truly unique video game protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, Kerrigan is still one of the deeper video game protagonists, but I feel like she wasn’t explored to her full potential. Like it or not, Kerrigan appears as a playable character in nearly every mission, so prepare to spend a lot of time with her.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Luke "Mr. Jack" Mancini

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Luke “Mr. Jack” Mancini

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 4

HotS has plenty of lovely assets.

Like in WoL, you spend downtime between missions hanging out on your ship. This time around, your ship is a massive living organism called the Leviathan, and your crew is a hodgepodge of alien misfits. Your crewmates show up one by one throughout the game, meaning that the ship is a fairly boring place for the first dozen missions. Initially, I found the ship sections much less interesting than in WoL, but as time wore on, and more characters appeared, it became nearly, but not quite, as interesting as WoL’s Hyperion. The Hyperion had more rooms to explore, and more objects and people to interact with, but HotS’s alien freak show has its moments. Among the new cast is a creature called Abathur who creates new zerg mutations. Abathur quickly became not only my favorite new character in StarCraft, but one of my favorites in all of video games. He’s basically an unwittingly sinister version of Data from Star Trek: Next Generation. Although he’s essentially emotionless, he often becomes jealous of foreign zerg mutations that he’s incapable of creating himself. As always, Blizzard‘s character have superbly written dialogue, which is well delivered by their voice actors. Perhaps by biggest complaint is that spending so much time with the zerg really diminishes their mysteriousness, and the fear factor. The zerg are no longer scary, which I guess was inevitable.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Luke "Mr. Jack" Mancini

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Luke “Mr. Jack” Mancini

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 11

This giant swarm host is one of Hots’s excellent boss battles. Pausing to take a screen cap nearly resulted in Kerrigan getting fried in alien bile.

For fans of violent alien swarms, no other game puts you in the hot seat quite as nicely HotS. Nearly every one of HotS’s 27 missions has you amassing at least a hundred units and then wreaking havoc, which is as satisfying as it sounds. Like in WoL, Blizzard does an awesome job of providing unique mission scenarios, most of which subtly introduce you to a new zerg unit. Overall, the difficulty felt more challenging than in WoL, which seemed appropriate given that many gamers have been playing StarCraft II for over two years now. One mission in particular does an excellent job of showing off just how skilled Blizzard are at their craft. The mission is essentially a boss rush; giving you control of Kerrigan and a small band of zerg as she tackles three massive bosses. The bosses are super challenging; forcing you to memorize attack patterns and utilize every ability in Kerrigan’s arsenal. This mission does a great job of showing off just how well individual units control; in fact, you feel like you’re fighting a boss in World of Warcraft.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Luke "Mr. Jack" Mancini

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Luke “Mr. Jack” Mancini

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 17

One mission has you controlling the Hyperion in a fun mini-game-like space sequence. I really appreciate that Blizzard takes the time to incorporate all kinds of unique gameplay elements in the single player that can’t be experienced online.

In the review I wrote for WoL, I mentioned that although I thought the art design was mostly really good, the cartooniness was a little bit much at times. In HotS, the design is as cartoony as ever,  but I think I’ve started to embrace it. HotS’s colorful pallete is actually fairly refreshing compared to the muted greys of many modern military sci-fi games. Actually, HotS’s pre-rendered cut-scenes (which are as excellent as always) are much darker and grittier than the in-game engine, and look a lot more like the aforementioned games. Maybe it’s because the game features fewer humans, but there are a lot less soul patches and cycling shades this time around. That being said, Zeratul still looks like a reject from a kids fantasy cartoon.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Peter Lee

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Peter Lee

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 5

Meet Abathur, my new favorite character in the StarCraft universe.

Included with the collector’s edition is a really impressive 140-page hardcover art book. I say it’s really impressive because I’ve never seen such a high quality art book included with a game. The cover has an embossed design, and the paper is nice and glossy. A grand total of 25 artists are featured, and surprisingly, the editors actually took the time to list which artists were responsible for each piece! As I’ve mentioned in previous art book reviews, it’s fairly rare for gaming art books to give proper credit to their artists.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Joe Peterson

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Joe Peterson

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 22

Once you complete the single player, you can replay the missions with new added twists.

There are three sections in the art book: one for each race. As expected, Blizzard can afford to hire excellent concept artists, so the quality of each piece is top-notch. Because the game is centered around the zerg, they get the most attention. Since their inception, the zerg have really taken on a look that sets them apart from the creatures they were inspired by (xenomorphs and tyrannids). Increasingly, the zerg design has become less about organic goo, and more about armor plating, jagged teeth, spines, and claws. Essentially, the zerg have started to look more like dinosaurs, which isn’t a bad thing. My favorite part of HotS takes place on ancient world, where the zerg predecessors, called the primal zerg, roam free. The primal zerg are even closer in appearance to dinosaurs, and their world is composed of lush, prehistoric tropical environments. Artist Peter Lee’s illustrations of these environments are my favorite concepts within the book. Even his “rough sketches”, as they’re labeled within the book, look incredible.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Brian Huang

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Brian Huang

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 16

Kerrigan facing her demons. Blizzard proves some of the best pre-rendered cutscenes in the industry.

Also included with the collector’s edition is the soundtrack to HotS. As I mentioned in my WoL review, StarCraft‘s soundtracks have always been excellent, and this is no exception. The soundtrack is composed of equal parts orchestrated segments, and equal parts moody electronic sections. I’ve never been a fan of big, bombastic orchestrated soundtracks, but as video games have gotten bigger, they’ve increasingly becomes the norm. Personally I prefer the ambient electronic portions, but I might be in the minority with that opinion. Either way, the soundtrack is really well done, and it’s gotten a fair degree of airtime in my car.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Joe Peterson

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Joe Peterson

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 19

Seveon of the 27 missions are bonus “Evolution Missions”, that have you picking between one of two possible upgrades for a given unit.

In addition to the soundtrack, the collector’s edition also comes with a behind-the-scenes DVD/Blu-ray. If you’re expecting a full making-of HotS, you’ll be disappointed, but as a bonus it still has a certain degree of entertainment value. There are two featurettes that give you a glimpse of the making of the game: a section on the cinematics, and a section on the recording of the audio voice-overs. Both of these sections are of the same quality as any of the best making-of documentaries, which is too bad, because they left me yearning for more! Also included is a section on the eSports legacy of StarCraft, which is basically a fan-made swansong to the community, and an in-depth explanation of how to use the in-game map editor. Both of these segments were well done, but I would’ve easily traded them for more making-of. The video also includes your typical extras like trailers and production stills.

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book -- Joe Peterson

StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm Art Book — Joe Peterson

Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm 25

Meet the Leviathan’s crew. Although I can understand why Blizzard had to make the zerg more human, I think it would’ve been more fun had they been more evil.

Like I said in my WoL review, I’m a pretty average online player, so I can’t comment with any authority on the balance of HotS’s new online units. The protoss get three new air units: the Mothership and Oracle, which are both support units, and the Tempest, which is a long range attack ship. Terrans see the return of hellbats: flamethrower wielding mechs that deal splash damage, and the new widow mines, which are fast moving, mobile mines that are cloaked when set in the ground.  Zerg get vipers, which are air attack units with support abilities, and swarm hosts, which are units that spawn multiple, zergling-like units from crevasses on their back. Apart from the new units, the online experience hasn’t changed a whole lot since WoL. There are a bunch of new unlockable portraits and achievements, but other than that you’re looking at the same multiplayer options and interface from WoL. Some of these rewards are incredibly hardcore to achieve compared to the standards of other games; for example, the Queen of Blades character portrait requires that you win 1000 1v1 online matches. Also, a word of warning: although the online matchmaking is supposed to pit you against players who match your level of experience, everyone playing HotS had to start back at level 1, so expect to get your ass handed to you by scores of StarCraft II veterans.

Although HotS is an expansion, had this not been a Blizzard game, this could easily have been a numbered sequel. Blizzard likes to make massive leap forwards between numbered releases in their series, but the jump from WoL to HotS isn’t far removed from something like Gears of War 2 to Gears of War 3. In fact, this is almost a bigger jump, because you’re in control of an entirely different race and cast of characters than in the previous game. If you enjoyed WoL, you probably already own this game, but if you’re on the fence, I recommend it highly. Furthermore, the collector’s edition is worth the extra cash. The art book and soundtrack could easily have been stand-alone-releases. Like I said with my WoL review, if you’re into military sci-fi and you haven’t given StarCraft a chance, you’re really missing out. Even if you don’t care for the competetive experience, the single-player campaign is excellent, and provides plenty of replay value.

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm-related images

For anyone who was gaming in the 90’s, StarCraft was a cultural phenomenon that was near unavoidable. If for whatever reason you weren’t playing the game, you had at least several buddies who were, and who would talk about it endlessly. My favorite memory of SC happened when I was in junior high. A friend of mine and I were talking about StarCraft on a bus ride home, and were overheard by another friend who was sitting nearby. Our other friend was a hockey prodigy; a super jock. Overhearing us, he mentioned that he played Starcraft from time to time, and asked if we’d be interested in playing against him online. Furthermore, he encouraged us to team up against him. Neither of us had ever imagined that this sports hero had any interest in video games, so we thought it would be an easy victory. Later that night, he set up the match, and told us he wouldn’t attack until we were both 100% prepared. My close friend and I had one half of the map to ourselves, while he had his own half of the map. Finally we were ready to attack, and ventured into his half of the map. To our horror, his half was the ultimate zerg nightmare! After 20 minutes of play, he had managed to fill every single available space with the most perfect, symmetrical base I’ve ever seen, even to this day. Every square inch of space was filled with zerg structures, all laid out in perfect order. Obviously we were obliterated. Everyone was playing StarCraft, probably even your mom and/or dog.

I’ve often held that StarCraft is the most perfect, balanced competitive game of all time. Every race plays completely differently, but somehow there’s no one race that’s obviously overpowered. Announced back in 2007, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty had the biggest shoes to fill. Personally, I was just happy the series was getting a sequel, but it was obvious that this game would face perhaps more scrutiny than any game ever. Due to my lack of a gaming PC back in 2010, when SCII:WoL was released, I was only able to play the campaign recently. Now, I’d like to emphasize that this post will be focusing mostly on the campaign, and from the angles that Xenomorphosis knows best: sci-fi horror and military sci-fi. I’ll leave the technical aspects of multiplayer to the thousands of pro players who undoubtedly know ten times more than me about the specific mechanics and subtleties of the game.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty Cover

There are some really great variations of this cover floating around on the interweb.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC (Featured), Mac
Release Date: July 27, 2010

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 26

A massive battle featuring several new units, including titans and medivacs.

Four years after the events of StarCraft: Brood War, Jim Raynor, space cowboy, is still being hunted by Arcturus Mengsk, emperor of the dominion (the current government). Mengsk also happens to be the man responsible for betraying Kerrigan (Raynor’s love interest) to the zerg. Kerrigan was abandoned on a hostile planet by Mengsk, and was turned into a powerful zerg hybrid: the Queen of the Blades. Raynor is set on restoring Kerrigan to her former self, and has started a rebel group called Raynor’s Raiders who are dead-set on overthrowing the Dominion, and putting Mengsk to justice. Meanwhile, an old friend of Raynor’s, Tychus Findlay, who took a fall for Raynor and subsequently spent the last decade or so doing jail time, has mysteriously appeared. Findlay is by far the most interesting character in SCII:WoL, and it’s never quite clear what his true motives are. Findlay has apparently been contracted by a mysterious group called the Moebius Corporation to retrieve valuable Xel’naga (an ancient race in SC lore) artifacts. Jim agrees to help him, because he needs the cash to fund his rebel efforts. There are several other major players in SCII:WoL, and each one is superbly voice acted and has a memorable personality. SCII:WoL all takes place from the perspective of the terrans (humans), so don’t expect any zerg or protoss missions (although there are actually a few).

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 4

Many of the units from the first SC, including the medics pictured here, are included in the campaign, but aren’t playable online

SCII:WoL’s backstory is rich and interesting, especially for a series that is predominantly known for its multiplayer, and could easily sell millions of copies without any single player whatsoever. Lucky for us, Blizzard cares about providing an excellent single player experience. SCII:WoL is by the far the best example I’ve ever seen of narrative in an RTS game. During the current console generation, in-game storytelling in first person and third person action games progressed immensely, to the point where the games that do it poorly stick out like a sore thumb (I’m looking at you Aliens: Colonial Marines). That being said, with the popularity of console games this generation, the RTS genre has fallen a bit to the wayside. I can tell you exactly how narrative is usually dealt with in action games, but in RTS’, not so much. There’s no obvious mold.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 14

As always, Blizzard delivers kickass cutscenes.

SCII:WoL has over 4 hours of scripted cutscenes, but the degree to which you watch these is often at your discretion. Many of the cinematics take place when you optionally engage with characters in-between missions. Raynor’s flagship, the hyperion, serves as an in-between mission hang-out area where you can explore various sections of the ship, engage in conversation with characters to learn more backstory, or spend credits to earn unit upgrades. I really enjoyed these periods of downtime between combat, and the superb quality of the dialogue during cutscenes in the hyperion was always worth checking out. I’ve come to realize that the games I become the most addicted to are those that intersperse intense action with “downtime”. RPGs do this by having you explore towns in-between dungeons. Essentially, SCs missions are like dungeons, and the hyperion is your town. About three quarters of SC’s cutscenes are experienced optionally in the Hyperion, so you’re missing out on a lot of story if you skip these sections.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 19

The environments in the campaign are really attractive.

Other RPG-like elements that SCII:WoL incorporates are optional missions, and upgrades for your army units. The optional missions don’t feel like optional missions, because the same level of care was put into them as any mainline mission. There are at least two occasions where you have to chose between one of two story options to progress, although apparently the ending of the game is the same regardless of which decisions you make. The upgrade options allow you to spend credits that you earn in missions to purchase enhancements to your units. Don’t expect any intricate upgrade trees, but the ability to upgrade does let you customize your army to fit your play style, albeit to a small extent.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 10

The cantina; one of the many areas of the hyperion where you can gather information and purchase upgrades. The arcade cabinet at the left features a playable shooter!

Nearly every mission in the game has bonus objectives. Completing these objectives gives you access to zerg or protoss research credits that can be spent on an additional set of upgrades. The bonus objectives add an extra level of challenge to the campaign missions, and are often required if you wish to earn all the game’s achievements. The achievement system in SCII:WoL acts like an even more difficult set of bonus objectives, often challenging you to beat missions in a certain time-limit, or perform difficult feats of strategy.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 18

Unique mercenary units can be recruited and purchased in the campaign. These act much like Warcraft III’s hero units, but are much more expendable

The original StarCraft was a game that borrowed heavily from Warhammer 40k, at least visually. To be honest, that’s never bother me very much, because at least they chose a great look to emulate, and did a good job of emulating it. Looking back at SC, it was actually a fairly dark game. Although some of the characters were tongue-in-cheek, the color palette was dark, and the game had a (mostly) gritty realism. Structures looked worn out, units exploded with gore when you killed them, and the zerg were probably the best rip-offs of xenomorphs around. Furthermore, some of the cutscenes acted out like pure homages to Aliens. That all brings me to SCII:WoL, which looks great, but is infected by what I’m going to dub the “WarCraft Taint”.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 7

Missions can be selected from the bridge of the hyperion.

So what is the WarCraft Taint? When StarCraft came along, Blizzard took great lengths to distinguish the visual style from simply being “WarCraft in Space”. To differentiate it from WarCraft, Blizzard made StarCraft darker and grittier. Several years later, Warcraft III was released, and the Warcraft Taint began. Blizzard is a company that’s excellent at producing graphics engines that perform nicely even on computers with low specs. WarCraft III was a great example of this design philosophy. To achieve this goal, they designed an engine that had a distinctly cartoony look, rather than try to achieve the highest end graphics. Everything was colorful, rounded and blocky, which was fine for WarCraft, because it was always a cartoony series.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 8

The new marauder units, as featured in the armory.

Fast forward several more years to World of Warcraft. WoW is an example of the cartoon style taken to extreme lengths. In retrospective, much of the concept design is fairly sketchy, for lack of a better term. For what it is, the game looks fine, but it’s essentially generic fantasy art done in a childish style. Yes, I know this opinion is super controversial, but I’ll stand by it. Heck, an entire race is made up of cows that walk on two feet and ride around on fat dinosaurs. It’s great Pixar material.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 22

The zerg hives are always fun to look at.

StarCraft II, on the other hand, still retains much of the “gritty sci-fi” look that the series is known for, and is overall an excellent looking game, but the Warcraft Taint rears its ugly head every so often. For example, much of the protoss design has gotten more colorful and exaggerated, and the human characters in particular look like stereotypical comic archetypes. Actually, I’m going to go on a limb and say that the human character design is mostly awful (the people, not the units). Raynor looks like Kid Rock, Gabriel Tosh is your typical “rasta guy” with dreadlocks, Rory Swann looks like a dwarf, Valerian Mengsk looks like the main bad guy from Shrek, Kerrigan is a chick with dreadlocks (which was oh so cool in the 90’s), Zeratul has a really silly looking bandana covering his face, and nearly every male character has either a soul patch, cycling shades, or goggles. Basically, the cast is a mishmash of the most rad looking dudes from the 90’s, which as you can imagine looks pretty lame circa 2010. Furthermore, the Warcraft Taint managed to work its way into some of the cutscenes; there’s one in particular where Zeratul and Kerrigan battle it out by launching fireball-like projectiles at each other. During this sequence, I felt like I could easily have been watching a WoW video. Anyways, SCII still looks really good for the most part; it’s just unfortunate that Blizzard has allowed its cartoony sensibilities to creep into its “grittier” properties. Remember, this is the studio that was most recently known for introducing kung fu pandas into its flagship franchise.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 6

The laboratory, where you can purchase upgrades.

The gameplay in SCII:WoL is as excellent as ever. As usual, gameplay consists of gathering resources, constructing buildings, researching upgrades, and training an army to attack the enemy, all while fending off enemy attacks. The campaign missions always manage to incorporate unique scenarios, meaning that they never play out like your typical online multiplayer match. For example, one mission has you completing objectives while avoiding intermittent flooding by lava, another has you hijacking trains that appear at varying intervals, and another has you stealthily playing as Nova (from the unfortunately cancelled StarCraft Ghost). The variety is really impressive, and each mission finds a way to cleverly teach you how to control a new terran unit. Essentially the entire campaign acts as a comprehensive tutorial on how to play as terrans. Perhaps my only gripe with this, is that the campaign is a little too heavy on tutorial, and would have benefited from having more of the challenging, post-tutorial missions. By the time you finish learning all the new units, the campaign is essentially over.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 1

A really cool feature in the campaign is that you can summon troops via drop pods. I really badly wanted this in the multiplayer.

Instead of just rehashing the units from the original SC and its expansions, 40% of the units in SCII:WoL are brand new. Terrans get new units like the titan (giant mechs), banshees (fast airships that are good against ground units), and my personal favorite, medivacs (air transport ships with healing capabilities). Protoss get units like the stalker (essentially the new dragoon), immortals (also like dragoons), collosi (giant mechs that shoot death rays), and probably the coolest new addition, motherships (which look exactly like you’d expect). Zerg players now have roaches (burrowing units), infestors (spellcasters that can infect units), and nydus worms (giant burrowing worms that spout out zerg units). Personally I like the new additions, but I’m sure a more seasoned player could tell you exactly which units were nerfed, are too overpowered, etc. It’s just nice to see that Blizzard took a risk by switching up the units so drastically.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 5

Every single mission loading screen has its own awesome illustration. This is the full view of Raynor’s flagship, the hyperion.

As usual, SC: WoL’s multiplayer can either be played online or against AI opponents. Unlike in the original StarCraft, its now extremely easy to join a match, albeit at the expense of match customization options. Essentially you join matches in a “quick match” style, rather than picking from individually hosted games. For whatever reason, Blizzard dropped LAN play from SCII:WoL, which is a shame, because many of my fondest memories of the original were from playing at buddies’ houses. Apparently tournament players are pissed, because they have to rely on unreliable internet play, even when competing from within the same room.

StarCraft II Wings of Liberty 23

After completing the campaign, there are additional challenge missions. This game is packed full of content.

Other features I haven’t had time to mention are the Arcade, and the soundtrack. The Arcade allows you to download various mods and game modes, and presents them in a nice, easily manageable interface. Blizzard does a fantastic job of engaging with its community, and the arcade is a clear example of that engagement. Last but not least, SCII:WoL’s soundtrack is fantastic! It’s mainly comprised of moody jazz or electronic arrangements, with a healthy dose of electric guitar interspersed. It perfectly captures the space cowboy vibe of the series, and I must say, I’ve been really appreciating the soundtrack as I play online.

As you can tell from the tone of this post, I’m loving SCII:WoL, and I think it’s an excellent game. Like the first game, I know I’ll be playing it for years to come. Even if you’re not into RTS’, you owe it to yourself to at least check out the campaign if, like me, you dig alien infestations and badass marines in power armor.

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty-related images

As I’ve repeated several times before, Dead Space is a godsend for fans of sci-fi horror. The series channels the best elements of movies like The Thing (1982), Aliens, and Event Horizon, but manages to create a combination of terror that not only feels fresh and unique, but also meets (and sometimes exceeds) the quality of its source material. As some people would have you believe, the series has progressively moved away from pure scares towards a more action oriented package. Personally, I feel that Dead Space has always placed just as much emphasis on combat as on horror, and it’s the perfect blend of the two that makes the games so much fun to play. Contrary to popular opinion, the combat, which revolves around dismembering enemies, hasn’t changed a whole lot since the first game was released in 2006. The major difference between the first game and the last two entries is that there are now substantially more characters involved. Dead Space was about isolation, whereas Dead Space 3 is about isolation interspersed with character interaction. The point I’m trying to make is that Dead Space 3 is not a survival horror game, but in its defense, Dead Space has never been a pure survival horror series. Anyone who tries to trick you into thinking that the original Dead Space was pure survival horror has never played the early Resident Evils or Silent Hills. In those two series, resources were extremely scarce, and it was often advantageous to avoid combat rather than confront it head-on. Dead Space, on the other hand, is extremely upfront with its combat. Many sections force you to kill every oncoming enemy before you can proceed onwards. Resources in DS games are fairly abundant, and terminals allow you to purchase ammunition and health should you find yourself short on supplies. Real survival horror games never present you with such luxuries. So does it matter that Dead Space 3, just like DS1 and DS2, is more about combat than pure survival? Hell no. The movie Aliens took the original Alien formula and soaked it in action, but last I checked people on message boards didn’t have a massive hissy fit and boycott the series. Unfortunately, this is what seems to have happened with Dead Space 3. Forgive me if this review spends too much time challenging the backlash that Dead Space 3 has been receiving since it was first announced. As a big fan of the series, Dead Space 3 does not disappoint.

Dead Space 3 -- Cover

Sci-fi horror with a white background? Ballsy.

Dead Space 3
Developer: Visceral
Publisher: EA
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Featured), PS3, PC
Release Date: February 5, 2013

Dead Space 2 concluded with Isaac Clarke destroying a marker on the Sprawl, a space station orbiting one of Saturn’s moons. The resulting carnage destroyed the Sprawl, but Isaac managed to escape with his love interest Ellie. DS3 starts with an interesting prologue sequence that takes place 200 years before the start of the first game, and then promptly fast forwards to two months after the events on the Sprawl. We find Isaac in a small apartment in the midst of a small city on the surface of a moon. As we discovered at the end of DS2, there are numerous marker projects, many of which are found in urban locations. Unfortunately for Isaac, this urban location happens to have one. We find out through an old phone message that Ellie has left Isaac because he had become too detached and self-absorbed as a result of the marker incidents. Soon after our introduction to Isaac, several people burst into his apartment and hold him at gunpoint. It turns out they’re “the last battalion” of EarthGov, and that they know the whereabouts of Ellie, who works with their group but has gone missing. Long story short, Isaac joins the EarthGov party, but not until after being chased by an extreme sect of unitilogists led by a man named Danik. Danik, an somewhat harmless looking man in a park, serves as the main antagonist in DS3. Unsurprisingly, the major subplot in DS3 revolves around Isaac trying to win Ellie back, all while battling necros and Danik’s army of unitologists. DS3 does an excellent job of weaving the storyline into the gameplay, which means there are few moments where you don’t have some level of control over Isaac. In fact, for those people who were worried that DS3 would be too heavy on scripted action sequences (myself included), there are actually fewer scripted sequences per hour of gameplay than in DS2.

Dead Space 3 -- 1

This helmet is so damn cool looking, but I was never able to unlock this suit.

The story is just as engaging as in the previous games, and becomes progressively more captivating as Isaac and crew explore the remnants of an old marker conspiracy on a snow planet called Tau Volantis. One of my favorite themes in science fiction is the exploration of an unknown environment. On this front, Dead Space 3 delivers in spades. The snowy environments of Tau Volantis are reminiscent of the locales in the first Lost Planet. In addition to the snow planet, the game is still rife with “traditional” space station-style environments. The combination of tight corridors with the occasional outdoor section is a refreshing addition to the series. Back to the story, the element that I find the most difficult to grasp is the fact that EarthGov has apparently dissolved, seemingly overnight. Only 2 months before the events of DS3, EarthGov was a massive evil bureaucracy. Although it’s barely addressed, I think it’s implied that the unitilogists have overthrown EarthGov, which doesn’t really make any sense because the two entities were supposed to be incredibly intertwined. As a whole, it’s a little disappointing that DS3 makes so little reference to the events and players of the previous games; it seems that Visceral opted for a more contained story this time around.

Dead Space 3 -- 6

Much like Lost Planet, DS2 has several giant snow monsters with conveniently glowing vulnerable points. Actually, much like in LP2, you get to travel through a giant monster’s bowels.

Aesthetically, Dead Space 3 is easily the most visually interesting game in the series. Tau Volantis was previously explored by a contingent of scientists and soldiers from the Sovereign Colonies Armed Forces (SCAF), the central human government that was eventually dethroned by EarthGov. This “older” culture gave Visceral the opportunity to design a brand new human aesthetic. The SCAF settlements look like they were patterned after old nuclear submarines and soviet-era accoutrements. This creates an interesting juxtaposition with the ultra-slick stylings of the 26th century. Furthermore, there are now many new necromorph models, each of which is patterned after the look of its deceased host. The radical unitologists sect also has its own unique look, incorporating elements of Mad Max-style punk design into the typical heavy clothing and armor of the future. In addition to the clothing, Dead Space 3 has more environments than ever, and presents no fewer than three different styles of spaceship interior, each of which looks fantastic. As always with the series, DS3 is a game that can be enjoyed thanks to pretty eye-candy alone.

Dead Space 3 -- 15

The remnants of EarthGov. Adios.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, Dead Space 3 has plenty of combat, which is even more fun than usual thanks to the inclusion of a new weapon crafting system. Weapons are now fully customizable, meaning that you’re free to create weapons that suit you’re particular style of play. Essentially, you’re combining parts that are found scattered around the game world to create weapons that (usually) have two modes of fire. For example, you can craft an assault rifle that has a shotgun attachment, or a flamethrower, or a buzzsaw, or a line cutter, etc. The weapon crafting is extremely fun, and adds an extra layer of depth to the typical DS combat. I probably spent several hours just crafting guns; you could say I was pretty addicted.

Dead Space 3 -- 4

Isaac and Carver showing a snecromorph (snow+necromorph, I just made that up) how to die.

Almost as awesome as the new weapon crafting, the inclusion of optional side-missions in DS3 is my second favorite new feature. These essentially play out as optional “dungeons”, and add quite a bit of meat to the main storyline. For anyone looking for the isolated, spooky Dead Space 3 experience, the optional dungeons should keep you entertained. Generally they’re more difficult and more scary than the regular story sequences. Each optional area tells its own story, meaning that you’re missing out on a lot of interesting fiction if you skip these sections. In fact, my favorite narrative in DS3 was a small side-story told in one of these optional areas. If you’re hooked on the crafting system, the obvious reason to explore these areas is for the promise of unique weapons parts. The combination of the new crafting system and optional areas mean that DS3 feels like a mini version of a loot based RPG (think Diablo or Borderlands). I personally love this new direction, and would kill to see the loot-based RPG elements explored further in subsequent DS games.

Dead Space 3 -- 10

Isaac Clarke: the man of a million gruesome deaths.

An inordinate amount of internet rage has been fueled by the inclusion of microtransactions and human enemies in DS3. Firstly, the microtransactions are really not a big deal. In fact, I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t specifically been looking. When in the weapon crafting menu, you can press a (fairly hidden) button to pull up the online storefront. In this storefront, you can spend real cash to get in-game resources or weapon parts. Alternatively, you can spend credits that you acquire throughout the campaign to buy these same virtual packages. By the end of my first playthrough, I was able to buy three of the most expensive packages using in-game credits that I’d acquired. These purchases were the equivalent of a few dollars of real cash. Truth be told, you acquire so many resources throughout the game that I can’t imagine why you’d bother to spend actual money. In fact, a friend of mine couldn’t even figure out how to access the online storefront without my help; the microtransactions are that unobtrusive. I actually feel stupid spending so much time writing about the microtransactions, because they’re really not a big deal.

Dead Space 3 -- 12

Isaac Clarke: the master of exploding body parts. In this case, this is a real man whose head is exploding.

The introduction of human enemies in DS3 serve to add some extra flavor to the tried and true necro dismemberment. It almost feels novel to be able to shoot an enemy in the head, and subsequently expect it to die. The segments where you fight humans are actually fairly rare, and I actually wished there had been more of them. Most importantly, these sections do not turn DS3 into a mindless cover based shooter, as certain gamers hypothesized. I can’t tell you how many times I heard DS3 being referred to as “Call of Dead Space”. For anyone who follows the story in DS games, it makes absolute sense to fight humans. As anyone knows, the humans are the main antagonists, at least plot-wise. Because these segments were so uncommon, it’s difficult to comment on the quality of the human AI. It definitely wasn’t noticeably bad, although these sections are somewhat easier than the typical scuffles with necromorphs. It was almost a tad bit disturbing when I dismembered my first human opponent… Let’s just say they dismember just as easily as any necro, which is satisfying, albeit in a way that makes you feel a little icky afterwards.

Dead Space 3 -- 11

You got your Thing my Dead Space!

Perhaps one of DS3’s strongest points: the sound design is incredible. When you meet one of the first necros, it slowly peels itself off the ceiling, all while the sounds of bones breaking echo off the walls. The sonic atmosphere is incredibly creepy, and you’ll often find yourself on-edge because you think you may have heard a nearby enemy. Complimenting the sound effects, the music also adds the perfect atmosphere to the experience. There are many subtle nods to songs from the game’s source material. For example, there’s a track that sounds uncannily similar to the main theme from The Thing.

Dead Space 3 -- 16

Perhaps the only clean environment in the entire universe of Dead Space.

As it should be clear from the tone of this review, I really enjoyed DS3. The gameplay, art design and music are all really high calibre. Just like in the previous games, DS3 is crammed with a ton of replay value. After beating the game, you unlock the typical New Game+ mode, which allows you to start a new game with all your items and weapons from the previous play-through, as well several new “throwback” modes that alter your available weapons and control  styles. I must admit, I’ve played very little of the brand new co-op mode, which is the major new selling point of the franchise. What little I did play was really fun. Players are free to drop in and out as they desire, and there are bonus areas that can only be accessed in co-op. This is co-op done right, and doesn’t feel like a tacked on afterthought. All that being said, the game is still excellent when played alone, so if you prefer playing solo, co-op is definitely not mandatory.

The most important thing about Dead Space 3 is that it’s just really fun to play, and feels polished as hell. Anyone who has even a passing interest in sci-fi horror should really check it out.

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Dead Space 3-related images

I must say, I’m starting to really get into Dead Space‘s story. Although the movies suffered from a poor artistic vision, their narratives met the quality I expect from the DS games. There’s a real consistency to the stories told in the Dead Space tie-ins. Although they may place too much emphasis on the Aegis VII/Ishimura arc, you can’t deny that they explore the situation from every possible scenario. And although they’re fixated on a particular sequence of events, we learn a new nuance about the major players involved with each successive installment in the cannon. Dead Space: Salvage is technically a prequel to DS2, but I would almost say it’s more fitting to call it a final chapter in the Ishimura saga. Ever wonder how the Ishimura was retrieved by EarthGov and brought to the Sprawl? Probably not, but Salvage will fill you in on the details, and you’re going to like it, goddamnit.

Dead Space Salvage Cover

Why can’t video game covers look this good?

Dead Space: Salvage
Writer: Antony Johnston
Artist: Christoper Shy
Editors: EA Comics (Robert Simpson), Studio Ronin (Emmalee Pearson, Tony Hughes, Kevin Stein, Leah Novak)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Country: USA
Release Date: November, 2010

Dead Space Salvage 6

The art is sometimes confusing, but always a feast for the eyes.

Released in 2010, Dead Space: Salvage is the first DS tie-in I’ve reviewed that wasn’t released alongside one of the games. The man responsible for Salvage‘s art is Christopher Shy. I hadn’t heard of Mr. Shy, but thankfully a quick Wikipedia search shed light on my ignorance. Christopher Shy is better known for his design company, Studio Ronin. Studio Ronin provides concept designs for a range of products, including movies and advertisements. The obvious reason I hadn’t heard of him was because I’m certainly no expert on comic artists, but more importantly, Salvage is one of the Shy’s first comics. There’s no denying that the artwork is gorgeous.The style is so unique that I find it hard to define. Everything looks like a sort of messy collage of textures from actual photographs. This mixture of textures in each panel has been manipulated and altered to death, and each image looks as if it’s been run through a factory of digital effects. Many of the characters have a translucent quality, meaning you can see the lighting and features from their background. If this all sounds really vague, it’s because I’m trying to describe a unique one-of-a-kind style that I haven’t seen elsewhere. The scans in this post should speak for themselves.

Dead Space Salvage 5

Kneeling in front of the marker, ’cause that’s what unitologists.

The obvious risk with abstract, experimental art in comics is that it can distract from the storyline. It’s one thing to have fancy pictures, but if the reader can’t tell what’s happening from panel to panel, the end result is an incomprehensible narrative. Salvage definitely straddles the edge of the cliff of incomprehensibility. Luckily, I would argue that it manages to avoid the plummet. That being said, it gets off to a rough start. The biggest problem with the art style is that several of the male characters look nearly identical to each other. To make matters worse, there are quite a few characters, and none of them are well introduced. In my case, it was only about halfway through the comic that I was able to distinguish between the various players. Although there’s little emphasis placed on developing each character’s personality, you’ll quickly start to become familiar with each individual based on the role they place in the story. Long story short, the characters are difficult to identify visually, but you’ll sort out who’s who, at least eventually. In fact, there’s a bio of each character provided at the beginning of the comic, precisely for that reason. So does the art detract from the story? Although I initially thought it did, by the end of the read I had really warmed up to the visuals and their ability to move the narrative along.

Dead Space Salvage 4

Isaac is that you?

Due to Christopher Shy’s atypical art style, the necromorphs come in all shapes and strange sizes. Instead of the typical variations we’re accustomed to, Shy explores all manner of exotic morphologies. Personally I think this approach works nicely, considering the organic nature of the necromorphs, and it almost makes me wish there was more enemy variety in the games. My biggest complaint with Shy’s style, other than the fact that certain characters look alike, is that there is very little detail in the backgrounds. Shy’s style doesn’t lend itself to precise details, so most of the backgrounds are just washes of wispy color. It’s not a big deal, but it’s rarely obvious what sort of environment a character is in.

Dead Space Salvage 9

All kinds of interesting necromorph variations.

To match the excellent visuals, Salvage was written by Antony Johnston, who also happens to have co-written the games and most of the tie-in fiction. Remember how I said there’s a consistency to the storyline between Dead Space‘s various spinoffs? Well, we have this man to thank. Of the various tie-ins, Salvage has my favorite story. Set in the year 2509, one year after the events of DS1, but several months before Dead Space: Aftermath, Salvage tells the story of a group of freelance miners known as the “magpies”. The magpies have a fleet of mining vessels, and use “shockrings” (picture a portable warp drive in the form of a large ring) to collect and transport minerals. Using a shockring, they mistakenly warp a large vessel to their location, which they later realize is the Ishimura. Meanwhile, EarthGov’s Defense Secretary David Chang is tasked with retrieving the Ishimura, which has been missing since the Aegis VII incident, and which they believe still contains the marker. Accompanying him are two shady EarthGov agents known as “oracles”. Oracles are ultra-elite operatives that seem to possess psychic powers. Chang eventually realizes the Ishimura is in the magpies’ possession, and sends the oracles and a squad of marines to eliminate them and retrieve the marker. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of necromorphs hanging around the Ishimura, so we’re treated to copious amounts of good old Dead Space carnage and mayhem.

Dead Space Salvage 2

Some of the pages from my comic fell out when I created these scans. IDW, if you’re reading this can I please get sent another copy? Pretty please?

As always with Dead Space‘s tie-ins, Salvage doesn’t add a whole lot to the cannon that couldn’t have been deduced from the games, but it is a fun diversion. Thankfully, Johnston did an excellent job with the dialogue. As someone who’s watched way too many movies involving a small crew in tight quarters, Salvage nails the element of interesting character interaction. The first third of the comic is mostly composed of banter between the various magpie shipmates, and to Johnston’s credit, the interactions are believable and fun to read.

As you may have noticed from the tone of this post, I really warmed up to Salvage. At first I thought the art was too obtuse (but still pretty), and that I’d never get the hang of the characters. Luckily I was wrong. The art is really impressive, as I’ve repeatedly stated. Completing the duo, Johnston’s writing is excellent as always. By this point, it could be argued that the “aliens on a ship” formula is getting stale, but we’re sci-fi horror fans, we’re not allowed to get bored with aliens on a ship. Salvage is the first DS tie-in I’ve reviewed that I feel meets the quality of the games. The other tie-ins had strong storylines, but left something to be desired from an artistic standpoint. All in all, Salvage is highly recommended.

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of images from Dead Space: Salvage

Dead Space 3 is just over a week from release, and rather than playing the demo, I’m busy exploring its intricate backstory. To cut to the chase, today’s offering is the second animated film, Dead Space: Aftermath. Rather than bore you a second time with the various reasons that I love this series, I figure I’ll just jump right in, so to speak.

Dead Space Aftermath Cover

I love this cover.

Dead Space: Aftermath
Director: Mike Disa
Producer: Joe Goyette
Studios: Film Roman, Starz Media, Pumpkin Studio
Distributors: Electronic Arts, Manga Entertainment
Country: USA
Release Date: January, 2011

Dead Space: Aftermath was released in January of 2011 to coincide with the release of Dead Space 2. I distinctly remember seeing it on store shelves in the cold winter months of 2011. The packaging is really attractive, so I remember being instantly interested. For whatever reason, I chose not to buy the movie until recently. I seem to remember that it had a fairly high price point, so as I’ll soon explain, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t purchase it at its original cost.

Dead Space Aftermath 2

The remains of Aegis VII.

Set in the year 2509, Aftermath takes place one year after the Ishimura incident, and two years before the events of Dead Space 2. That places it firmly in prequel territory, which is funny, because nearly every media tie-in with Dead Space is advertised as a prequel. There are considerably more DS prequels on store shelves than products that advance the story forward. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but lets just hope you like Aegis VII and the Ishimura, because the creative heads in charge of the series sure do.

Dead Space Aftermath 3

Ubiquitous marker-induced psychosis.

As you may remember, the events of the first DS ended with Isaac returning the red marker to the surface of Aegis VII, which in turn disrupted the gravity tethers that had been holding the planet together. Isaac then killed the main necromorph baddie, and escaped the destruction of Aegis VII on a shuttle craft. One year later, the USG O’Bannon (likely a reference to Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of Alien) is sent by the CEC (a mining corporation) to investigate. It should be no surprise that the crew of the O’Bannon is sent under false pretenses, and that the CEC, in combination with EarthGov, is merely interested in monitoring the effects of the marker on hapless humans. It turns out Aegis VII wasn’t totally destroyed by Isaac, so the investigation team are able to navigate the surface of the planet, albeit with some difficulty. As expected, the crew encounter a fragment of the marker, they bring it on board the O’Bannon, and all hell breaks loose.

Dead Space Aftermath 15

Yes, Aftermath has nudity.

Aftermath is told from the perspective of the four crew members of the O’Bannon who survive the introduction of the marker fragment to the ship. An EarthGov ship intercepts the O’Bannon, retrieves the four survivors, and brings them to the Sprawl, which you may remember as the location of DS2. En route to the Sprawl, each survivor is individually interrogated; each one telling a portion of the events that lead to the deaths of the O’Bannon’s crew. Circa 2013, flashbacks aren’t an entirely unique storytelling device, but in Aftermath they add some flavor to what would otherwise have been a standard linear narrative. Unfortunately, the creators decided to take the flashbacks one step further…

Dead Space Aftermath 6

Are all those glowing lights really necessary?

Aftermath is a mess of movie, thanks to the decision to use five different animation styles, one for the present day events, and one for each of the four flashbacks. I can’t emphasize how badly this decision ruins the movie. Although it’s difficult to find the specific details, it seems that Film Roman contracted the animation to five different Korean studios. By far the worst offender of the five, the present day events are animated in some of the worst CG I’ve seen this side of the 90’s. To put it bluntly, the CG looks like total crap. Remember the show Reboot from the late 90’s? The CG in Aftermath quite literally looks worse. In all seriousness, I compared still frames from the two, and Aftermath loses. There’s almost no texture on each surface, and the environments are as clean, sparsely detailed, and lifeless as that guy’s apartment from the last short in the movie Creepshow. When I first started Aftermath, I didn’t realize the CG would transition into conventional 2D animation; had it stayed CG the entire time, I may well have stopped the film.The CG is so awful that I’m hesitant to even include any images of it on this blog…

Dead Space Aftermath 4

The CG… I captured the least offensive looking screen possible.

Thankfully, the CG eventually ends, and gives way to some pretty decent 2D animation. Had the entire movie been done in 2d, I would have a much higher opinion of it. EA would have been wise to scrap the CG and start fresh. They have a reputation for sacrificing quality for the sake of making an extra dollar, and I can only imagine that’s what happened in this case. Sorry to bring up the example of Halo a second time, but the comparison is apt. Frank O’Connor, the man in charge of maininting the consistency of Halo‘s creative image, explained in the Halo Graphic Novel‘s forward that they waited until they had the perfect team before crafting a Halo comic. EA on the other hand, a company who can financially afford to handle their properties properly, seem content to shovel money at the cheapest options available. There are hentai studios that release better looking CG, not that I would know…

Dead Space Aftermath 12

The animation from the last 2D section looks incredible.

Returning back to the animation, the four 2d segments all look great, with the possible exception of the fourth. The backgrounds are detailed, the character models are nicely proportioned, the movement is fluid, and the angles are dynamic and interesting. Each one is superior looking to the animation from Dead Space: Downfall. The third 2D section, in particular, is beautiful. The style is fantastic, and the animation is as kinetic as any of Japan’s best offerings. I wish so badly that the entire movie had been done in this style. Had this been the case, we wouldn’t have to deal with the jarring differences in animation. To add weight to my statement that the movie is a mess, each character looks completely different in each of the five sections. Different to the point of skin color changes.

Dead Space Aftermath 7

More incredible animation from the last 2D section.

Aftermath‘s story is fairly interesting, and does a nice job of tying off a few loose ends between the events of DS1 and DS2. Like Downfall, nothing particularly important is added to the cannon, but we do learn a few new interesting details. For one, I was never very clear on how exactly the markers turn humans into necromorphs. Downfall explains fairly explicitely that the markers reanimate dead tissues. Necromorphs then spread the infection to other humans as they rack up kills. This still doesn’t explain the necromoph variations, but perhaps those questions have been answered elsewhere in the fiction. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no DS expert. Another addition to the cannon is that we learn Nolan Stross’ backstory. Apparently there was a time when he wasn’t a raving lunatic. Finally, we’re introduced firsthand to EarthGov’s “Overseer” (the chief of the marker conspiracy), who to the best of my knowledge has never appeared directly in the games. Perhaps my biggest issue with the plot of Aftermath is that the necromorphs are introduced fairly late, and only get about ten minutes of screen time. Then again, this serves to emphasize that the humans are the true evil; an idea which is explored every time EarthGov appears.

Dead Space Aftermath 10

Every good sci-fi horror needs some tentacle action.

Once again, the voice acting is quite good, other than one of the characters who can’t seem to stop awkwardly dropping the f-bomb. If you’re familiar with TV actors and voice actors, you’ll likely recognize the cast. Personally I’m not, so I won’t waste your time by pretending I’m knowledgeable. All things considered, the only strong detractor from Aftermath are the offputting animation changes and z-grade CG; other than that, it’s pretty watchable. The story isn’t excellent, nor does it add significantly to the cannon, but it’s pretty good. To summarize, I would only really recommend this to the most die-hard Dead Space fans, everyone else will probably turn it off after seeing the CG. To any non-DS fans, this Aftermath a pretty tough sell, even if you’re into sci-fi horror.

The Dead Space 3 hype train will continue in the next post. As a small hint, I have a certain comic in my apartment. Here’s to hoping that it will be less mediocre than the movies. As always, please check out the facebook page, I’ve been posting lots of DS news.

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of my favorite images from Dead Space: Downfall

Dead Space 3 is a mere two weeks away, so I thought it would be appropriate to count the days by writing several Dead Space related posts. Along with Doom, Half-Life, and perhaps Bioshock, Dead Space is easily one of the best sci-fi horror video game series of all time. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is the best. The aforementioned series might be more critically claimed, but Dead Space is the most pure of the lot. Equal parts Aliens and Event Horizon, DS nails the atmosphere that we’ve come to expect from pure sci-fi horror. Space stations, grotesque aliens/monsters, demonic possession, futuristic weaponry; DS delivers on all fronts. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a really design-oriented guy. With that in mind, I’d probably be fairly happy playing DS even it played terribly — the design is that good. Thankfully, the gameplay is equally satisfying. DS took the standard 3rd person shooter formula, and added an extra layer of depth with the inclusion of strategic dismemberment. In most other shooters, players are encouraged to aim for the head or chest for maximum damage. In DS, survival is heavily dependent on pinpointing various enemy body parts. Shooting an enemy in the legs renders them immobile, whereas shooting them in the arms decreases their potential to do harm. Anyways, I’m sure you’re all well aware of this. DS is an excellent series, ’nuff said.

2008 was the year of the dismembered hand.

2008 was the year of the dismembered hand.

Dead Space: Downfall
Director: Chuck Patton
Producers: Joe Goyette, Robert Weaver
Studio: Film Roman
Distributors: Electronic Arts, Manga Entertainment, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Country: USA
Release Date: October, 2008

Released as a tie-in with the original DS, Dead Space: Downfall is an animated movie that tells the events that occurred prior to the start of the game. In DS, the protagonist, Isaac Clarke, arrives on the mining ship USG Ishimura to discover that all hell has broken loose. In Downfall, we witness how all hell broke loose. Fun fact: Isaac Clarke was named after Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. It’s nice to see that DS was written/designed by people who have respect for classic sci-fi. I doubt the same can be said for most modern game designers, although I’d love to be proven wrong.

The marker: much more evil than it looks.

The marker: much more evil than it looks.

Before getting into the real nitty-gritty of the film, I have to address the elephant in the closet. Downfall was animated by a studio called Film Roman. Film Roman is an American animation studio, through and through. Their major claims to fame are for shows like The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, and many other American cartoons that you’ve inevitably heard of. Why EA decided to contract a Dead Space movie to these guys is totally beyond me. The most mature properties in their repertoire previous to Downfall were Hellboy Animated and X-Men Evolution. These are hardly on the same dark level as something like Dead Space. Downfall isn’t awful looking by any means, but I can’t help but think it could have looked much better. When it came time for Halo to explore the world of animation, 343 Industries made the wise decision to enlist several Japanese studios that had proven experience with hardcore subject matter. If I were in charge of the Dead Space property, I’d have done the same. In fact, previous to seeing Downfall, I totally assumed it was an anime. Again, the animation in Downfall is competent, but I’m sure it could have been so much more. Perhaps the biggest problem is that you feel as if you’re watching a Saturday morning cartoon, but with incredibly disturbing content. It’s a really strange mix. Personally I’m still able to enjoy the movie, but the same probably can’t be said of all DS fans. A friend of mine who’s a big DS fan owns both movies, but can’t get over the visual style. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the images in this post should probably give you a suitable impression of how you’ll feel about the style.

The crew.

The crew.

As I mentioned earlier, Downfall serves as a prequel to the first game. In the year 2508, the mining ship USG Ishimura is busy performing a “planet cracking” (mining) operation on the planet Aegis VII. Colonists on the planet have discovered a large relic known as a “marker”. A religious cult called “Unitology” bases a large portion of their beliefs around these markers. It is soon revealed that the Ishimura was sent by the Church of Unitology with the express purpose of retrieving the marker and returning it to Earth. After the marker is brought on board the ship, strange occurrences start taking place on Aegis VII. Violence and murder spreads among the colonists who live on the planet’s surface. By the time the crew of the Ishimura respond, it’s too late. The colonists are all dead, and the “virus” has started to spread to the ship. This virus takes the form of ex-human creatures called necromorphs that kill everything in their path. The remainder of the movie is centered on Alissa Vincent, head of security on the Ishimura, and her security crew, as they attempt to eliminate the foreign menace from the ship.

The cure for a headache.

The cure for a headache.

The plot is actually pretty decent, and more comprehensible than your average anime. Although the crew mainly serve as fodder for the necromorphs, they’re actually fairly distinct. The creators did a good job of somehow making one-dimensional characters somewhat memorable. Don’t expect much character development from DS; once the action starts (early on), it doesn’t slow down for the remainder of the movie. If action doesn’t get you wet, steer clear of this movie. To the studio’s credit, they did a fantastic job of animating the action scenes. The choreography is good, and every kill has weight. Speaking of kills, this movie delivers them by the boatload. This is possibly the most violent animated movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s including Koichi Ohata’s entire repertoire. The blood and gore literally never stop flowing. It’s as if Film Roman spent the last twenty years repressing their desire to animate gore, and were only finally given the opportunity to act out their desires. This probably isn’t far from the truth, because judging by their resume it looks as if this was their first R-rated production. The dismemberment is rampant. In one scene, one of the crew members, who we’re meant to identify with, is slowly carved in two by another crew member. Intense.

Let's just be glad these things aren't real.

Let’s just be glad these things aren’t real.

The voice acting is extremely solid. So solid that I barely remembered to mention it. None of the voice actors’ names stand out to me, but they all seem to be veterans of animation. The solid voice acting makes it easier to identify with the characters. As I said earlier, the characters are actually fairly memorable, thanks in no small part to the cast.

Dead Space fans will appreciate the references to the original game. Although you could easily enjoy this without having played the game, there are some nice little occasional nods. For example, the incident between Dr. Terrence Kyne and the ship’s captain is explored in full detail. In addition, fans will recognize the locations from the game. Specifically, the medical hall, bridge, and hydroponics facilities are all featured prominently. That being said, not everything is covered faithfully. For example, the plasma cutter is wielded as a sort of lightsaber rather than as a weapon that fires rounds from a distance. This creative liberty is actually pretty fun in the movie, because the protagonists get to slice the enemies apart.

Some healthy gore.

Some healthy gore.

So, now for a verdict. Dead Space: Downfall is a fun little side diversion in the DS universe. Although it tells a nice compact narrative, it adds very little to the overall fiction. Nearly everything that’s covered is explained at some point in the original game. Furthermore, the visuals aren’t nearly as stylish as in the game, which is a big shame. Should you avoid the movie because of its mediocre visuals? Definitely not. The animation is actually pretty good, it’s just the style that’s a little off-putting. If you’re looking for a shallow, hyper violent extension to the DS universe, Downfall should serve you nicely. Luckily it doesn’t drag, so you should be entertained from start to finish.

And with that, I’m done my first post in the Dead Space 3 hype train. Expect to see more soon! If there’s anything Dead Space-related that you’d like to see covered, please shoot me a message on the facebook page. I’m always super excited to hear your feedback!

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of my favorite images from Dead Space: Downfall

Forbidden World (1982)

Forbidden World (1982) — Very reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton’s solo scene in Alien

As I’ve stated several times on this blog, I’m a pretty big Alien fan. As far as movie franchises go, the Alien universe is fairly expansive, meaning that the various spin-off comics, books, toys, and video games will keep you entertained for a while. However, I’m someone who loves to explore a franchise’s entire sphere of influence. For example, I can’t watch just one cyberpunk anime whithout wanting to know everything about cyberpunk anime. In practice, this almost never pans out; I start out with the loftiest of intentions, but then I quickly burn out or lose interest. Nevertheless, this desire to consume everything has led me on a journey into the darkest depths of Alien‘s influence.

Inseminoid (1982)

Inseminoid (1982) — The perfect atmosphere

Although there are a number of  movies that ripped off Alien, there was really only one that was even remotely as influential: John Carpenter’s The Thing. Even then, The Thing only became a cult hit way after its cinematic release, whereas Alien was instantly popular. Every other imitator falls strongly into the B-grade of cinema history. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way; as you will soon see, I love many of the imitators, but they were almost all made on incredibly limited budgets. Also, just as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I use the term rip-off in the kindest way possible. I have nothing against rip-offs; I’ll take any half-decent Alien clone over most other movies anyday.

The Terror Within (1989)

The Terror Within (1989) — Seconds before chestbursting

So, which ingredients are necessary to brew an Alien rip-off? First, you need a tightly confined or secluded space; usually this is a ship or a space station, but contemporary settings like submarines or military bunkers are also appropriate. Second, a sci-fi setting is ideal, but not necessary. Although the obvious imitators take place in a futuristic setting, plenty of Alien clones are set in the present day. Next, you need one or more creatures that slowly pick off a human contingent one-by-one. Best case scenario, the creature is an alien; even better case scenario: an alien that looks like a xenomorph. That being said, mutants, robots, infected organisms, and the like are all equally acceptable. Continuing onwards, the human prey is usually composed of a small crew. We’re not talking large scale alien invasion here; the smaller the crew, the more we sympathize with them before they die (and the cheaper the budget). Finally, the keenest imitators replicate the chestbursting element. Nothing screams Alien harder than alien impregnation. Again, this element is reserved for only the most die hard clones.

To recap, Alien rip-offs usually contain the following elements, which I’ve ranked in terms of importance:

  1. Tighly confined or secluded space
  2. One or more creatures that kill humans one-by-one
  3. Small cast of humans
  4. Science fiction setting
  5. Chestbursting
Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror (1981) — One of my favorite locales in any sci-fi horror movie

Now that I’ve set the ground rules, I plan for this series to be the definitive source for Alien rip-offs. Several blog posts and forum threads have been dedicated to this topic, but they’re either limited in scope, or consist of lists that don’t delve into any details. Through intense scientific research using only the most peer-reviewed sources, I’ve compiled my own personal list of over thirty movies that I plan to cover. I’ll admit, I’ve only seen roughly half these movies, so this series is a strong incentive for me to actually watch the other half. It goes without saying that I’ll only cover movies that I’ve actually watched (duh). Also, I’d like the coverage to be done in a somewhat chronological fashion, with approximately five movies covered per post. I’m pretty excited, so you should be too! If you have any suggestions for this series, please contact me at the Xenomorphosis facebook page, or by email at

Dead Space (1990)

Dead Space (1990) — The hydralisk’s long-lost brother

Necronomiclones: Gigeresque Imagery in Video Games is an ongoing series that covers Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s influence on video game art design.


In continuing the theme of covering Contra games, this post will explore the gigeresque imagery in Super Contra and Super C. The popularity of the original Contra led to a bevy of sequels, each of which drew more liberally from Giger’s vision. The first of these was Super Contra, which was released for arcades in 1988.

Super Contra -- Promotional Art

Super Contra — Promotional Art — Alien reference: check, Predator reference: double-check

Super Contra
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platform: Arcade
Release Date: 1988

Super Contra -- Opening Cinematic

Super Contra — Opening Cinematic — Red eye

The aliens from the original have returned, and this time they’re possessing human bodies. If there’s one thing (get it, human possession, The Thing) aliens are terrible at, it’s staying dead. Bill and Lance are sent to an infected military base to eradicate the alien menace once and for all!  This one’s a real tear-jerker, because our heroes are forced to kill their former comrades. Comrades be damned, we’ll burn the aliens out of them if we have to!

Super Contra -- Opening Cinematic

Super Contra — Opening Cinematic — Gas mask skulls

The game starts with an opening cinematic that features a one-eyed xenomorph. It’s lucky that Konami had the license to produce Aliens games, because otherwise they’d have had good cause to fear a lawsuit. Then again, in the wild west days of 80s arcade games, lawsuits probably weren’t much of a concern. Continuing the opening cinematic, Bill and Lance are seen running down a hive-like corridor. Jutting from the corridor are, for lack of a better term, the “gas mask skulls” that are commonplace in Giger’s artwork. An obvious example is the space jockey head from Alien, which was later revealed to be a helmet in Prometheus.

Super Contra -- Stage 3 Boss

Super Contra — Stage 3 Boss — Strange…

Super Contra commences with what would later become a trope in Contra games: our hero is dropped into the enemy base from a helicopter. He proceeds to fight his way to an assault helicopter boss, and then enters an Ikari Warriors-esque overhead stage where he destroys a large enemy tank that looks as if it was teleported in from the G.I. Joe universe. Continuing onward, he traverses a jungle, and encounters the first real Giger moment. Fixed to a wall is an alien head that fires red homing lasers. I’m really at odds with describing this boss. Even for a Japanese creation, he’s pretty strange-looking. He has an incredibly happy grimace, sort of like a really content alien cat. Scuttling across a platform below are several octopus cyclops that vomit pink goo. This boss is all kinds of weird.

Super Contra -- Stage 4

Super Contra — Stage 4 — That xenomorph is about to get sucked into the vagina door

Proceeding onwards, our hero enters the real meat of the game: the alien hive. This time around, the hive is fairly different looking from the arcade version of the first game. The color pallet is considerably grayer; in fact I think the mix of grey with purple in the original game’s hive is significantly more attractive than Super Contra’s abundance of grey on grey.

I’d like to take this time to point out one of my major criticisms with the arcade Contras. Man, the colors are ugly. The contrast is totally off; instead of any strong colors, the screen is dominated with muted grays. I’ve never seen any other arcade games that suffer from this problem. Because of the overabundance of grey, any time there’s a hint of colour, it looks incredibly jarring. Enough ranting, back to the game…

The floor of the hive consists of a skeletal webbing, and the ceiling is a network of what are best described as intestines. For the first time in a contra game, regular-sized xenomorphs are featured as enemies. They attack in droves; literally running at the hero. They’re in such a hurry that they’ll run offscreen should you jump over them. Even real xenomorphs aren’t this persistent. After killing dozens of xenomorphs, you’re confronted with one of the coolest bosses in video games: a giant winged xenomorph! The xenomorph has one eye, and a massive inner jaw that extends to at least eight feet (judging by the height of the protagonist). Coincidentally, one of Giger’s paintings features what looks like a winged xenomorph.

Super Contra Stage 4 Boss vs. H.R. Giger's winged xenomorph

Super Contra Stage 4 Boss vs. H.R. Giger’s winged xenomorph

Super Contra -- Stage 5 Final Boss

Super Contra — Stage 5 Final Boss — The creepiest eyes ever

After defeating the boss, you then negotiate a second portion of the hive, this time from an overhead perspective. The floor is bisected by gigeresque ribbed walls that curl offscreen. At the back of the chamber is the final boss. This guy is ugly, but in the best possible way. His giant head envelopes the center of the screen, and three smaller arms with faces worm their way out of adjacent tunnels. His headpiece has the familiar alien queen triceratops shape, and his arms are ribbed. After pummeling his exposed brain (that can’t be healthy), he does what all good video game enemies do after being shot up with bullets: explodes. And so concludes Super Contra. The world is saved, again.




Super C -- Box Art

Super C — Box Art — Fantastic cover; nearly every boss is represented.

Super C
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platform: NES
Release Date: 1990 (Japan and USA), 1992 (Europe and Australia)
Alternative Titles: Super Contra (Japanese Famicom), Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces (European and Australian NES)

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 5 — Into the hive

Following the success of Contra for NES, an NES port of Super Contra was a sure bet. And thus, Super C was born in 1990. Unlike Super Contra, Super C has two additional levels spliced between the jungle and hive: a green techno base, and an uphill mountain climb. Following the mountainous level, we’re presented with a short cinematic of our hero entering the hive.

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 6 — More gas mask skulls

To its credit, the NES version’s hive is considerably more attractive than its arcade counterpart, thanks in no small part to a much better defined, and more lush color palette. The floor of the hive is composed of a blue spiral texture, and grey gas mask skulls adorn the walls. Lethal red balls are released from chasms and proceed to home in on the protagonist. Balls and chasms: we’re in Giger territory.

At the far end of the chamber is the final boss from the arcade version. His first form has the familiar triceratops head that we know and love. This time around, his eyes are especially creepy; they follow you as you manoeuvre the screen. Adding to the spooky atmosphere, the walls of the chamber are ribbed, Giger-style. You know what, from now on I’ll just call this style of wall a Giger Wall. After you destroy the boss’ first form, he morphs into a conjoined three-headed monstrosity.

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 6 — Creepiest eyes ever x3

Super C -- Area 7

Super C — Area 7 — Kangaroomorphs

After felling triceratops head (I know, he probably has a real name), you continue onwards to the final hive level. This is an attractive stage; the floor is ribbed, vagina doors and gas mask skulls litter the walls, and xenomorphs run at you in packs. Aliens galore. In an interesting video game gimmick, the final segment before the end boss forces you to maneuver an area where the ceiling continuously drops down on you. Should you survive, you’re greeted with an final boss that looks as if it was spawned from a lovecraftian nightmare. To be honest, this looks nothing like anything from Giger. The creature scuttles around on crab legs, has a giant muscled appendage protruding from its abdomen, and has two connected heads, one is a female face, and the other looks kind of like… Alf. After defeating this hideously awesome creature, you ride off into the sunset in your trusty helicopter.

As I promised, Super C and Super Contra delivered even more gigeresque goodness. The next post may or may not cover Contra III: The Alien Wars and Contra 4. Kind of like eating too much candy, I feel like I’ve consumed an unhealthy amount of Contra. We’ll see if the sugar rush fades before I sit down to write the next installment. Until then, please Like the Xenomorphosis facebook page! Later folks.

Super C -- Stage 7 & Final Boss

Super C — Area 7 & Final Boss

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Super C and Super Contra-related images

Good news! Xenomorphosis now has a facebook page! This is your go-to place if you’re interested in receiving updates about new posts! I also plan to regulary post links to interesting sci-fi horror videos, news stories, etc… Furthermore, I see the facebook page as a way for sci-fi horror fans to  engage with each other, and with the editors of the site. If any of this interests you, please like the page: Cheers.

Consider the facebook page your portal to news... and stuff.

Consider the facebook page your portal to news, updates, the community, and… All kinds of other great things.