science fiction horror

All posts tagged science fiction 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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 xenomorphosis@gmail.com.

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.

Contents:
Introduction
Contra

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.

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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: http://www.facebook.com/Xenomorphosis. 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.

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

Contents:
Introduction

“It’s time for revenge… Let’s attack aggressively!”

For this first installment of Necronomiclones I’ve decided to cover a series that’s especially fresh in my mind. Namely, the infamous Contra series. Does a better old-school co-op series exist? The answer is no. Everyone worth talking to has a great Contra story to tell. The first time I beat Contra III: The Alien Wars on normal difficulty, it was 3 in the morning and my co-op partner was high on shrooms. Needless to say, Contra is the stuff of basement legends. This entry will explore the gigeresque art design in Contra for arcade and Contra for NES.

Contra (NES) Box Art — I would pay so much money to see this movie.

Contra
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platforms: Arcade, NES
Release Dates: 1987 (Arcade), 1988 (NES)
Alternative Titles: Gryzor (PAL Arcade), Probotector (PAL NES)

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 1: Jungle — Is it just me, or does that look identical to the pulse rifle from Aliens?

Contra follows the tale of two army commandos, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, as they take on the Red Falcon Organization. The original japanese version is said to be set in the year 2663 on an island off the coast of New Zealand, whereas the American NES port’s manual establishes the events as taking place in the present day. Because we all know that American NES manuals are about as official as that Star Wars fanfic you wrote in high school, we’ll assume the Japanese version is the more accurate of the two. To put it candidly, Contra is big love letter to American 80s cinema. If Rambo, Predator, and Aliens had a japanese baby, its name would be Contra. In fact, the American NES cover features Schwarzenegger and Stallone posing with a xenomorph.

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 3: Waterfall — Alien boss at top of waterfall

I’ve chosen to cover both the arcade and NES version in tandem because despite having fairly different visual styles, they share nearly identical level layouts. Both games start with our hero flipping shirtless into the jungle. Real men don’t jump, they flip. He then proceeds to fight his way into a base, traverses to the far side of the base, and ends up at the foot of a waterfall. Funny story: after years of playing Contra, I only recently found out from a friend that you can duck the bullets in the base… The first Giger moment presents itself at the top of the waterfall, where a giant alien boss lies in wait. In the arcade version, the alien has two heads, four arms, and is protruding from a metallic structure. Although far from a blatant xenomorph clone, the basic ingredients are all there. In typical Giger fashion, the arms are ribbed, and the jaw is evocative of a xenomorph.

Contra (NES) — Stage 3: Waterfall — Alternative alien boss on top of waterfall

The NES version of the same boss is fairly different looking, but no less gigeresque. Instead of having two heads, its cranium has the same triceratops-like shape as the queen alien in Aliens. One thing’s for certain: its arms are also about as useless looking as the queen alien’s; they flop around in circles while shooting fireballs at the hero. The alien shares another similarity with a xenomorph: it has rod-shaped dorsal fins extending from its back.

Contra (NES) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair

After killing the alien, our hero explores a second base, a snow field, an energy zone (?), a hangar. and finally, the alien’s lair. As the name would imply, the alien’s lair is essentially a large alien hive. In the NES version, the ceiling is composed of what look like skeletal shapes, and the floor is crisscrossed with red organic matter. Giger would be proud, very proud. Interspersed among the ceiling are pink protrusions that spew out white, fluffy balls that home in on our hero. The pink protrusions look like vaginas with teeth. As you’ll remember from the intro to this series, Giger loved to incorporate sexual imagery into his art. The arcade version of the lair is even more overtly gigeresque. The floor of the chamber consists of bone-like shapes, skulls, and gaping holes that look identical to the vagina doors in Alien’s derelict.

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair — Mid-boss

Mid-way through the alien chamber, our hero finds himself face-to-face with what can only be described as a massive xenomorph head. In breaking with tradition, the xenomorph has horns distending from its carapace. Spewing from its mouth are small xenos that look as if they’re curled into a fetal position. How cool is that? A massive alien that barfs out smaller aliens.

Contra (NES) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair — Final Boss

Continuing onward, the hero encounters the final boss in the core of the alien hive. If video games have taught me anything, it’s that every good alien hive is controlled by a massive internal organ. In this case, the organ looks like a giant heart, and is attached to the ceiling and floor by a network of veins and arteries. Defending the heart are a collection of eggs that look identical to those in Alien. And what do these eggs release? Face-huggers. Dozens of face-huggers that pop out and lunge at the hero. Some people are bothered by such obvious plagiarism, but personally I love it. Being the big Aliens fan that I am, I love to see its influence whenever possible.

After killing the heart, our hero is whisked away in a helicopter and the world is saved. One thing I’m still not clear on: why are the terrorists aliens? Doesn’t it seem redundant that a malevolent alien be classified as a terrorist? Evil aliens kill people, that’s what they do. Anyways, the next installment of this series will explore Super Contra and Super C, which contain considerably more gigeresque content than the original Contra. Look forward to it, and enjoy the following gallery that I put together!

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

There’s something really heartwarming about trudging knee deep in alien goo as you cut your way to the core of an alien nest. Actually, that sounds pretty awful. This first series covers a topic that I’m especially fond of: gigeresque aliens and alien environments in video games. I’m going to assume that if you’ve found this blog, you’re probably well aware of what I mean by gigeresque imagery. In a nutshell, describing something as gigeresque means that you’re likening it to the style of the legendary swiss artist H.R. Giger. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Giger is basically my hero. As far as this blog is concerned, he’s a God.

Again, I’m going to assume that most of you are more than familiar with Giger, so instead of going into a longwinded account of his life history, I’ll just quickly outline the visual tropes that roughly define his style. First, Giger loves to incorporate ribbed shapes into his art. When I say ribbed shapes, I’m literally referring to the look of a human rib cage.

How about some coleslaw with those ribs?

This leads into another common element, which is the use of bone-like shapes. It isn’t uncommon to see skulls or spinal cord-like structures in Giger’s images.

Skulls and spines.

Next, Giger’s art wouldn’t be what it is without the abundant use of phallic or yonic imagery. As I write this, I’m staring at one of Giger’s airbrushed paintings, and it’s actually just a penis entering a vagina, repeated six times. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her within five miles of Giger…

I’d hit that.

The next common theme in gigaresque art is the concept of an organic/metallic synergy, which Giger himself coined with the term “biomechanics”. To many people, the word biomechanical is most commonly associated with the style of tattoo that Giger spawned. How many artists can be directly credited with instigating an entirely unique style of tattoo? One day I may write a post on how I think that biomechanical tattoos rarely look all that gigeresque too me. They often rely on dagger-like shapes, which I’ve never seen in Giger’s art, but that’s a topic for another day. Back to the point, the biomechanical nature of Giger’s art translates into imagery that looks somewhat mechanical, or industrial, but has a very organic shape and flow that you rarely see in actual mechanical objects.

Is it organic? Is it mechanical? Only Giger knows.

An important point to stress is that Giger’s art has a very organic feel. Every shape blends into the next, creating a structure that flows throughout the work of art. Finally, Giger’s artwork is almost always incredibly dark. It’s rare for him to use any color; meaning that the bulk of his work consists of various shades of grey (no, not those shades of grey…). So as a quick recap, gigeresque art often includes ribbed and bone-like shapes, relies on sexual imagery, has a biomechanical synergy, and is dark, like Giger’s heart. Giger’s a dark guy, and we like him that way.

Now that you’ve had a crash course on gigaresque aesthetics, let’s take a step back and see how this relates to the alien art design in the video games that this series will be covering. Giger’s real claim to fame were his designs for the movie Alien. As far as I’m concerned, the xenomorph is the most original and genuinely terrifying alien ever conceived by man. The dark aesthetics of Alien and its sequel Aliens influenced a generation of video game designers; not only in North America, but worldwide. Most importantly, from roughly the mid-eighties to early nineties, most alien designs in Japanese video games were directly influenced by these seminal films. Don’t believe me? This series will undoubtedly change your mind. The range of influence extends from almost blatant plagiarism, to subtle visual cues that evoke images of the hive from Aliens or the derelict’s corridors in Alien.

Super Turrican on SNES — No xenomorphs to see here.

I should probably point out that many of the games that I will cover in this series may seem only vaguely gigeresque. My reasoning is that every organic alien environment in a video game owes a debt of gratitude to Giger. The design of the Derelict in Alien and the hive in Aliens (yes, I know the hive wasn’t designed by Giger), are the main source of inspiration for these types of environments. Therefore, there may be times when I’ll cover environments that don’t seem particularly gigeresque, but by virtue of the fact that they’re somewhat hive-like, I feel they’re at least indirectly inspired by Giger.

So what can you expect from this series? My plan is to start with the classics: Contra, R-Type, Gradius, Turrican and Metroid. Next, I’m really looking forward to delving into more obscure games. Expect to see a lot of coverage of japanese shooters from the mid-eighties to the late ninteties. And as always, if you have any suggestions for games that I should cover, please email me at xenomorphosis@gmail.com. Stay tuned folks!