visceral

All posts tagged visceral

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.

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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.

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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