Review: Dead Space: Ignition (PS3)

Title: Dead Space: Ignition
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: October 12, 2010
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Price: $4.99

In January of 2011 Dead Space 2 will be released.  I have already set aside that day to do nothing other than play the shit out of that game.  Ever since the first moments of the original Dead Space I was hooked – hooked on the gameplay, hooked on the mythology and hooked on the absolute terror.  It breathed new life into the survival horror genre with a deep space vibe and I loved every minute of it.

In addition to the game Electronic Arts accommodated for a remarkable marketing campaign as a part of the Dead Space story.  Leading up to it’s release in October of 2008 eager fans were given several free downloadable motion comic episodes.  These episodes were just enough to keep me intrigued in what was forthcoming and played a nice role in adding to the Dead Space universe.  This time around we have what appears, upon first glance, to be another prequel to the events leading up to Dead Space 2 and the chaos that gamers have been waiting to unveil.

Once again the downloadable content takes the form of motion comic and, for good and (mostly) bad, EA has taken it upon themselves to create more of an interactive experience.  The story is presented from the point of view of an engineer on the Sprawl named Franco who is accompanied by his security officer girlfriend.  The player is able to make choose-your-own-adventure type decisions that alter the path of the story; not a terrible idea and one that evokes pleasant childhood memories paging through books of the same name.

The story starts out simple enough as Franco is sent to perform various jobs throughout the Sprawl to repair, in true engineer fashion, a malfunctioning panel here or an inoperable computer terminal there.  While proceeding from one job to the next the player is forced to listen to the horrible banter between boyfriend and girlfriend while continually hoping for something Dead Space-like to happen.  Unfortunately the story of Dead Space Ignition never really develops into anything.  Eventually we see an outbreak of Necromorphs but how and, more importantly why, this happens is never fully explained.  Honestly, at this point in the game I was just glad to have something, anything, to break up the monotony of Dead Space Ignition.

Monotonous might be an appropriate description of the story but nothing describes the actual gameplay of Dead Space Ignition better than mundane.  The player is tasked with “hacking” 1 of 3 separate mini-games: Hardware Crack, System Override and Trace Route.  Each of these mini-games are repeated on multiple occasions throughout the story and each time the player revisits the game the difficulty is ramped up.  This may not sound too bad but none of the 3 games resemble anything remotely fun.  On the contrary, these mini-games are the definition of boredom and aggravation.

Hardware Crack is a straight-up puzzle game that presents the player with the objective of shifting the direction of various objects on the screen to allow for an uninterrupted flow of red and green beams of light.  As the game progresses and the difficulty level for Hardware Crack increases the player is supplied with additional tools to redirect and split the beams while dealing with a mirror scheme that continually changes the pattern.

System Override mostly resembles a sorry excuse for a tower defense game.  It involves attempting to take control of a system port by delivering wave after wave of computer viruses.  These viruses encounter the obligatory anti-viruses along their way to complete the system override.  Because the player has little to no direct involvement with the path these viruses take the System Override mini-game is a bore to play and an even bigger bore to watch.

Finally we have a game called Trace Route.  The most basic way to explain this mini-game is to think of the Tron Light Cycles . . . without the fun and excitement that comes with Tron Light Cycles.  The goal is to guide the trace stream to the system core before the AI counter measures do.  Along the way you’ll need to avoid the data blocks which, if struck, will slow your stream down considerably.  It’s primarily a bit race to the end.

Although some might complain about the quality of the motion comic for Dead Space Ignition I didn’t think they were all that bad.  Don’t get me wrong, Dead Space Ignition does nothing ground breaking with the visuals and they really are a pale comparison to what one might expect after the first go round of Dead Space motion comics and the follow-up full animated movie – Dead Space Downfall.

The real problem I had with the visuals of Dead Space Ignition was not so much in the motion comic but with the stark difference the mini-games had to offer.  The player is jarred from a 2D comic presentation to a full on 3D hacking game.  It’s as if Electronic Arts and Visceral Games spent their entire budget and timeline on the look of the mini-games and needed something quick to tack on in terms of a story.

The main theme of Dead Space Ignition is one that fully represents what I have come to expect with the Dead Space franchise.  It is powerful, intense and frenetic.  It is everything that an action survival horror game should sound like.

Unfortunately, the quality of the audio ends there.  After selecting the start button from the main screen players are then forced to sit through some of the worst character voice-overs I have ever heard.  I really must question where Viscera found these “actors” to do the voice-overs?  The relationship between Franco and his girlfriend are as banal as their reactions to the invasion of the Necromorphs.  What the developers have failed to acknowledge is that all form of emotion – love, happiness, terror – when conveyed through the medium of motion comics, must be adequately rendered by the voice acting.  The limitations of a motion comic should never be further limited by poor voice-overs.

Disappointment is the only description I can convey with Dead Space Ignition.  Disappointment that Electronic Arts has marred an otherwise quality video game franchise with an underwhelming downloadable game.  Disappointment that my faith in the upcoming Dead Space 2 has now been called into question and disappointment that I actually paid to play this game.  Sure, I knew I could have obtained a free download code with the reservation of Dead Space 2 but, call me lazy or just overly excited, I opted to pay the $4.99 entry fee.

Do yourself a favor, avoid Dead Space Ignition and wait, like everyone else, for the release of Dead Space 2.  End of Transmission.


Written by Bill Braun

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