Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of…marketing.
EA, perhaps peering into a crystal ball or just hiring awesome analysts, knew in advance the runaway hit that Dead Space would be. Having sold almost 600,000 units in a little over a week since its release, it looks like they were completely right. However, no true franchise success story is built off of a single product. Needless to say, sequels are already in development, but EA’s massive marketing blitz has started being built up right around the very first title. Phase one was a 6-part series of comics, both hard copy and electronic, written by Antony Johnson (who also wrote the game’s dialogue) and 30 Days of Night artist Ben Templesmith. Phase two was supposed to be a one-two punch of the game and its animated prequel movie Dead Space: Downfall. However, the game was pushed ahead two weeks, leaving the prequel movie stuck coming out two weeks after the game.
Unfortunately, those two weeks spent with Dead Space the game has made the experience with Dead Space the movie (not to be confused with Dead Space the cereal or Dead Space the personal lubricant) a rather sour one. Bookended by the superb comics and the even more superb game, the movie itself is unnecessary and disappointing. Overlapping with the comics’ story, it details the events leading up to the catastrophe on the Ishimura, mostly through the eyes of security officer Alissa Vincent and her cookie cutter squad of space marine stereotypes. There’s the huge black guy (who, in proper horror-movie fashion, dies first), the cool and collected one who sacrifices himself for the greater good, the tough cookie with crazy hair...I was genuinely shocked an animated Bill Paxton wasn’t thrown into the mix. The main problem with generic characters like this is that it’s almost impossible to empathize with them, a bizarre feat seeing as how much I grew attached to the mute Isaac over the course of the game.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop at the rotten crew. The screenplay, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, spends a good-sized portion of its brief 74 minute runtime at complete odds with the events laid out in the video game. Character motivations are changed, or events are shown occurring in a completely different way than they were in the game. Dialogue is a wreck, muddied by both tried old clichés (“Oh..my…God.”) and halfhearted voice acting from a normally capable cast that includes vets like Bruce Boxleitner and Kelly Hu. Even the gore scenes, the sort of stuff that you and I want to see, quickly devolve into a boring, drawn out mess of red splatters.
Worst of all, the animation simply doesn’t work. Its sub-Saturday morning cartoon quality is disappointing, especially when considering that the game it’s based off of has some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The animation is choppy and the art style is woefully generic. Saddest of all the Necromorphs, which are terrifying as 3D rendered models, come across as goofy when translated to a 2D cel-based animation.
So if you are a complete Dead Space fanatic, or an anal retentive collector who must have every last scrap of story, then by all means pick up Downfall. However, for the rest of you, simply don’t bother. The comics and game dole out more than enough story, and they do so with more competence than this dreck.