At a time when the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises were starting to become less and less inspired, it’s easy to understand why Dead Space was almost universally embraced. I’m at a bit of a handicap, as I just finished playing through it about a week and a half ago, but compared to RE:5 and Homecoming, it achieves a better balance between scares and action than either genre staple, and was certainly a lot more fun to play because of it. Because of the impending release date of the sequel, I caught up with Dead Space: Downfall, an animated tie-in that functions as a prequel to the first game and, as far as I can tell, takes place during the events in Extraction. Aside from the 2D animation and the novelty of having TRON himself provide a voice, there really isn’t anything to praise. The script is flat and doesn’t give enough exposition, giving the characters little to no background and inspiring little interest in the undramatic or scare-less plot, and the CGI integration is repulsive looking. In other words, it’s what you’d expect out of a quick cash grab.
Aftermath, the new tie-in that takes place in between the original game and Ignition, the downloadable flash-animation puzzler that precedes the sequel (they’re making tie-ins for the tie-ins!), is surprisingly worse than its predecessor. After contact is lost with the USG O’Bannon (clever, eh?), a vessel sent in to investigate the events on the Ishimura and the whereabouts of Isaac Clark, a reconnaissance team is sent in, and finds four survivors among the bloodbath onboard. The Government, which orchestrated the illegal experiments dealing with “The Marker” (a relic of Unitology), sends in their special interrogations unit to discover what secrets the four crew members possess about Aegis VII in order to further their research into Necromorph DNA.
Now, the story here really isn’t too deep, so the gimmick of changing animations styles for each crew member’s recollection is employed; unfortunately, it’s to disastrous results, which aren’t helped much by an uneven Blu-Ray transfer. The flashbacks of each character, drawn as anime, are well done, though they appear to be presented in upconverted standard definition. The style seems to vary throughout the different recollections (a plus in my book), with details such as character design changed around in order to represent wholly unique perspectives. The wrap around story is computer animated, using the same technology that made PC game cut scenes seem cutting edge… in 1995. Saying the CG-rendered scenes are embarrassing is an understatement; it makes After Last Season look like it was animated by Pixar. Shadows and color differentiation are almost non-existent, and there are times when it’s impossible to discern where the characters’ bland design ends and the boring, sterile background begin.
If it’s not the shoddy animation that’s dragging the film down, it’s the lazy, uninspired script. Like the first film, character development is scarce and nobody is given much to do aside from walking around from room to room. The story is a fairly slow burn, but the mythology isn’t really furthered and not much is learned beyond what you already know from playing through the series so far. The hallucination effect – which will hopefully be used to the same great effect in Dead Space 2 as it was in the cult classic Eternal Darkness – explored in a series of money shots, only half of which are effective (the other half are either poorly placed or hilarious because of the terrible animation). One of the more peculiar head scratchers revolving around this idea involves the interrogators, who use some sort of method (never really explained) to make their subjects think they’re experience their deepest fears. Not only do shadow and texture-less CGI spiders crawling out of a mouth look completely ridiculous, it’s also completely unnecessary considering some of the victims seem more than willing to cooperate.
It’s obvious that many of these details are skimmed over because they’ll inevitably be filled in during the sequel (I’m at a loss over the Government exposition… what does an Overseer do?), but that brings up a big question: is there a point to Dead Space: Aftermath besides for being a shameless cash-in? For a film that focuses on the destruction of a planet and the mechanics behind a mutant zombie outbreak, it’s boring, does nothing to further the mythology of the series, and is plain old ugly to look at. Considering this is the second entry into the direct-to-disc line, you’d figure they would be able to capture the tense vibe of the game by now. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.