Dead Space: Ignition Review
Dead Space: Ignition is a strange title. It's a bit more interactive than a comic, a tad more complex than a promotional web app and a skoch (hrm...make that quite a few skoches) less than a full-on video game. As such, it ends up something of an unsatisfying, half-baked muddle that has little in common with the action shooter it's based on and kind of leaves you wondering why anyone thought it needed to be made.
Admittedly, John Q. Public's fickle and short-memoried mind might well have put the franchise on the backburner until the release next January of Dead Space 2 and the Powers That Be must have thought Dead Space: Ignition could counter that. Regardless of how it came to be though, Dead Space: Ignition is a “midquel” (will people never stop coining these terms?) that takes place between the events of the original Dead Space and Dead Space 2. You play engineer Franco Delille, computer expert and keeper of the peace aboard the space station known as The Sprawl. At game start, you're called upon—along with your voluptuous coworker Sarah—to check out some system failures and without warning, the two of you get sucked into events of unprecedented violence. The story, written by by award-winning graphic novelist Antony Johnston (author of the Dead Space comics as well as numerous other graphic novels), is told through still images, comic book style, with accompanying voice overs.
Unlike the gun-centric Dead Space 1 and 2, there's no shooting in Dead Space: Ignition. It plays out instead like a short adventure game, complete with story branching and mini-game puzzles. The main gameplay consists of three hacking minigames: Hardware Crack, Trace Route and System Override. In the first, you direct colored laser beams into correspondingly colored power receptacles to restore power to various systems. The second is reminiscent of the Tron light bike races, with you racing a data stream against a group of other data streams through a 2D, obstacle-filled track. The third has you using various viruses to infiltrate and destroy an existing OS's defense systems.
The three mini-games are different enough to task different parts of your brain and they do get more challenging as time goes on but even so, once you've played through them more than a few times they get mighty tedious. Not only are your activities dull, in context they border on ridiculous. Mutants are attacking, people are dying, the station is in chaos and you're sitting there calmly reflecting lasers into mirrors. This gameplay approach does zippo to convey the tension or the emotion of Dead Space (unless you count the rage engendered by the stupid controls on the racing game), and is unlikely to appeal to Dead Space's target audience. In addition to this, the game's art, which has the burden of carrying the narrative as well as all of the dramatic tension, appears in many cases to be too hastily done. Further, it's visually inconsistent, having frames that appear to be done by a different artist whose style doesn't quite mesh with that of the main artist. And finally—what is with the goofy attempt to simulate animation by nudging and distorting the still images? Rather than making the characters look mobile, this effect makes them look like they're being reflected through various unflattering fun house mirrors.
Dead Space: Ignition isn't a great game or even a good one. Then again, it's not really meant to be. The title appears to be intended merely to whet the appetites of Dead Space fans and give them something to do while they're waiting another three months for Dead Space 2 to arrive. At least EA's not asking much for the game which is $5 on PSN and XBLA or free with Dead Space 2 pre-order. You know what they say—sometimes you get what you pay for.