Dead Space: Downfall

So maybe I was a little overly excited yesterday with my Dead Space post.  Yeah, I realize I’m talking about a game that is two years old, but when you’re married, have a slacker teenage daughter, and a mundane job where you’re more educated than those you report to, it’s the little things in life that get one excited.

My wife happens to bowl on Monday nights as part of a league, so that usually affords me Monday nights to myself for entertainment.  As I was so enthralled with the game over the weekend and began reading ‘Martyr’ yesterday in earnest (currently Chapter 15, pg 79) I came home and fired up Netflix over my Xbox360 account.

I looked up Dead Space: Downfall and added it to the instant queue and began watching this 74 minute anime movie.  The events of Downfall take place over the course of a few days and lead up to the opening credits of the game itself.

In the game, as Isaac Clarke, you are fighting for survival on this large derelict ship, but just days before, the Ishimura was teaming with hundreds of crew members going about their daily lives and jobs until the ‘artifact’ is unearthed and brought aboard the ship.  The unearthing of the artifact itself unleashes a certain paranoia and an unseen force amongst the people, and throw is a good alien flying face hugger (kinda looks like a Star Wars ‘mynock’ to infect people and turn them into necromorphs for good measure).  By the time the captain and crew figure out what’s going on, it’s too late, the ship is doomed.

This anime is not really intended for kids.  It’s a ‘mature’ movie, filled with lots of bloody content made of nightmares and tons of colorful language (i.e. liberal swearing).  While there are some subtle stylized differences from what the game presents, the overall look of the interior of the USG Ishimura is pretty close.  You’ll recognize a few areas and even a few names.  You’ll learn the fate of the Captain, and even get hints of the overall Unitology conspiracy taking place.

While it’s not the best animation on the planet and a far cry from any CG work these days, the style fits just fine; even some of the rougher parts doesn’t detract from the story.  That being said, the story itself, while entertaining, seems to ‘borrow’ a few concepts and ideas from other sci-fi movies and shows.  It’s not to say that Downfall isn’t ‘original’, but if you’re an avid Sci-Fi fan like myself you’ll note some common themes and ideas throughout.

But the movie was intended to be a prequel, to lead the viewer upto the point where they begin to play the game, and it does a fine job, (not stellar), but fine job at doing just that.  Anything longer that 70 minutes may have been a detriment.  There’s plenty of action, recognizable locals, faces, and names that the gamer will identify with and that light bulb will begin to glow over your head.

One of the final scenes of the movie is the Isaac Clarke’s rescue ship approaching the Ishimura just as it did in the opening cinematic of the game which is a great tie in that marries the two together, so you know what your up against and where on the time line you fall.

Not sure if I’d buy the movie and unsure what the Blu-ray version would give you since it is standard animation.  If you are able to rent it, or even better, stream it like I did, then you’ll be happy.  Assuming you are playing the game as well, I’m not there is much replay value in the movie, so I wouldn’t buy it.

Shifting gears a bit, I was then able to play Chapter 3: ‘Course Correction’ last night afterwards.  Again, it seems I’m averaging about 2 hours a chapter, so if there are 12 chapters in this game, I expect I’ll get at least 24 hours of play time out of it.  I’m a cautious gamer as well….I don’t run headlong like Han Solo, guns blazing down cooridors.  I tend to creep, flashing my headlamp all about into all the dark spaces, and I also take the time to look for hidden items, power-ups, and all the logs strewn about.  I really enjoy the text, audio, and video logs.  They add so much backstory to the game, it’s a shame if you are the type that just balzes through the enemies getting to the objective in the fastest times.  If you are, then you’re missing out on some good lore.

I really enjoyed the centrifuge room last night.  The one in zero-g, in which you need to start up the engine manually and then dodge the centrifuge itself while in the vacuum fighting of a few necromorphs.  Ahhh….the silence is just so tense at times, and when you finally make it back to an airlock with seconds of air left to breathe, and your suit re-pressurizes, you really get a sense of gratification and unloading of a burden.

The last standoff in this chapter is pretty intense.  You throw the ignition switch in the bay, turn around, stars at your back, engine wailing super loud, and you spot a team of running necromorphs headed your way.  Gotta love the line gun at this point.  I also bought the ‘ripper’ weapon last night as well, but haven’t gotten the chance to use it yet.  I really need to get me some more power nodes and get some extra capacity on my rig (bio-suit) as my inventory slots are on the low end and now that I have a host of weapons, I need some more slots to carry ammo.

Dead Space..better late than never.

I have a hard time finishing games I start.  It’s not because I don’t enjoy them or I don’t wish to finish them, it’s that there have been so many this last year that have gotten my attention I just can’t seem to find enough time to play them all.

As it stands right now I am currently playing the following on my Xbox, but haven’t finsihed any of them: Grand Theft Auto IV, Assasins Creed II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, CoD Modern Warfare 2, Tiger Woods 2010, Dragon Age Origins, Mass Effect 2 (still in the cellophane), Saints Row 2, and Crackdown (yes, i still play the original Crackdeon).  Most of these I am anywhere from 50-75% done, although I think Grand Theft Auto IV and Saint Rows 2 is way down, but they have such an unforgiving failure structure in missions, I get frustrated if I have to start over so far back because there aren’t any real save points.

It doesn’t help there are also a bevy of games that all have high ratings that all came out or are about to come out as well, that I really want to play, but these $60 price points are just killing me these days.  There’s Red Dead Redemption, Splinter Cell Conviction, Alan Wake, Limbo, Gears of War 2, just to name a few. Oh, and I can honestly say I’m looking forward to two Wii games as well: Epic Mickey, and Kirby: An epic yarn.

All this being said, and realizing I need to get the most bang for my buck these days, I recently saw a preview for Dead Space 2. It looked pretty cool and then that seemed to trigger a lot of memories of all the positive buzz the original Dead Space got back in 2008. The whole action packed, horror/survival genre intrigued me and since I tend to get pwnd by players half my age anymore, the thought of me picking up the original Left 4 Dead and getting lambasted over the headset didn’t sound all that appealing to my ego.

I went to check out Dead Space and learned it is now part of the Xbox line of Platinum Hits, meaning it has a price point of $19.99, or a fraction (34%) of the original price. I went to Game Rankings and Wikipedia (89% favorable rate on average) to get their impressions and I was really surprised to learn that there is such a backstory and supplementary products and lore to support this franchise.

There are prequel comic books, an actual prequel novel “Dead Space: Martyr” (dated even earlier in the timeline of the comics), an anime movie, a Wii rail shooter (Dead Space: Extraction) that takes place days before the events of the original Dead Space game. In short, I love games or franchises that take on a life of their own and a new universe is created around them with so much deep and original content. I now have Dead Space fever and went out to buy both the Platinum Hits version of the game and also the novel, Martyr.

The book, Dead Space Martyr by B.K. Evenson clocks in at 414 pages and is a slightly oversized paperback. I started reading it today and am already enjoying the slow build of events that are taking shape all the way to my current page of 57. I will most likely read a good portion of this book by this week and it reall sits the tone and mood for events that I can only guess so far already took place just prior to the start of the game. So far it appears to me a very smart novel and not hokey schtick, minutae, or shovelware to get a few extra coins and milk this franchise. Already it makes me think of Indiana Jones meets “Abyss” meets the X-Files. Something spooky, mysterious, scientific, paranormal, alien, archeleogical, and conspiritorial all wrapped into one. If I enjoy this novel as well as I think I will, I just may have to buy the 6-issue comic collection and get the anime movie from Netflix to satiate my appetite and round my experience out.

Now about the game itself:  My initial impressions is that it is indeed very fun and a visual treat.  Right from the get go, there is a beautiful cinematic that sets up the initial quandry and within minutes I’m already tense.  This derelict planet cracking ship is quiet….too quiet.  With only the strained voices of my A.I. controlled, yet seperated from me crew members, its clear from teh get go I’m on my own and I need to survive.  From both lighting direction and sound design, my personal mental state is elvated on trying to be alert.  Not only am I being very cautious in my movements as I push the left analog stick forward, while looking all around with my right stick, I’m really trying to use my ears.  Everything makes an isolated sound, and the majority of the sounds are not that of a joyous ice cream truck looking to off load some delicious treats.  Nope, there are thuds, and scampering, and moan, and howls, and shallow breathing, and then nothing.  The silence is deafing, and even though I am on high alert, I am still scarred shitless at times.

The game is broken up into 12 chapters, and although I’ve taking my time (4 hours to complete the first 2 chapters), I have plenty aways to go.

The ship I am on, the USG Ishimura feels gigantic and vast.  I’ve only explored a few sections so far, but I am intrigued and in awe of some of the design and magnitude of the environments.  One minute I feel clausterphobic, pulse welder ready and aimed for discharge, the next I’m in a large mechanical ship bay, or medical lab that also feels too big, as if my sixth sense is telling me I’m not alone in here.

The environs are pretty diverse as well.  I’ve already experience both zero-gravity, and the dead silence of the vacuum of space.  I’ve run down blood stained cooridors, jumped when the lights flickered, and cringed at the sight of medically tampered fetuses in statis tanks.  There’s the sound of flies buzzing near body bags, cryptic blood drawn symbols on the walls, and then there is the occasional audio or video log tape that I find that fills in some blanks or drops a clue on what happened to the crew.  None of it is good.

The voice acting in above average, and the story is rich and tense.  No doubt the novel and anime will even do more to flesh everything out.  There are some criticsims that our protaginist Isaac clarke (an amalgam of Isaac Asimoc and Arthur C, Clarke me thinks) is a bit silent and uninteresting as we really never see his face or hear his thoughts, but in this case, I’m okay with it.  I hadn’t really noticed myself until I read that from other sites, and in no way do I think it affects my game.

Games controls are slightly different from other first person shooters I’ve played up to now, but the online ingame tutorial is both very unique and refreshing.  Once you get the hang of things, the U.I. actually seems very clever and intuitive and now I wonder why more games haven’t taken this approach before.  Here’s to hoping that EA keeps this formula in the sequel with only a few minor tweaks.

Weapons are unique to an extent and I like how they handle upgrade options in the game, either via used power nodes or found schematics.  Isaac’s HUD is really original as well, and really does have a futuristic feeling to it.  My only beef is with the amount of inventory he can carry on early in the game.  He’s very dependant on his plasma welder and thus needs to pick up ammo early on, but the ammo tends to take away from his ‘backpack’ space whcih can be frustrating early on until you get the hang of the game and work on your own personal strategy.  Now that I am starting chapter 3, I think I kinda understand the mechanics a bit better and I can do without as many plamsa clips.  The other weapons are pretty brutal as well, especially the line gun, alhough I’ve yet to buy/try the flamethrower.  You don’t need all these weapons thouugh…there is an achievemnt for completing the game using only the plasma welder which makes me believe the other weapons are for pure mayhem and eye candy value only.  However, that being said, the line gun has saved my ass a few times and I think a much better addition than the pulse rifle.

I don’t want to spoil anymore for you, but the necromorphs (aka bad guys) are downright scary.  While they may seem a bit repetitive (there may be more variety later on), they still seem gruesome in their size, stature, and movement when you do encounter them.  The animations of dismemberment and blood squirts and sounds are visceral to boot.

All in all, a great game, albeit from 2008.  A highly recommended buy for $19.99, and now I’m not sure if I can wait for Dead Space 2 to hit Platinum status in a year from now.  As a budget minded gamer, I may have to splurge at $39 or $29 when it happens.

Personal gaming journal #5

It’s been a really long time since I did any updates on the games I enjoy playing, so I’ll just give a quick synopsis of where I’m getting my feet wet again.  That is to say, I’m going a little retro lately, digging out some of my older 360 games, and even a much older PC game.  Why?  Well, I just can’t justify all the new $60 games these days and I know if I wait around long enough, they’ll eventually drop in price to something a bit more attractive to the pocket.  There are just so many big titles I’d like to get my hands on, but I am definitely discovering that ‘Platinum Hits’ is where it’s at.

  • Was able to pick up Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for $29.99 a few weeks back.  I can’t say I’m a big fan of them, actually, there are a few songs of theirs I don’t like at all, but there are plenty of tolerable ones plus the addition of other artists like Joan Jett and RUN DMC make it palatable and fun.  I’m about 1/2 way done on ‘medium’ difficulty and so far have racked up quite a few gamer points.
  • 1 vs 100 (Xbox Live) – I like trivia, and this beta has been going on way too long lately, but the gameplay is addictive and when it finally goes Live (gold) to win real MS points, I’ll be all over it.  I suck at sports question though, and up until those are being asked, I surprised how well I’m doing against other players.
  • WOW – Taking a break…need to recharge my batteries, but I think the frozen north is calling my name again.
  • CoH/CoV – Also taking a break. 
  • Fallout 3 ‘The Pitt expansion’ – Pretty good expansion with a few neat weapons.  There were some tense moments with the Trogs as they have the ability to seemingly jump out of nowhere and you need to be much more aware of your ammo supply than before.  A nice diversion, but really looking forward to getting ‘Point Lookout’ DLC.
  • Saints Row 2 – Not playing as much as I’d like because of the ‘mature’ content and my daughter hanging around way too much.  Fun little sandbox version of GTA4 I picked up also for $29.99.  Looking forward to playing this again soon.
  • GTA4 – Same as above with the daughter.  Was getting back into it and finally making some progress on the game just to put it back on the shelf until I get some alone time.
  • Brothers In Arms Hell Highway – Played the demo and I really like it.  I may pick this up soon as it’s currently going for $24.99. 
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010 – Lovin’ it.  I may give this it’s own post soon enough, it warrants it and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the content.  I jumped right into tour/career mode and working my way up.  Wind can be very frustrating to me if it’s over 15 MPH, and some holes just seem very random, but overall it takes me a good hour to play 1 round and I have some nail biting moments and get very excited when I do a fabulous shot, and very hard on myself when I shoot a crappy one.
  • Railroad Tycoon 3 – Totally retro Win 98 game I’m really getting into as well.  Graphics are a little dated at this point, but who doesn’t love playing with trains?  Deserves it’s own post as well.