Dead Space: Ignition is an interesting experiment. As part motion comic and part mini-game collection, it’s a prequel to Dead Space 2 that revolves around one couple, an engineer and a cop, as they try to survive the necromorph invasion on The Sprawl.
It’s an archetypical horror story. Monsters appear, people run, and people die, but there are enough hints to a larger mystery to keep things at least somewhat interesting. However, for anyone that’s sampled any of the other transmedia properties of the Dead Space franchise, Ignition will feel repetitive. The original Dead Space graphic novel told the same story of outbreak and survival, so did the animated movie Dead Space: Downfall, so did the Wii game Dead Space: Extraction, and they all did it better than Ignition does.
The original graphic novel had its own motion comic, so it makes sense that EA decided to go that route again with Ignition. But that comic was aided by Ben Templesmith’s stylized art. He was a perfect match for the Dead Space universe. His necromorphs oozed gore, like real mutilated corpses brought back to life, and his backgrounds were always dark and dingy. The world looked oppressive and frightening. In Ignition, the art is too clean, the lines are too solid. The monsters don’t ooze like they did before, they look more like action figures, so they’re nowhere near as scary as they should be. In addition, whenever characters are at a medium distance from the “camera” the detail in their faces and clothing decreases dramatically. This would make sense if this were a printed comic and the artist had to factor in page size, but on an HDTV, put in motion and with voice over, the lack of detail just looks cheap, like it’s a sketch instead of a final drawing.
The voice acting doesn’t help any. The characters sound almost nonchalant, despite the violence going on around them. There are even a couple moments when they crack lame jokes after killing a necromorph. They never sound realistically worried or afraid, and during those moments when they do try to act scared, their emotions never match the intensity of their facial expression.
In a clever twist, the story actually branches at times, creating four different paths through the plot. It’s satisfying to see that your choices affect the story in such major ways, and after one playthrough you’ll be excited to play it again just to see what the other paths were like. But there’s only one ending, which completely undercuts the satisfaction of choosing what seems like a unique path. To make matters worse, one character does a complete 180 turn in personality along two of the four paths, which makes all the emotional drama that happens on the other paths seem insincere and less dramatic. Seeing one version of the story actually ruins the other versions.
Throughout the game, you’ll have to stop and play three mini-games whenever the main character has to hack something. These games are mediocre at best and frustrating at worst. While the story isn’t exactly stellar, it’s still more entertaining than the mini-games, so whenever the screen fades to black and the main character prepares to hack, I feel disappointed that I have to actually pick up the controller.
The worst game of the three is Trace Route. It plays like a race between your dot and multiple AI dots through a 2-D obstacle course. You’ll likely fail your first attempt at any race because obstacles come at you too fast to dodge them. Beating a level requires either dumb luck or rote memorization, neither of which is very fun. But most annoying are the times when the course changes perspective. Normally you’re moving from left to right, but then everything will spin around and you’ll be moving downwards or even at an angle. The controls change with the perspective, so combine that with the onslaught of obstacles and the game just becomes infuriating.
System Override has you sending out viruses to destroy a security system on a hexagonal grid. This is by the far the easiest (which is probably why it’s also the most fun) mini-game, but it’s also the least intuitive. You’ll get up to four kinds of viruses, and it’s not clear at first what each them of do, despite the tutorial. But after messing with it a bit, its rules will become apparent.
Hardware Crack is a pure puzzle. You’ll use mirrors to guide a laser around obstacles to its goal. The biggest problem here is that since it’s a puzzle you’ll have to take your time solving it. You’ll place mirrors, remove them, or stare at the screen for several minutes trying to figure out what to do, and this kills any tension the story might have built up.
Dead Space: Ignition is a half-hearted mix of ideas taken from other Dead Space products. It tells the same story that we’ve seen before but this time with worse acting, worse art, and worse gameplay. It’s a horror story that’s not scary, a video game that’s not fun, and a motion comic that’s only mildly entertaining. But at least it’s short. There’s a reason that you get it for free with a pre-order of Dead Space 2, but even then it might not be worth it.