When EA premiered Dead Space Ignition for Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, they proved once again that downloadable games can be as creative as full console games. They also proved that comics can meld with games to provide an interactive adventure that’s part old school Zork and part arcade mania.
What EA’s seeking to do by combining the stylish writing work of Antony Johnston (the Wasteland, Alex Rider and Dead Space comic books) with three short but potent games to bridge the period between Dead Space and Dead Space 2. The idea is to give fans a few more scifi space thrills in a game that includes four possible endings -- while you wait for the big, new console game. They try sweeten the pie by giving you hero Isaac Clarke’s powerful new spacesuit, which you unlock by completing the downloadable adventure. Once unlocked, you can bring it into Dead Space 2.
The story in Ignition commences prior to Clarke’s discovery of a Necromorph outbreak in Dead Space 2 while on the massive space station, The Sprawl. But how did the outbreak originally occur? By following the exploits of the characters Franco and Sarah in Ignition, you’ll begin to understand it all in the game that’s somewhat like a backstory to Dead Space 2.
From what was shown, it’s clear Johnston’s writing shows a true talent for dialog which flows easily over the somewhat lurid frames of art you see onscreen as the story unfolds. But when he tries a line that’s supposed to indicate the spark of romance, the humor he injects can be a bit cheesy. Franco says something about his work not being that hard. His coworker and secret lover Sarah shoots back, "That’s what she said."
The story soon moves into one of the mini games, the only one EA showed: Trace Route. The premise is simple enough; you control a red line while trying to beat a blue line to the finish line. There are a score of obstacles along the way in the one-minute race, which adds complexity and quickly makes you become obsessed with winning. I played the level four times before I beat it, because I kept losing as the AI adjusted to just beyond my level of play, and near the end, the blue line sped up to try and overtake me.
To help you, EA adds a button that briefly blocks the blue line by building a wall, but you can use it only once. The best strategy is seems to be to race near your enemy and use this wall toward the end of the race. You also have a button that gives you a burst of speed; but again, it’s only usable once. Tap yet another button and you change the blue enemies controls, assumably making it move in the opposite direction.
It’s not a breeze to command your red line, however. If the line were a car, it wouldn’t be a Ferrari. Instead, steering (which is controlled by the left stick) is more like manning the wheel of one of those heavy cargo vans you rent when you have to move to a new apartment. The red line doesn’t turn easily, so you inevitably hit walls, a lot.
But why is this so compelling? Over a techno audio track, the sound you hear as you speed up or slow down is kind of like a Theramin, the strange instrument made by a Russian in the middle of the last century. RCA thought it would revolutionize music and be the instrument of choice for all Americans. Instead, it flopped and you heard it rarely, usually on B-grade scifi film soundtracks. In any case, the sound is supremely eerie, haunting and perfect for this scifi horror snack before the feast of Dead Space 2.
While the remaining two games weren’t shown, they were discussed. Hardware Crack is a circuit board puzzler with a ton of resistors and capacitors. You’re in charge of reflectors which will divert your colored laser beam to its similarly colored target. Of course, you have to accomplish your goal before time runs out.
System Override is a riff on tower defense games. Graphically, it’s no beauty at this point in time. Essentially you view a tile-filled game board. Your mission is to move your men to the other side. You’ll have some weapons to help clear the way. But with tower defense games like PixelJunk Monsters already on the market, System Override has its job cut out for it. Maybe when they give writers hands on with this game, there’ll be something more to it.
With a little tweaking, Dead Space Ignition seems like it will give you just the fix you need this fall - a tasty, sometimes witty, tidbit of the Dead Space narrative with at least one thrilling game to keep you jonesing for the big deal that arrives early next year.