In a gaming season as tightly packed (and expensive) as this one, a lot of titles can get overlooked in favor of The Big Ones, and a lot of dual-stick dreams have to be crushed in the midst of frugal decision making. EA’s Dead Space is most definitely one that should stay on top of the heap for anyone that hasn’t purchased it yet, but it’s also one whose sparse narrative raises a lot of questions that instant fans will want to probe into more deeply.
That’s where Downfall comes into play. This animated feature acts as a prequel to the game, shedding some gruesome light on the events that drove the USG Ishimura—a vessel on a deep space mining mission—to the horrifying state it’s in when the events of the game kick off. The trouble begins when an ancient holy relic is brought on board the Ishimura, its origin unknown, and begins affecting the minds of those on board, eventually unleashing a bizarre alien race with a thing for pure carnage.
What’s funny about the story is that it’s all laid out right in front of you in the first few minutes, and it really doesn’t get any more involved than that. Just like the back of the box says, “the carnage is immediate,” which makes Downfall‘s mission to set up Dead Space a mixed bag of half-successes. Fans will end up with maybe a fractional increase in background knowledge, and will stick around for the sole purpose of watching an entire crew get eviscerated one by one.
The characters themselves are so inconsequential to everything that it’s surprising any of them were given names. Of course, that’s one of the hits you have to take with a production like this, because the whole purpose from the beginning is that these people aren’t going to be around in the end. They’re also there to make sure Downfall is insanely violent, and it certainly delivers on that end of the deal. As in the game, limbs will fly, bodies will be ripped ruthlessly in twain, and every other bone in the body will come jutting out of someplace that doesn’t seem physically possible. If that sounds fun, sign up, but those that cover their eyes during gore scenes may as well be Stevie Wonder for the next 75 minutes.
While this feature never reaches the atmospheric heights of the game, the presentation actually isn’t so bad. Some stills from the film might lead one to believe that the animation here is beyond dreadful, but that’s not really the case. It can be stiff at times, and characters occasionally do awkward things like front-flipping out of vents, but what’s here gets the job done and is rarely off-putting. This may not technically be anime, but it’s comparable to a less high profile studio’s work. The backgrounds tend to come off as half-assed at times, though, with textures that look muddy and distorted up close. They probably would have been better off using the game’s gorgeously rendered environments if they were going to go the 3D route anyway.
Despite its shortcomings, Downfall does work on some levels. This has less to do with the story, which is woefully thin and does little to flesh out the universe, and more to do with the fact that it’s pure, unfiltered fan-service. Anyone who digs the game will dig the moment when some of the crew members, left fighting the spreading threat on their own, discover the effectiveness of using cutting tools as opposed to normal firearms. Familiar sound effects and locations are also a welcome addition, as it’s kind of cool to see areas like the bridge or the hydroponics lab done up in a slightly different style while remaining recognizable.
As connected to the game as Downfall is, it would have been even cooler to take it a step further. Let’s witness some of those in-game audio logs being recorded, for instance. How about using more of the weapons from the game, as well? The cutting tools they use are limited to a light saw, and the game is bursting with wild instruments that would have made for some nice additions to the nastier bits of action here. Where are the zero gravity areas, at that? So many opportunities missed by a crew that’s now too dead to rectify them.
It should be pretty obvious by now that I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone that’s not a fan of the game. I wouldn’t even recommend it to anyone planning on being a fan in the near future. It’s important to play the game first, because watching Downfall could really kill some of the suspense and dread. There couldn’t possibly be more of a tension breaker than picturing those horrifying in-game monstrosities as computer-aided artwork from a straight-to-DVD cartoon movie. The brave souls that have already completed their stay aboard the USG Ishimura will likely be hankering for more, and are going to want to at least rent Downfall at some point. That trip to Blockbuster is about as high of a recommendation as this space case is going to get.
Be sure to check out our review of Dead Space in the next issue of Otaku USA!
Studio/Company: Manga Entertainment
Rating: Not Rated
Images © 2008 Starz Media, LLC