Dead Space: Downfall works as fan service, not much else

This review of Dead Space: Downfall discusses plot elements from the game. So, if you're totally not cool with spoilers, you should probably stop reading ... now.

Dead Space: Downfall, which hits DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, is an animated prequel to the game, Dead Space. We doubt players of the game will be surprised by Downfall's story, as the various in-game audio and video logs slowly unravel the reason behind the mass carnage.

The product packaging says you should watch the movie, and then play the game -- but, we'd recommend the opposite. Although Downfall serves as a prequel to the game, it fleshes out details that are only relevant to those that have completed the adventure. Part of the fun of Dead Space's creepy adventure comes from figuring out what happened before Issac's arrival on the Ishimura. While the story is far from original, it's fun to search the ship for more clues about the mysterious alien "Marker" and the Scientologists Unitologists that worship it. Watching Downfall before playing the game would ruin this aspect of the game experience.
Downfall is pure fan service: a fun, mindless display of gratuitous violence and gore. There's a reason why so many limbs and torsos are floating around the ship, and you'll get to see some truly vicious deaths in great detail. Just a few things to expect from Downfall: someone getting chopped in half vertically, and someone's face getting slashed off. Yum!

While it's entertaining to revel in the not-so-strategic dismemberment, Downfall doesn't offer much else for Dead Space fans. The film is largely centered around Alissa Vincent, a brash, completely unlikable Security Officer on the Ishimura, and her futile efforts to save the lives of everyone on board. Her decision making skills are so laughable, that one can't help but think humanity wouldn't be so doomed without her. Focusing the story on a character that's never mentioned in the game seems strange, considering there are so many other arcs the film can focus on. For example, Issac's ex-girlfriend Nicole, makes only a brief appearance in the game. Considering the mysterious nature of her character in the game, I'm sure many would've appreciated seeing more of what happens to her on the Ishimura.

Although there's a rich amount of content to draw from, Downfall rarely takes advantage of the events chronicled in the various audio and video logs scattered through the ship. The increasing paranoia of the Ishimura crew is touched upon only lightly. The game's more interesting characters, like Dr. Mercer, never make an appearance in the film. Downfall does have one scene that fans will love: the death of Captain Matthius. This scene, one of the game's more memorable video logs, is expanded upon in Downfall to great effect.

There are a lot of interesting aspects to Dead Space's back story, but Downfall ultimately fails to expand upon that universe in any meaningful way. Perhaps Downfall was a bit too rushed, both in its narrative and its production. At a paltry 70 minutes, it doesn't give viewers much time to absorb anything but carnage. Dead Space has a lot of action, but its mood benefits from the still moments. Downfall could have benefited from more horror by slowing things down.

Available on Blu-ray, in addition to the standard DVD format, Downfall doesn't warrant a high-definition splurge. The quality of the animation is noticeably lackluster -- it's more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon than a silver-screen animated movie. We can't help but think Downfall would've looked much more impressive if it were simply made in Dead Space's game engine as machinima. Considering the entire film takes place in locations found in the game, this shouldn't have been too difficult a feat, no? (Dear EA, feel free to borrow this idea for any future Dead Space animated features. 'Kay? Thanks.)

Obviously, expectations for a straight-to-DVD animated spin-off of a video game aren't very high. In many ways, it's surprising to see how much better Dead Space: Downfall fares compared to the big-budget theatrical adaptations of games Hollywood continues to puke out. At the very least, Dead Space fans can enjoy the film as fan service, an accomplishment rarely shared by most game flicks. Still, there's a lot of wasted potential in in Downfall. Good thing EA will have a chance to get it right next time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.