Community Endurance Run - Beyond: Two Souls

DuskVamp and I just completed our 2016 Extra Life live stream, in which we played through the entirety of Beyond: Two Souls as Jodie and Aiden respectively. If, for some reason, that's something that sounds interesting to you, you can now watch along with us. It was our first live stream, but we got a cam for it, so check it out if you want.

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Our First Livestream... For the Kids!

Hey all,

Thanks to the powers of the Playstation 4, and the charitable work of Giant Bomb, @duskvamp and I have decided to participate in our first livestream on Saturday, November 5, at 11AM CST, for the Extra Life charity for the kids. We'll be playing through the entirety of Beyond: Two Souls together (I've played it, and will control Aiden, she hasn't and will control Jodie). If we hit a goal of $100, I'll extend the stream from 12 hours to 24 and play through Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition as well.

I'll start off by linking to our Extra Life Donation page, and to our YouTube channel that will house our PS4 livestream, and then I'll talk a bit about ourselves to hopefully entice you to give us a chance.

Those of you that have been around for a while may recognize my username, newbies may not. But I'm a longtime member of the site, and am probably most known for meeting my fiance through the Giant Bomb forums a few years back. I'm American, she's British. After talking on these forums back and forth for close to a year (and playing some Saints Row and Portal 2 over Xbox Live) we started a long distance relationship travelling both of our continents together for a few years, and meeting the Giant Bomb crew along the way. On our first Valentine's together, I got to surprise her with a little song written for us by Dave Snider, Vinny, and Drew, which you can listen to here:

Valentine's Dave and the Duders - Love Blooms on a Giant Bomb

Obviously, things went well, and we really appreciated how much effort they put into something so trivial. We rewarded them in pizza ...and dry ice:

In 2013, we wound up going on a cross-country road trip to San Francisco, and had arranged to meet the Bomb Crew in the CBSi offices. We arrived just before the 4th of July, which some of you may recall is the exact week that we lost Ryan Davis. We originally assumed that the plans were off, but Rorie asked us to wait and see, and we were texting with him as they recorded the Ryan Davis memorial podcast. We met the crew in the podcast room minutes after that fateful Bombcast, and while it was a horrible time for them, I think having something to help them switch gears was appreciated, and helped remind them why they do what they do. We left a care package of British snacks with them, and our flowers can be found on the table in this video:

About a year later, we had some more news for the crew, and it was clear they remembered us and were happy to hear from us:

So that brings us here. We're engaged (marrying next Summer) and living together in the States. Giant Bomb has been an integral part of our relationship and our lives. And this is just a roundabout way of letting you get to know us a bit and asking you to help us help Giant Bomb raise money for the kids. We're new to livestreaming, but we'd appreciate you spending any time or money you have with us on November 5. Thanks guys!

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Giant Bomb MAX Social Link

As you may have seen in yesterday's mailbag, @duskvamp and I, after meeting on Giant Bomb and dating internationally for 3 years, are moving in together and getting engaged. A lot of the GB forum frequenters already know our story, so I'll cut out the details and just share how involved the staff has been in our relationship.

We met at the start of 2011, and began talking seriously about dating that summer. Before I met Dawn for the first time in February 2012, I asked for the GB crew to maybe send me a brief video clip saying Happy Valentine's Day or something for her. As they usually do when provided the opportunity to do something fun and dumb, they went above and beyond. Dave, Drew, and Vinny took the lead and sent me this song:

Valentine's Dave and the Duders - Love Blooms on a Giant Bomb

I spent a few weeks in England and Wales with her, and we celebrated Valentine's Day together. DuskVamp wrote a blog about it.

Obviously, things went well, and we really appreciated how much effort they put into something so trivial. We rewarded them in pizza:

You can see Dave talk around what they did for us, and Vinny get real uncomfortable that he was going to discuss it publicly, probably worried they'd get more requests. Since it's been a long time, Dave's gone, and Vinny and the staff are in different offices and different situations now, I figured it's safe to share.

That summer, it was her turn to visit, and we spent the whole Summer together in Chicago. Again, a blog described our adventures.

We went back and forth like this the following year as well. February 2013 I spent in Wales and Spain with DuskVamp, and last summer she spent with me and we went on a cross-country roadtrip from Chicago to San Francisco. Along the way, we stopped at the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, Las Vegas, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and finally San Francisco for the 4th of July. We had set up plans to stop by and visit the crew, see the offices, and drop off a mailbag while we were in town... but literally the day we arrived, tragedy struck Giant Bomb. As you all likely know, that's when we lost Ryan Davis. Rorie apologized that we were probably unable to visit the offices, and that they didn't know what they'd be doing the whole week. We understood completely and started making plans to see other sites. That night we had dinner and watched TANG together. In the end, the staff decided to meet up and record a memorial Bombcast. Since they were in the office, they invited us to stop by afterwords, which we begrudgingly accepted. While we waited for them to finish recording, we got food and bought some flowers for the office. You can actually hear Rorie receiving texts from me at some point in the podcast. It was really uncomfortable having to meet all of the crew literally minutes after they ended that podcast. We actually met Vinny, Brad, and Jeff in the podcast recording studio, they hadn't even left the room. Seeing how they looked after recording the toughest podcast of their lives was really upsetting, but I think having us come in was a welcome distraction and a way to segue back into their daily lives. They all treated us graciously, and discussed the site and our relationship, and we wound up going for drinks with Rorie at a nearby bar for a short time, with Drew and Brad stopping by on their way home. The timing could have been better, and it was horrible to experience things the way we did right after Ryan's passing, but it was a meaningful milestone in our relationship to see the company that helped us get together. They opened our mailbag the next day, and you can see our flowers alongside the dozens of others that came in from game companies in town.

Finally, just last month I went to Italy with DuskVamp, and finally proposed. We both knew it was inevitable, and we had found someone we were completely comfortable with and wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. It's still maddening to think that I met the love of my life on a video game website, on the first forums I ever interacted with (mainly because I was unemployed at the time and desperate for distractions). In the time since, we've dabbled in creating relationship podcasts, played tons of games, watched a lot of Netflix and Quick Looks, and we've seen the world together. We're just about to close on a condo together, her Green Card is basically sorted, and we're looking around for a cat to name Vinny...

Giant Bomb has changed. We've changed. But this website will always be an important foundation of our relationship, as odd as that is. It's not a traditional story, but it's ours, and I like it just fine.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your Giant Bomb Social Links in the comments. I'd like to hear more stories like mine!

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How Halo 2 Ruined Halo 3: A Wrighteous Wretrospective

When I first finished finished playing Halo 3 shortly after release, I was left satisfied but also disappointed. While the gameplay was everything I hoped it would be, the campaign was missing that “epic conclusion” feeling that I was hoping for. After replaying the game again recently, I’ve decide that the reason I was let down by Halo 3 is due to one thing: Halo 2.

Not as fancy as his GTA IV tattoo a few years later.
Not as fancy as his GTA IV tattoo a few years later.

By now, it’s common knowledge that Halo 2 was rushed, and the end result was disappointing. In addition to a distinct lack of direction after the founders of Bungie, Alex Seropian and Jason Jones, left the team, the game was just too ambitious for an aging platform. Exacerbating the situation was the very public (and permanent) release date for Halo 2 of November 9, 2004, as made famous by Peter Moore's infamous E3 tattoo reveal.

In fact, in one of the Halo: CE Anniversary promotional documentaries by Bungie, writer Joseph Staten revealed that they’d cut off multiple missions from the end of the game -- practically the entire third act of the story. And this is why Halo 3’s campaign felt wanting.

"Before Halo 2, we could fail in silence and in misery but no-one really knew we were failing," writer Joseph Staten added. "But with something like Halo 2, everyone knew we'd cut missions at the end, that we'd lopped off our third act - we failed spectacularly in public as far as the story was concerned."

Everyone remembers Halo 2’s infamously disappointing cliffhanger, with Master Chief promising to “Finish the Fight” as he approaches Earth, stowed away aboard a Covenant ship. Gamers were psyched to get into one massive battle to defend our home planet, like all of the pre-release videos and trailers had promised and instead we were confronted with… credits.

Halo 2 concept art depicting The Ark.
Halo 2 concept art depicting The Ark.

That was never the plan, though. It’s clear from developer comments regarding the game, advertisements, and even concept art that Halo 2 was meant to finish with fending the Covenant off at Earth. Instead, we were forced to play through the last third of Halo 2 in the first half of Halo 3, to the sequel's detriment. You see, not much happens in the beginning of Halo 3: Chief lands in the jungle and he fights off some Covenant; then he arrives at a human base, and he fights off some Covenant; then he heads towards The Ark, and he fights off some Covenant; then he brings down some Covenant AA weapons, and he fights off some Covenant. Four whole missions go by in the “epic conclusion” of gaming’s premier shooter franchise, and the plot stalls.

That’s because those four missions were probably meant to be the final one or two missions (with some editing of course) for Halo 2. We were meant to get our epic battle in a populated city of Earth, we were meant to see what the mysterious “Ark” was (though probably not what it did, exactly), and we were meant to have a proper cliffhanger to get us excited for the next game. I mean, look at this mid-game cutscene from Halo 3’s mission “The Storm” and imagine that this was how Halo 2 ended:

The Covenant activated some mysterious device buried beneath the Earth for centuries, and it did… something. We’ve failed our mission and the Covenant have the advantage, mysterious though it may be. And when things seem their lowest, The Flood have invaded Earth. Shit, we’re screwed. Now that sounds like an epic cliffhanger that would have everyone begging for the third game.

Imagine if Halo 3 began with “Floodgate” -- the level where you’re fighting through the city of Voi as waves of Flood come after you. Our planet is on the brink of destruction, all hope is lost, and you have to fight your through a city of infected soldiers and civilians in the vain hope that Cortana is on the Flood ship. That sounds like a much more exciting intro to Halo’s grand finale than, “I don’t know, you fall in the jungle and just fight some guys until you’re done.” And the first level would end with the sight of the Elites glassing Earth as the Chief goes through the portal to find Cortana, and a secret weapon.

In Halo 3 proper, you really only spend 2 levels on the all-important Ark. There are 5 Earth levels, 2 Ark levels, and 1 level each in a Flood Hive and a reconstructed Delta Halo. With more time to spend on its own story, rather than finishing 2’s, we could have explored more of the Ark, gotten a more in-depth look at the Flood hierarchy (all of them talking in unison with Gravemind’s voice was a cool trick), and even maybe had an entire level on the new Halo to competently manipulate our nostalgia for the first game with more direct references (something Metal Gear Solid 4 did so well a year later). Hell, we barely learn anything about The Forerunner in this final game other than that we “are Forerunner” or that we are their “children”, which had already been heavily implied in the previous games. This would have made the game a better lead in to the sequel trilogy, which deals with The Forerunner more directly and provided more information on the games oft-referenced backstory.

And from a gameplay perspective, more mission slots available could have delivered us a battle on par with the one shown in the "Believe" ads, the lack of which was probably my biggest disappointment with the 3rd game:

To be fair, Bungie eventually tried to give us more of the large-scale epic battles at multiple points in Halo: Reach, but that’s beside the point.

How come you never toss me health or ammo, bro?
How come you never toss me health or ammo, bro?

Not only did Bungie feel the need to compensate for Halo 2's truncated story at 3's expense, but many aspects of Halo 3 seem to be a result of the negative backlash surrounding Halo 2. From a longview, people now appreciate The Arbiter and like what he added to the series, but when Halo 2 was first released, he was often lumped in as one of the many disappointments in the much-anticipated sequel. As a result, as @gunstarred points out below, this game basically resorts to making the Arbiter a glorified "Player 2" that just gets to show up for the cutscenes. Even if the Arbiter weren't playable in 3, it would have been much more effective if he was given better-than-standard companion AI, and actually felt like he was by your side like an Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite or an Alyx from Half-Life 2.

This is not your grave, but you are welcome in it.
This is not your grave, but you are welcome in it.

The Gravemind similarly gets the shaft in the trilogy's conclusion. Sure, it was a little ridiculous that the hive mind of The Flood looked like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, but the concept of a hive mind was a strong one, and I still like that he speaks in iambic pentameter. He adds a bit more depth to The Flood than the boring "alien zombies" they were in the first game. Since he was mocked so ruthlessly in Halo 2, though, he becomes a disembodied voice for The Flood and is never seen (though it is implied you go inside him at one point). While the effect is cool, it just feels like Bungie was too self-conscious about fan complaints and had no confidence in their own decisions. At least we got that one badass moment where Chief and Arbiter lead a swarm of Flood towards the Prophet of Truth. But Arbiter and Gravemind, much like the plot of Halo 3, suffered because of the backlash to its predecessor.

Ultimately, while Halo 3 was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, it wasn’t a fitting one because we were too busy finishing Halo 2’s fight. So fuck you, Halo 2.

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My Ghost Problems

Wrote this for Patrick's story, but it wasn't used so I figured I'd throw it up here so the effort doesn't go to waste.

My one and only experience with the paranormal took place when I was 5 years old; that cornerstone of cultural significance: 1991.

Ah, 1991. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was lighting up our movie screens, Nirvana had ushered in the Grunge movement with the release of Nevermind, and we were all playing Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom on our NES.

It was a good year.
It was a good year.

The '90s were the beginning of the end for the "traditional" nuclear family. As a modern family, my dad would work all day as a mail carrier, and at nights, my mom would go to her job working for the bank. My experience begins on one such night, when my dad, after a long day of dropping papers into boxes and fleeing from unleashed dogs, plopped down on our couch for some much earned relaxation.

Like any good father in his mid-twenties, he knew that children are always learning and developing, and that good father-son time is increasingly rare as both get older. And so, I was sat down indian-style in front of the family TV next to my toe-headed two-year-old brother Michael, while my dad "rested his eyes" until just before my mom was scheduled to get back from work. Our viewing selection for the evening? The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! on VHS.

The episode that we were watching was the aptly named "Mario Meets Koopzilla". It involved our favorite video game plumbers in a blatantly Japanese city, searching for Super Sushi to help in their battle against King Koopa. Despite specifically mentioning that said sushi doubles a person in size, Mario and Koopa both wind up the size of skyscrapers and battling it out high above the city of Sayonara after downing a plateful. Overindulging has its benefits when it comes to size-enhancing seafood, I guess.

Anyway, after the episode ended, we found ourselves with a world of playful possibilities as my dad snored from the sofa. We ran into the dining room, where we found our vacuum, presumably left after dutifully sucking up discarded Cheerios and Cap'n Crunch.

Just like in Jack Thompson's wettest of wet dreams, the violent media we consumed immediately influenced our actions. We began grabbing vacuum hoses and attachments, hoping to reenact the pivotal scene in which Mario grabs a passing train to ward off Koopzilla's radio antenna barrage. As I stood before my younger brother, vacuum attachments in hand and sashimi-fueled vengeance in my heart, I began to swing, assuming he would easily deflect my blows with his, frankly, shoddy vacuum- hose nunchuck work. Just before the point of no return, where my viciously skillful attack would have connected with his still-forming skull, I heard a loud and deep voice shout, "NO!"

You guys, he is SO hard right now.
You guys, he is SO hard right now.

I stood still in my tracks, frightened, confused, and really needing a pee. My younger brother also stopped. I looked around quickly. Seeing nothing I asked Michael if he had heard that voice too. He nodded, unconvincingly. I wasn't sure if he was being honest, or just mimicking my emotions and telling me what I wanted to hear, two-year-olds are a lot like dumb pets in that respect. I ran to the nearest door, leading to our basement, to see if someone was down there, Michael quick on my heels. Seeing nothing I ran to the living room, to see if my dad had been the one to prevent me from injuring the toddler. He was sleeping soundly. The house was empty. We were officially unaccompanied minors. For the rest of the night, I sat perfectly still, perfectly quiet, next to my dad's slumbering form, hair on end, hoping to not piss off that disembodied voice.

Looking back, I'm not sure what it was I experienced. It may have been a ghost, or a guardian angel if you're into the whole "religion" thing. It may have been a voice in my head that has since submerged into my subconscious until returning one day in my middle- age to command me to burn down Washington. It may have just been a coincidentally timed outburst from Bull from Night Court, speaking to me from the still-playing television in the other room. The world may never know, but I know what I choose to believe...

Thanks for saving my brother's life, Richard Moll.
Thanks for saving my brother's life, Richard Moll.
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The Giant Bomb XGAL Podcast will continue!

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We've taken your advice, and we're now on iTunes, back and better than ever!

Write us or send an audio message to GiantBombXGAL@gmail.com or send a PM on Giant Bomb.

You can get our RSS feed here, or subscribe to us on the iTunes Music Store (Giant Bomb Xtreme Girl Advice Line).

Thanks for listening!

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The Giant Bomb Xtreme Girl Advice Line

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This is the official thread for the Giant Bomb Xtreme Girl Advice Line, hosted by users @wrighteous86 and @duskvamp! You've got relationship questions, we've got relationship answers.

Contact Us:

Write us or send an audio message to GiantBombXGAL@gmail.com or send either of us a PM on Giant Bomb with XGAL as the subject line.

Listen In:

You can get our RSS feed here, or subscribe to us on the iTunes Music Store (Giant Bomb Xtreme Girl Advice Line).

Thanks for listening!

Latest Episode:

July 2013

In this episode, John and Dawn delve into bachelor parties, strippers, Bioshock: Infinite, Tomb Raider, The Walking Dead, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Guacamelee!

Then, they answer questions about how to approach women, dealing with an ex with mutual friends, and how to kiss. Click here to play in your browser.

Special thanks to @myketuna and A B for writing in.

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A Wrighteous Wretrospective--Dead Space Extraction

"A Wrighteous Wretrospective" is an ongoing series where we look back at games from the past and analyze where they came from, how well they've held up since release, and what the future holds for the game and its ongoing legacy. Today, we'll be taking a look at...

Dead Space Extraction
Dead Space Extraction

Worst bloody career move of my life.

When EA first announced the Dead Space franchise, it was mentioned alongside an initiative for the company that would see them begin to focus on establishing new intellectual properties with some regularity, rather than focusing on annual installments in their best-sellers. The sci-fi horror franchise was a relatively new one for EA, and marked one of their first creative endeavors on the then-new generation of consoles. The game garnered some attention for the violence and gore portrayed in its trailers and the gameplay focus on "strategic dismemberment", where the necrotic enemies in the game were relatively unaffected by traditional attacks and could only be stopped by removing their limbs.

Not quite the
Not quite the "survival horror" Dead Space fans had in mind.

With their proclamation to create new IPs, EA also announced that they would seek alternative ways to add depth and background to their properties. They intended to do so by creating comic books, films, and novels in the universes of their most popular franchises, in addition to exploring other avenues for smaller side-story games on mobile platforms, social networks, alternate reality games, and titles on Nintendo's casual-friendly, but incredibly successful, Wii console. Anticipating the success of Dead Space, it was one of the main titles to receive this extra attention.

In 2008, when Dead Space released, the Wii had taken a quick and prominent lead in the console races, but its weaker hardware and emphasis on motion controls made it an "also-ran" to many third-party publishers. While non-gamers and families were enjoying the new experiences that the Wii provided, hardcore players were often left with nothing more than party games, half-assed and delayed ports, and Nintendo's first-party classics. A common tactic at the time was for publishers to release spin-offs of their most popular Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 titles on the Wii, with more casual-friendly gameplay in the hopes of making a quick buck. These titles were often shoddily made and clearly rushed, but publishers tried to entice players by promising that if they were commercially successful, more in-depth and dedicated games would eventually be released on the platform.

The horror begins.
The horror begins.

Because of this "bargain bin" mentality, most titles were being judged by Wii owners with a highly critical eye before they were even released. Dead Space Extraction, especially, was a victim of this. Dead Space was praised as a violent and horrifying survival game intended for mature audiences, and while this prequel was created in part by the same developers, the fact that it was an on-rails light gun shooter gave fans pause. Many assumed that the game, releasing a year after its predecessor, was nothing but a quick cash-in, despite protests from Visceral who claimed that due to the time frame in which the game takes place the action focus made sense and that the light gun conceit was chosen to make full use of the Wii's controller. From the very beginning Extraction faced an uphill battle to win over its audience.

So aliens do exist. And they're trying to kill us. Isn't life dandy...

While I played this game on the PS3 (it can be found on Playstation Network), it was, as mentioned, originally developed for the Wii. As such, the technical quality of the game is a bit dated and it will probably take you a level or two to adjust. I was initially disappointed when characters began speaking because their voices sounded a bit muffled and they seemed separated from the characters that were speaking. Likewise, everything is considerably lower in polygon count than in the original Dead Space, and it's painfully obvious considering the two games share many locations. However, the game is really well animated, both skeletally and facially, which goes a long way to making up for the lower specs. There are a few odd glitches, however, in that your cursor will sometimes highlight objects or enemies that are in other rooms when that really shouldn't be the case. Also, the engine seems to have a lot of trouble with shadows, putting them in locations they don't belong, making them appear or disappear, or making them jump around the environment. On the other hand, maybe that's just The Marker playing tricks on you.

Get up close and personal with your favorite bladed necrotic sci-fi monsters.
Get up close and personal with your favorite bladed necrotic sci-fi monsters.

Another big change compared to Dead Space that you'll notice immediately, being a light gun game, is the perspective: everything in Extraction is seen through the eyes of the protagonists. While that is a given for the genre, it does breathe some new life into the franchise. It's definitely interesting seeing The Marker and the Ishimura from a natural perspective, and getting up close and personal to the Necromorphs provides a cheap thrill. The Necromorphs, jump scares and all, lend themselves well to this style, as there are a number of times when you'll look left and right slowly, and then suddenly jerk back to the left to have a scythe-armed beastie in your face.

Extraction borrows a lot of gameplay conceits from its predecessor in the jump to this spin-off, and for the most part these additions do a lot to add depth to a relatively shallow genre. Since this light gun shooter was created fully with consoles in mind, the upgrade system from Dead Space comes over and adds a sense of permanence to an essentially impermanent style. The better you do in each chapter of the game, the more your health and Stasis modules are improved, allowing you take more damage and freeze enemies more often when you're feeling a bit overwhelmed. Weapons can also be upgraded by finding schematics in the environment and using your Kinesis to grab them, although this mostly just provides you with a larger ammo belt that lessens how often you need to reload. Kinesis and Stasis are also used pretty often in environmental puzzles, clearing dangerous paths and moving platforms into place. You'll likewise find yourself hacking objects often, in a type of "tracing" minigame, on one side of the screen while enemies approach on the other, which mixes up the gameplay and hammers home your stressful situation. There are also a few scattered Zero-G sections that allow you to create paths jumping around an area, dealing with floating objects and enemies for that authentic Dead Space feel.

Multi-tasking is the name of the hacking game.
Multi-tasking is the name of the hacking game.

The game appears to adapt to your needs in terms of items dropped by enemies. When you're injured, enemies are more likely to drop health. In other situations, enemies drop ammo for the guns you are using, or for the gun best suited to the situation. Similarly, since enemies can approach you from multiple angles, the camera will dynamically shift to the areas of most pressing need, for example if a Lurker is inching up beside you. Once that enemy is taking care of, or slowed down, the camera will move elsewhere. For the most part, this works well, but can also leave you in situations where you're focused on an enemy in the distance while something below your field of view swipes at you, forcing you to just fire at the edges of the screen and hope for the best. Being a light gun shooter, the game is heavily scripted, but these core features actually provide a lot of variety and some depth to the game. Besides, most games these days are basically on-rails anyway, despite giving the illusion of freedom.

Text logs, audio logs, and seemingly one sole video log also appear in Extraction, providing a bit more backstory on the universe. There's nothing revelatory here, though, and they mainly serve to kill the pacing of the levels. If you pick up a log, the action freezes awkwardly (especially if you're on the run from some kind of monster or if a companion is on screen), and everything waits for you to finish reading to proceed. Many of the logs allude to "planet cracking", the purpose of the Ishimura, and how it is dangerous to the balance of the universe. I remember mention of the controversy surrounding planet cracking in the original Dead Space too, and the prevalence of this in these early games make me think that it was originally intended to have deeper meaning and consequence, but became a dangling thread after they went in another direction for the sequels. Despite these small hiccups, however, the cutscenes and story told in the game are an improvement over pretty much any other light gun shooter on the market, even if it's the typical "surviving against all odds" plot.

Hey, did you play Dead Space? Yeah? Do you remember her? Huh, do you? Man, Dead Space sure was great.
Hey, did you play Dead Space? Yeah? Do you remember her? Huh, do you? Man, Dead Space sure was great.

The game is actually full of fan service for people who played the original Dead Space. While this could come off as cheesy or exploitative, Visceral took things so far that it winds up working pretty well. The whole game is basically Dead Space in reverse. In addition to doing things that Isaac Clarke will later have to undo, like welding shut a door or turning off the ships autoturrets, the game literally begins where Dead Space ends, with you removing The Red Marker from the dig site to bring on board the Ishimura and ending in the shuttle bay that Isaac arrives in. Throughout the game, you'll shift between different perspectives, and at the start of each chapter where this happens, you'll start by looking at your reflection, to emphasize who you're controlling; the most ridiculous of which being seeing your face in your own pool of blood.

The game begins with you as one of the miners tasked with removing The Marker from its dig site, which starts off the chain of events that begin the series of games. The game plays some clever tricks on you as The Marker messes with your character's head, culminating in a Silent Hill-like realization about who or what you've been shooting at for the whole first level. After that, all hell, predictably, breaks loose. You quickly gather up a squad of action movie cliches: the charmingly world-weary detective, the stern and professional military man, the cowardly and egotistical executive, and the sweetly naive hot chick in a futuristic mini-skirt and stockings combination. The plot itself is fairly cliche, involving betrayal, subterfuge, love in the face of death, and sacrifice, but it's all in service of keeping the action moving, and it does that really well. Even though the beats are familiar, as are the locations, it's a pretty fun, if mindless, thrill ride.

Seriously, if this is fashion in the future, I want to live there; even with the Back to the Future-esque
Seriously, if this is fashion in the future, I want to live there; even with the Back to the Future-esque "one sleeve rolled up" look.

Of plot significance is Gabe Weller, the military man, and Lexine Murdoch, the suggestively dressed but most assuredly innocent surveyor. Both take center stage in the Dead Space 2 DLC campaign, "Severed"; revolving around Lexine Murdoch's unique relationship to The Marker, not too dissimilar from Isaac's. While Isaac Clarke is able to interpret The Marker's signal and hold the blueprint to replicating it, Lexine is immune to its effects and projects a dead space field not unlike The Marker's, something on which the plots of Extraction and Severed hinge. Perhaps the ultimate reveal in the game though, is the mystery of the Dead Space hand. For the entire year that Dead Space had been out before the release of Extraction, there was one question on players' minds, "Whose hand is that on the cover?" I don't want to spoil it, but let's just say...the developers give you a hand. After playing this game, rest assured, everything will make perfect sense.

Hell, I'm just going to spoil it. Watch the video below.

Jesus. I'm too old for this...

Dead Space Extraction was released in September 2009 to favorable reviews. It was praised for advancing the genre of light gun shooter and for remaining faithful to the Dead Space franchise, while being criticized for being fairly short. However, despite its critical successes, Extraction sold less than 10,000 copies in its first week of release. Following the Wii release, the game was put out on PSN, as well as being bundled with the Limited Edition of Dead Space 2, where it took advantage of the Move controller, with optional DualShock support.

Guns: check. Body armor: check. Head band: check.
Guns: check. Body armor: check. Head band: check.

As such, Dead Space Extraction doesn't have much of a legacy. Despite being a worthwhile addition to the franchise (one that has been expanded upon with Dead Space 2: Severed), and despite improving upon the light gun genre significantly, it was too much of a commercial failure to make much of an impression in either case. Light gun games have been relegated to quick arcade ports and bargain bin knock-offs, and despite becoming something of a B-story arc for Dead Space, the adventures of Lexine and Gabe appear to have been left dangling after the conclusion of Severed. With the future of the Dead Space franchise in question, it's a plotline that may never be resolved.

Interestingly, a focus on action and cooperative play made Extraction stand out at the time, but have become increasingly more integral to the franchise going forward. The tone of the Dead Space series has drifted more in that direction as time has gone on, for better or worse, but these decisions made a lot of sense for the game that Extraction intended to be, and it succeeded at them. Meanwhile, spin-offs and side stories in video games appear to be mostly focused on downloadable promotional games, and light gun games are likely to become increasingly more irrelevant as gaming moves past motion controls in the next generation. In the end, Dead Space Extraction is a worthwhile installment in the series and a lot of fun with little investment required. Seek it out if you have the inclination.

That's all for today. I hope you enjoyed this Wretrospective, and maybe learned a little something in the process. Feel free to post comments, opinions, and memories of this game below. Thanks for reading!

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Required Reading--Dead Space: Downfall

"Required Reading" is an ongoing series where we look at some of the ancillary media related to our favorite games; from books, to comics, to films. We'll take a look at the story behind the creation of the piece, if any, and review the quality of the work as a whole. Finally, we'll discuss whether it adds anything of substance to the narrative of the franchise. Today, we'll be taking a look at...

Dead Space: Downfall
Dead Space: Downfall

If you find this recording, the artifact and the Ishimura must be destroyed.

The original Dead Space came out during a time of change for EA. The now departed John Riccitiello, CEO of the company at the time, was spearheading a movement to change the public's perception of the publishing behemoth. The main thrust of his plan was to move away from endless repetitive sequels, a tactic taken by EA's major competitor Activision, and move towards crafting new experiences and new franchises on the newly released generation of consoles. With this statement, EA announced Mirror's Edge and Dead Space. EA also announced plans to further enrich their franchises through ancillary media; namely movies, books, and comics; that would deepen the universes players enjoyed and extend their stories to people that normally wouldn't have the opportunity to experience them. Ultimately, both of these movements would fail, despite vocal support from fans. While EA games still receive the odd comic book or anime tie-in, they aren't given the emphasis they had been before. Dead Space has just barely managed to stay profitable as the series has gone forward, and Mirror's Edge is nowhere to be seen, amidst rumors of a cancelled sequel shortly after the release of the original game. Despite this, the Dead Space franchise and Downfall itself are successes, in their own way.

The only planets we ever found in all of space are dead. Earth was a fluke.

The captain always goes down with his ship.
The captain always goes down with his ship.

Dead Space: Downfall was released just over a week after the launch of Dead Space. While that game saw series' protagonist Isaac Clarke make his way through the doomed spaceship USG Ishimura, Downfall relates the events that took place before Isaac ever stepped his RIG onboard, showing how the ship and crew were infected, attacked, and tortured, and setting the stage for many of the sequences in the game. These days, it seems like most video game movie tie-ins are styled after anime. Those influences can be seen in parts of Downfall, but it stands apart by being more reminiscent of a high-budget version of early-'90s American Saturday morning action-cartoons along the lines of X-Men or Gargoyles. It's a style that isn't found very often, and even less so lately, but it manages to fit the gory horror tone of the franchise pretty well. Like all cartoons released in the new millennium, Downfall also includes a bit of CG--mainly for exterior shots of the spaceships--which aren't too distracting and manage to emphasize the size and complexity of these space-faring vessels. Normally, I find the liberal use of CG distracting or unpleasant to look at, but I wasn't offended by its use here. When used appropriately, and with a light touch, Downfall shows that it can be an effective tool in animation.

As a direct prequel to the main game, Downfall doesn't really expand on the fiction all that much. For the most part, we are just seeing explicit scenes that are implicitly stated to Isaac through audio, video, and text logs later on as he scours the derelict ship in search of his girlfriend. Despite this, though, and taken as a visual treat rather than a compelling or thoughtful addition to the Dead Space experience, Downfall manages to be fairly entertaining. It's cheap to just show us situations that we've already heard about, but there is also a morbid thrill to seeing all of the violence and destruction take place in front of our eyes. One pivotal scene in particular that's mentioned in Dead Space logs, is the showdown between Ishimura captain Matthius and the resident science officer, Dr. Kyne. Seeing the two most respected members of the ship fall under the influence of the Marker, and seeing how the situation slowly builds before the inevitable explosion, is exciting and visceral, to say the least.

Just another of the many bloodstains that Isaac tramples over in Dead Space.
Just another of the many bloodstains that Isaac tramples over in Dead Space.

As mentioned before, this movie absolutely nails the excessive gore of the franchise. Blood is spilled in every other scene, and when it is, it comes gushing out of the Necromorphs' victims. Kills are executed in interesting and unique ways, and despite being a regularity in Japanese animation, it's still somewhat surprising to see in an American animated release. With the good "maturity" of the franchise comes the bad, unfortunately, as much of the dialogue comes off as mostly amateurish. It seems like the writers tried too hard to come off as "adult", as much of the dialogue between crew members is overwrought and filled with crude sexual references.

In the end, the story isn't that deep, but the film is visually interesting in an "all hell breaks loose" kind of way. For fans of the franchise, it might feel weird to go back to its roots now, especially given how far the franchise has come, both tonally and plot-wise, but for anyone looking for a fun and mindless way to spend 80 minutes, you could surprisingly do much worse than Dead Space: Downfall.

Someone or something put that thing here for a reason.

Like all installments in the franchise, Downfall has a big body count.
Like all installments in the franchise, Downfall has a big body count.

For the most part, Dead Space: Downfall doesn't add much to the overall Dead Space narrative. It aims more to illustrate characters, locations, and events that Isaac will later investigate through the course of his adventures, but it ultimately does so in an entertaining way. There are a few inconsistencies between this film and some of the other franchise installments (particularly because a number of them take place concurrently), but they're the sort of thing that would only be noticed by the most diehard of fans.

Two characters in the film, Irons and Kyne, manage to give a bit more depth to Unitologists as well, in that both of them are fairly reasonable and noble individuals, despite their faith in what amounts to an evil cult. For the most part, this manages to be a more realistic and subtle representation of the religion than you ever see in the games or other Dead Space fiction, and for that, it stands out. With characters like these as members of the Church of Unitology, it makes it a little easier to believe that someone that's not a total monster could believe in the tenants that the Church spouts on a surface level. Aside from that, there's a small non-speaking cameo from Isaac's girlfriend Nicole, which is a nice little nod to fans, but not much more than that. In the end, for fans of the franchise, animation fans, or someone who just likes a plain old gore-fest, Dead Space: Downfall is a halfway decent outlet. For that reason alone, ultimately, the film is a success.

For the initiated, Dead Space: Downfall can be found on Netflix Instant Streaming, or on YouTube in its entirety.

Have you watched Dead Space: Downfall? Do you plan to? What are your thoughts on the movie or the universe as a whole? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

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Required Reading--Dead Space: Catalyst

"Required Reading" is an ongoing series where we look at some of the ancillary media related to our favorite games; from books, to comics, to films. We'll take a look at the story behind the creation of the piece, if any, and review the quality of the work as a whole. Finally, we'll discuss whether it adds anything of substance to the narrative of the franchise. Today, we'll be taking a look at...

Dead Space: Catalyst
Dead Space: Catalyst

Death and carnage and those ... things.

The second novel in the Dead Space franchise, Dead Space: Catalyst is a sequel to Martyr written by the same author, B. K. Evenson. Despite this, there is little to no connection between the novels, as this takes place 80 years later, after the founding of Unitology and the death of Michael Altman. This novel is emblematic, though, of the problems with video game novels. By design, they are merely an extension of an existing universe, which means they must focus on minute background details, or remain self-contained so they don't hinder the creativity of the game designers or counter what's already been planned or stated. Martyr was an example of the former, telling the origins of Altman, Unitology, and humanity's first encounter with the Markers. Catalyst takes a different approach by being an example of the latter. Nothing is really changed over the course of the story, it's just about the lives of a handful of people at a certain point in the Dead Space timeline, and therein lies the problem.

More and more people, though, were sensing a call to Convergence, a call to lose their life so that they could find it, so that they could find a larger sense of unity and life in the one.

Unitology has infiltrated the upper levels of EarthGov.
Unitology has infiltrated the upper levels of EarthGov.

In the years since Martyr, Unitology has become a fully-formed religion with the memory of Michael Altman at its head. As hinted at in the very end of its predecessor, members of Unitology have even infiltrated the highest ranks of EarthGov, mankind's ruling government body. Catalyst, though, relegates these details to the background in favor of the story of two brothers, Jensi and Istvan Seto. Jensi is a fairly normal child who lives with foster parents and makes friends with a boy named Henry after the death of his mother. Istvan, on the other hand, is portrayed as slightly unhinged, seeing a "shadow man" and hearing voices constantly, and he runs off to live on his own.

As one of the two main protagonists, though, Istvan is troublesome. I personally find it irritating when a narrator is unhinged, or mentally challenged, or otherwise altered; because the writing always comes off as incredibly cheesy to me. A sane person trying to write out the thought-processes of the insane feels... naively inauthentic, for lack of a better word; simplistic. Istvan is portrayed as slightly autistic, unable to understand the emotions and motivations of other people, as he is constantly distracted by the world "beyond the veil". He also has a bit of "A Beautiful Mind" in the way he sees things, constantly looking for patterns, or numbers, or connections. Despite not being outright stated, it's clear that Istvan has a deep connection to the Marker, and is something of a savant in that respect, and it's implied that the nature of his mind makes him more susceptible and capable to comprehend its messages. Isaac Clarke and Michael Altman connected to the Marker due to their intelligence, and likewise, Istvan's special mind allows him to also download its blueprints.

The Necromorphs have about as much personality as the protagonists in Catalyst.
The Necromorphs have about as much personality as the protagonists in Catalyst.

The first third of this book tells the story of the two brothers' childhood, with almost no connection to the Dead Space franchise as a whole aside from Istvan's ... sensitivities. While this normally would serve as a way to get us invested in the characters and their plight, as this is a much more character-focused novel than most video game adaptations, the characters in Catalyst are just plain boring. Jensi and his best friend Henry have no personality to speak of other than their wary protectiveness over Istvan, and Istvan is just an extreme and permanent case of the Marker-infected people we've seen in every other piece of Dead Space fiction.

Just under halfway through the book, the inciting incident finally happens, where the Marker tricks Istvan into publicly murdering a politician in a manipulation of events that ultimately bring him to a penal colony on a planet in restricted space. Of course this planet is one of three sites where EarthGov is trying to build Red Markers based off of the blueprints Michael Altman copied down in Martyr. The Marker wants Istvan close so he can be more easily used as a tool for Convergence. After farting around for the first half of the book, this is the point where things can start getting interesting: a Necromorph outbreak on a quarantined prison colony, Istvan connecting with the Marker, and Henry and Jensi trying to break in and save him. Even without enlightening us further on the universe of Dead Space, that's a somewhat interesting premise, but since the characters are so boring and we aren't invested in them (despite the author's clear attempt at this), it just feels very formulaic. People start seeing things, going crazy, getting violent, getting suicidal. Eventually the Necromorphs show up, people almost die or do die, and then the survivors fight to the Marker and the crazies behind it and things end, usually on a down note.

Don't sniff this Marker. You wouldn't like what happens.
Don't sniff this Marker. You wouldn't like what happens.

This shows why Dead Space doesn't lend itself to books very well. If you're not shedding light on perceived mysteries in the franchise and deepening our understanding, it's kind of the same thing every time. Monsters killing people and the Marker getting in people's heads. It's not all that different from zombie fiction: the basic beats are all the same. Where zombie fiction has grown, however, is in focusing on the people involved, and their interactions and reactions. The key to the proliferation of zombie pop culture is in the edict that "man is the true monster", and that's what Dead Space fiction should more heavily emphasize. This is weakened, however, by the fact that even when "man" is the antagonist of the story, it's really "The Marker" behind everything, pulling all the strings. It kind of robs the concept of any depth or pathos. Unless we're learning more about The Marker or the Necromorphs, the fiction is kind of a waste of time.

Clear proof that Unitology was the only true religion, and that Michael Altman had been a true prophet.

In the end, Dead Space: Catalyst is full of boring characters going through situations we've already seen. Aside from the plot revealing that EarthGov has begun building Red Markers (something that we deal with explicitly in all of the Dead Space games), there really is no relevance to the franchise whatsoever. It's not an interesting self-contained story, and it doesn't deepen the fiction in any way. For both of those reasons, this novel can be safely skipped and you won't be missing out on anything.

Have you read Dead Space: Catalyst? Do you plan to? What are your thoughts on the book or the universe as a whole? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

For more Required Reading, follow the links below:

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