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Dead Space Ignition tells its story through three hacking minigames

If you’ve been hoping for a short, demo-ish version of Dead Space 2 in Dead Space Ignition, it’s time to put on the brakes. It’s really hard to tell right now if Ignition is any good, but it’s certainly not anything resembling the Dead Space franchise in its gameplay. There is no survival horror to speak of. Instead, there’s a story told through mostly static cutscenes, and in between revelations of how the infection broke out on the Sprawl, you’ll be hacking into various systems through some fairly simple, totally non-scary minigames.

Above: This is the racing game. You're the red-tailed spark, and you have to beat all the blue AI sparks

We didn’t get to see much in our demo, and could only play one level of one minigame, but let’s first get the cutscenes out of the way. Yikes. They look like hastily sketched comic book panels – the kind of stuff used to storyboard something, not the finished product. Perhaps they aren’t finished. We hope so, because the barely moving, frozen-lipped characters are a bit cringe-worthy. So much for setting up the story in a creepy fashion. We’re told, however, that there are choose-your-own-adventure story forks that lead to four different endings, so it might be fun to see where each thread ends up.

Above: It looks a lot worse in "motion"

We only glimpsed one of the other two games, which is a sort of Tower Defense in reverse, but we couldn’t play it yet. We did play a side-scrolling racing minigame called Trace Route. In it, the player guides a tiny glowing spark through an obstacle course, all the while trying to beat AI sparks to the finish line. Every turn you make lengthens the distance you travel, so course-corrections see your opponents inching forward. There are obstacles that slow you down or reverse your controls, and you’ll have to hit the speed boosts to get ahead.

To make things more strategic, you have three different weapons to deploy, each with limited uses per level. You have your standard speed boost, a wall you can drop behind you to slow the AI down, and a control reversal trap that has the effect of an oil slick, sending the AI careening into obstacles.

Above: We have no idea how this minigame works

The one level we played, which seemed like the simplest one, was pretty tense as the AI crept ahead of us and we deployed our special items in the nick of time to eke out the win. It’s difficult to tell how the whole game will shape up with two entire minigames remaining unknown quantities, but we’re betting that those hungering for everything Dead Space will probably end up checking it out no matter what. We’ll have to see more of the game before we can get an idea if everyone else waiting for Dead Space 2 will find it worth downloading off of Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.

Jul 21, 2010