In Plan 9 From Outer Space—considered by many to be the best worst movie ever made—a hapless saucer full of interstellar travelers attacks humanity for its own good. The aliens' mode of correction? Turning our recent dead into zombies, thereby proving … something. Even after repeated viewings, I'm not quite sure what outcome they were hoping for.
The Dead Space franchise reminds me a bit of Plan 9. Oh, sure, Dead Space festoons its B-movie plotline with a far higher body count and standing pools of blood. But all the ingredients are here: spaceships, alien life, badly behaving humans and newly raised zombies. All it's really missing are a few cardboard tombstones and a 73-year-old Bela Lugosi.
Little Green Men? Not!
The zombies in question this time around are dubbed Necromorphs—horribly brutal creatures that are apparently the offspring of newly dead humans, a particularly infectious interstellar virus and, one guesses, some sort of sentient food processor. These creatures, spawned from mysterious totems called markers, come in a variety of grotesque forms. But they all share one primary purpose: to make more Necromorphs. And to make more, they must kill. It's what they live for … if you can say they live.
Gamers, playing as Dead Space protagonist Isaac Clarke, run into Necromorphs around every corner. And you're not always well armed for such conflicts. As Dead Space 2 opens, in fact, Isaac is bound in a straightjacket—unable to move his arms, much less able to fire his trusty plasma cutter.
At first, it appears that everything's OK. Groggy from a long nap, Isaac wakes to find a guy named Franco trying to free him. But before you can scream "Duck!" Franco gets gruesomely speared in the head and chest by, and immediately reanimated as, a Necromorph. As for Isaac? Time to run for his life.
And that's pretty much the essence of Dead Space 2. Kill. Kill. Die. Repeat. Or, as is horribly illustrated early on, killing yourself: One man slices through his own neck and bleeds out on the floor in front of Isaac. It's survival of the fittest—only out here, the "fittest" folks all seem to have claws and tentacles and are mostly dead. Occasionally they are horrifically zombified children—who must nevertheless be dismembered.
In addition to all that bloodletting, the Necromorphs' power has also birthed a bizarre sort of religion. Throughout the game, we learn about Unitology, a belief system that insists that humanity is about to fast-forward through the normal (read: slow) process of evolution. Humans will become stronger, we learn, more powerful, and their minds will mystically meld into one. The religion's primary commandment? Keep your body in tip-top shape.
Most of its adherents, however, aren't aware that "becoming as one" refers to the hive-mind status of Necromorph society, or that it's important to keep your human bodies strong so you'll be that much stronger when you become a zombie.
"Your Mom's Gonna Hate It."
Game reviewers have, by and large, given Dead Space 2 high marks. I understand why. The story is as engrossing as it is gross. And gameplay—for those looking for a game to scare them out of their wits—can be compulsive.
But fun? For families?
Actually, we really don't need to say anything more about it. That's because Electronic Arts, the game's distributor, has already told us everything we need to know.
"It's revolting. It's violent. It's everything you love in a game," a Dead Space 2 ad declares. "And your mom's gonna hate it."
In the space following that statement we see mothers (real moms, EA tells us, selected in part because of their "conservative" values) gasp and groan as they watch clips and cutscenes from Dead Space 2. "This game is an atrocity," one of them says. "I think it could make a person become insane," adds another. EA even has a marketing website for Dead Space 2 titled yourmomhatesthis.com.
Among other things, EA's edgy marketing campaign begs the question of exactly who the company considers its target audience for this M-rated title. Becasue, presumably, those over the age of 17—the ones who can actually buy the game—won't pay much attention to an ad campaign based on angry moms.
Which is exactly the point Paul Tassi makes in his Forbes' blog Insert Coin: "I feel like there's a very narrow window of time after 17 where you still care what your parents think about your video games. … Rather that thought process is probably more common in 11 to 15 year olds, who in this case ironically need these disapproving moms to buy this game for them."
Winda Benedetti, who writes about games for msnbc.com, echoes that critique: "EA wouldn't be promoting an adult-rated game to kids now would they?"
If EA is marketing its latest M-rated, sci-fi gorefest to underage kids, that's a plan arguably as scary as any Necromorph.