It's that time of year again, when every desirable game seems to come out within a one-month span. Last year, they were all in November, but this year a lot of them have moved up to October. Of course, there's no way to guarantee even a AAA title will be able to move enough units when put in competition with other AAA titles, so what is a developer to do? Why, release a special edition of their hotly anticipated game and hope that the consumer is enamored enough with the game they haven't played that they fork over extra cash! This year sees a large concentration of special edition releases and even more preorder bonuses, and you know what? I'm buying pretty much all of them. Why?
Because I am a consumer whore.
With that established, allow me to introduce the Dead Space Ultra Limited Edition. That's right, this ain't yo daddy's limited edition, this is the Ultra Limited Edition, complete with cool kid cred and a choir of angels singing. Unlike most limited editions, these babies are actually limited, with a production run of only 1000 and only purchasable for the Xbox 360 in EA's store. The downside to having such a rare bundle is that it will set you back $150. That's enough for two 360 games and a cheap DS game. As of the time of this writing, EA still has the product purchasable, perhaps due to its steep pricetag, but they won't last forever, and I wouldn't doubt that they had just forgotten to change it to "out of stock" by now. If you want a copy, you're going to have to buy it fast. But is it worth $150? Ignoring anything related to the game itself, let's review the shit out of this baby.
(I'm still figuring out the best lighting in my dorm room this year, so I apologize if the pictures aren't as clear as they should be.)
It's the box! To be honest, when I ordered this, I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting. I preordered it so early that they didn't even have an image up on EA's site, so when I unearthed this baby from the shipping box, I was rather stunned. Except for the rating in the corner (rather unnecessary if you ask me), this the unaltered art from the cover of the game. Seeing it without the numerous logos, it looks really nice. It's also really big. Along the left and right sides are the phrases "Dead Space" and "Ultra Limited Edition." The back of the box (not shown) is not shiny, but it does have a sea of stars and more detailed rating information in the lower right corner. This is something that looks so classy, you'd stand up on a shelf just to look cool.
Upon pulling off the top of the box, you are immediately greeted with this small card from Glen Schofield, the game's executive producer, thanking you for buying the Ultra Limited Edition. On the picture of space is his prominent signature, below which states what number box out of 1000 you got. I ordered mine the night they went up, so I got a low number of 136. This is the point where you really feel like you own something special and rare, that almost no one else has.
The back of that card shows main character Isaac Clarke stomping him some necromorph, completely oblivious to the second necromorph about to fuck him in the ass from behind. Don't let the washed out colors in the shot fool you, this is a really clear looking piece of concept art.
Removing the small card reveals another, larger piece of art from the Dead Space comic miniseries, signed by Ben Templesmith, known for his work on 30 Days of Night. This lithograph is a pretty cool piece of art, but I'm not really sure about how to display it, as it's not too thick and I don't feel like stapling it to a wall. Maybe you'll be a little more adventurous with such a nice print.
Alright, we're finally getting into the rest of the box. The bottom half of the box folds out to reveal all the other goodies you've been looking for. The game and Dead Space: Downfall are placed in compartments on the left, one of which bears a sew-on crew patch. To the right is the art book and graphic novel. It's a really nice arrangement, though I'm slightly disappointed there's no large compartment within the box, because I could have easily seen myself using this as a container for other bits of game swag and preorder bonuses.
Looking a bit closer at the crew patch, you'll note the high detail, similar to what the real patch would be like. The text reads "Planet Cracker Starship Ishimura," and yes, the kanji in the middle of the patch also reads "Ishimura." The only downside to this patch is that I have no idea where I want to sew it on, so hopefully you know where you'd want it.
So, let's talk about the game box itself. Once you remove it from its super-special-awesome packaging, you'll note the game itself is no different from a retail copy. Not surprising, and I certainly can't knock the box art itself. You'll remember that Grand Theft Auto IV did the same thing underneath its large packaging. It's slightly disappointing that it won't stand out when placed on my shelf, but I think I can manage to get over it.
What I can't get over is this pathetic excuse for an instruction manual. This is some of the laziest shit I've seen in a while, EA. The last game I bought from this company was Burnout Paradise, and while I wasn't happy about an eight-page, black-and-white manual, I let it go since there wasn't much you could write about a racing game. But when Dead Space gets the same fucking treatment, an eight-page, black-and-white manual, one page of which is taken up by the warranty, that's where I get pissed off. This is supposed to be a big game, and this shitty manual just doesn't fit with the retail package, much less the Ultra Limited Edition. Poor show, EA, poor show. Let's hope you fix this habit before your other big fall game, Mirror's Edge, gets released.
I'll be a little gentler towards the game's bonus disc. It wasn't in the earlier shot of the box because it would have fallen out, so here it is in all its pack-in glory. Yep, it just comes in a paper sleeve. I mean, it easily slips into the game case behind EA's shitty manual, but if I'm paying so much for this bundle, would it have killed them to at least ask Microsoft for a couple of double-disc cases for the game? That's what Ubisoft did for Assassin's Creed, which had the exact same packaging as the retail version, except added an extra disc flap within the case to hold the version's bonus disc.
Anyway, in regards to the on-disc content: if you have Xbox Live, you already have the ability to watch almost all of it. The disc contains all the trailers (except for one XBL half-trailer about dismemberment narrated by the team), the developer diaries (including two additional ones not seen on XBL), and the animated versions of the six comic issues. Keep this in mind before you worry about whether you'd be missing this content, but as for me, I can't complain. Even with a 120GB hard drive, space is always an issue, so being able to hold all this Dead Space material off my hard drive is greatly appreciated. The animated comics are also interesting ways to view the graphic novel, also included in the box. All the word balloons are removed, voice acting is added, pans are made across scenes, and the occasional movement or special effect is edited in. There are a couple of scenes removed for better on-screen storytelling, but it still works well.
If I may take a moment to address a problem with almost all bonus discs: Developers, why are we releasing these on DVDs? We appreciate your intention that we be able to watch these on any DVD player, but let's think about this for a moment: if we really care enough about the game to want the bonus disc, don't you think we'd keep the 360 around to play the game itself? If this is the case, why don't you make them 360-certified discs? I recall when I was watching the Halo 3 Legendary discs the vast gulf in quality between the first disc, which was 360-certified to allow for some gamerpic and theme downloads, and the second disc, which was only a DVD; just looking at the difference in quality between the shared menus revealed what I was missing. I know it's a small issue, but for those various making-of features, it's nice to have it in HD.
As for the animated movie, Dead Space: Downfall, I was surprised that I actually didn't mind not having it in it's alternative, Blu-ray format. (Fun story: Before I was aware how the Ultra Limited Edition was being produced, I wrote to EA and asked if they could substitute the Blu-ray version for the DVD version and told them I'd be fine with some sort of surcharge. After a week, they sent me back an email thanking me for trying to make a suggestion, and then reminded me to send suggestions to this other email, even if they weren't able to send replies. Dumbasses.) The transfer is clear and doesn't really need an HD upgrade when played on your PS3, perhaps because the animation in this movie is rather poor. It's not bad, but let's just say this reminded me of Western animation in the worst sense. Many scenes consist of merely competent animation on top of 3D backgrounds, a giant no-no. Western animation can be great, but I just couldn't happen but think this would be better if produced by an anime studio. Don't listen to Jim Sterling's review, this is far from the usual anime production.
As for the movie itself, I've told a few friends this already, but here it is: Downfall is the poor man's Alien. Sure, watch it for its story if you're interested, since apparently there are some references in the game, but honestly, I don't think it was that great. The plot is predictable, the characters are boring - "Oh look, my security team is made up of a woman, a mexican, a black guy, a goth, and an Aryan bastard! We're a 90s after-school special!" - and the necromorphs just don't come across as scary as they should have. Some other people I know have enjoyed it more than I did, but I'd never bother watching this if I wasn't a fan of the game.
Now we've come to my favorite part of every special edition: the art book! (I actually already own one of these that I picked up for $5 at PAX, signed by the art director, so I'll probably end up selling off the unsigned book somewhere.) The Art of Dead Space: Designing a Nightmare is a great look into the creative process, with detailed pictures of the weapons, necromorphs, and crew outfits. Many pages are given to the evolution of Isaac Clarke's in-game mining suit as well.
The environment shots are simply beautiful, full of gothic-inspired architecture. I don't know where these places are used yet, but I did see one greenhouse room used in Downfall, albeit with much simpler animation. The last five pages are a bit of a waste, since they're just art from Downfall and a few pages of the graphic novel, both of which Ultra Limited Editions will own, but those are only five pages out of a 96-page book crafted with much love. Plus...
3D GLASSES! Yes, there are 12 pages of 3D ready images. It makes me feel like a little kid again, and that's just awesome. Totally unnecessary, but again, it's just the little touches that let you know how much the developers cared about this project.
Giving the art book a run for its money as the best part of the Ultra Limited Edition is the Dead Space graphic novel. Drawn by Ben Templesmith and written by Antony Johnston, the graphic novel collects all six issues and run approximately 150 pages. The novel also includes some concept art in the back, mostly unseen in the art book, as well as some additional Dead Space art from Templesmith.
Compared to Downfall, the graphic novel is easily the superior piece of the backstory. While you could almost guess what happens during Downfall if you've read the comic and played the game, the comic presents an interesting view of how it all began. It details a small colony on the surface of a planet that is about to be "cracked," or mined for its resources. They find a strange rock, which followers of the Unitology faith, a "religion" in the vein of Scientology, believe to be one of their sacred markers. From here, people start becoming unhinged, and soon everything goes to shit as you'd expect. The story isn't entirely unpredictable, but the storytelling is strong and I really enjoyed Templesmith's art, which fits Dead Space's themes much stronger than Downfall did.
And now we come to my final thoughts on this "Ultra" Limited Edition. The price tag is certainly the highest for any video game special edition I've seen this year. Let me break down how much most of the things would cost separately: $60 for the game, $20 for the DVD ($30 for Blu-ray), $20 for the graphic novel, about $10 for the art book on eBay, making for $110 of the stuff you can buy separately. That leaves about $40 for the crew patch, bonus disc, signed lithograph, signed and numbered appreciation card, and the box. I should note that as of this time, Downfall and the graphic novel have not been released in stores. In the end, I think this box is probably overpriced. However, this Ultra Limited Edition does really radiate love from the development team; it shows in every facet of its production. Futhermore, this is the only limited edition in recent memory to be actually limited. This is a true collector's item for potential fans of the game.
So believe it or not, I would still recommend that you attempt to pick up this Ultra Limited Edition if you can. This is something any gamer would be proud to have as part of his collection. If the price tag is just too far out of your price range, do yourself a favor and at least attempt to pick up the graphic novel (when it releases later this year) and the art book.
On a scale of one to ten winged-unicorn-bear-knights, Dead Space Ultra Limited Edition gets:
Pros: Lots of love put into the production, beautiful graphic novel and art book
Cons: High price tag, take-it-or-leave it movie, poor bonus disc packaging and manual