Be thankful it’s animated, since no live-action “Aliens” knockoff could withstand the level of gore perpetrated in “Dead Space: Downfall.” As the lead-up to a new Electronic Arts sci-fi horror game in which players have the chance to turn the tables on a species of bloodthirsty extraterrestrial creatures, this straight-to-DVD tie-in details the full-scale annihilation aboard the space mining ship Ishimura. It’s an interesting strategy, briding the story between the “Dead Space” comics and the videogame, though this blood-soaked toon represents the most disheartening segment of that narrative arc: The part where the entire crew is transformed into creepy zombie-like creatures.
From the technique side, “Downfall” ain’t half bad as small-screen animation goes, with the Film Roman team applying a macho “Venture Bros.” style to the futuristic material. That said, it’s hard to imagine non-gamers finding much to enjoy in watching the systematic wipeout of the Ishimura crew, which ends precisely when the game starts. Instead of treating this depressing no-one-left-standing story with the heroic-sacrifice bombast of “300” or “The Alamo,” director Chuck Patton seems to have made “Downfall” if only to highlight all the ghastly ways humans can die.
It starts when the ship’s captain uproots a twisted relic from a distant mining planet, unleashing some nasty flying aliens in the process. All it takes is one sting from these manta ray-looking creatures (delivered through the skull, for maximum gross-out potential) and the target human instantly transforms, their existing limbs sharpening into long spears while their torsos rip open from inside to reveal a second set of arms.
While a team of six-foot soldiers attempt to contain the menace, the hapless crew bites it in myriad ways: There’s impaling, beheading, disemboweling and being sawed neatly in half with a space-age mining tool. Evidently, in “Dead Space,” everyone can hear you scream.
The “rules” on how to kill these suckers aren’t exactly clear. Bullets don’t seem particularly effective, though a lightsaber-like chainsaw does the trick. Such insights surely feed the game itself, just as the victims here will no be trying to kill players down the road.
There’s something fundamentally upsetting about a toon that expects audiences to cheer each time one of its human characters meets a grisly fate, although you’ve got to hand it to the “Downfall” team for the sheer variety of nasty ends they imagine. Likewise, the team deserves credit for the level of detail they’ve spent defining this world, making for an infinitely more satisfying experience than such retro-fitted vidgame adaptations as “Alone in the Dark” or “Doom.”