Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dead Space: Catalyst review


    Dead Space: Catalyst is an excellent book with a really awful opening. The writing isn't bad, don't get me wrong, but it's a bit of a case of the author doing a set up which is far removed from the premise of what the audience came here to enjoy. For those who may be put off by the introduction, I encourage readers to stick with it as you'll be rewarded with plenty of traditional Dead Space fun with Unitologists, Necromorphs, Markers, action, and horror.

    The premise of the book is brothers Istavan and Jensi live on one of Earth's many space colonies. Unfortunately, despite being five hundred years in the future, they haven't found a cure for either poverty or mental illness as Istavan suffers from paranoid schizophrenia which goes undiagnosed as well as untreated.

    In an introduction which has nothing to do with the Dead Space universe for almost a third of the book, Jensi struggles between his desire to abandon Istavan and his love for him. Eventually, because this is Dead Space and not a drama about a difficult real-life situation, Istavan kills a politician under a belief he's not actually hurting him and is sent off to a prison-planet version of Guantanamo Bay.

    It's there the Unitologists, dastardly space-cult they are, are experimenting with the prisoners using yet another artificial marker. Jensi, riddled with guilt for not doing more for his brother, uses every resource he can to track down his brother so he can rescue him. By the time he arrives, though, the Marker has already done its usual thing and it becomes a race to see if he can save his brother (or the world from him).

    I give props to the authors for the fact they handled a sensitive subject, mental illness and the challenges it poses, with a deft hand. Unfortunately, it rather throws the pacing off tremendously in the book. There's neither hide nor hair of the Dead Space universe for much of the book and things don't get going until the final third.

    I believe video games can and should be able to tackle a wide variety of sensitive subjects but I can't help feel this is a work which would have benefited from reducing the sections devoted to Jensi caring for Istavan to a single chapter. Either that or spread the events of the story through flashback while keeping us in the middle of Necromorph action.

    The treatment of mental illness is handled well with Istavan not being a bad person, merely confused and unable to interact with the world the way other people do. The book doesn't hold onto this view completely as this provides him a minor protection against the Necromorph's Marker's effects but it doesn't turn his disability into a superpower either.

    The best part of the book is, for me, the parts which deal with the Necromorphs and their outbreak as well as the thoroughly bleak ending. There's a lot of fun homages to the games spread throughout this and I wish this section had been longer. I would have gladly read a book about a pair of brothers struggling with infirmity as well as a non-stop alien-zombie action adventure but I'm not sure those two things went well together here. Still, I enjoyed 2/3rds of the book very much and loved the ending.

7/10

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