The Dead Space franchise is a series of works which I've devoted a good deal of effort to familiarizing myself with. The series premise is the galaxy is littered with "Markers" which are worshiped by a cult called the Unitologists. These Markers are, unfortunately, not very helpful to humanity as they result in horrific mutations along with violent resurrection into space zombies. The trilogy of video games star Isaac Clarke as the only man in the universe with any luck fighting them while the spin-off fiction (books, movies, and comics) tend to star others.
Martyr is a novel which takes place centuries earlier than Isaac's adventures, before humanity has even journeyed to the stars. In a world not too dissimilar to our own, Michael Altman (future founder of Unitology), is a archaeologist studying in Mexico to be close to his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, though, he is right next to the most important discovery of the next few centuries. A corporation operating nearby has located the Black Marker, an object which appears to have originated in space.
As insanity and monsters begin to result from the experiments on the Marker, Michael must decide whether or not to cooperate with the mysterious device's will or defy it. Even if he attempts the latter, he may not be able to achieve anything because history has already been written and he will go down as the man who inspires trillions to serve the cause of Convergence. What is a man capable of resisting the Markers supposed to do?
Martyr provides a great deal of background information on the Dead Space universe as well as the origins of Unitology. It also provides reasons for how the cult managed to gain so much influence in the past few centuries. We also get a general sense of what they believe in, going from a pseudo-version of Space Scientology to a twisted version of alien-worshiping New Age version of apocalyptic Christianity. The book relies a bit too much on, "believers in Unitology are only that way because the Marker fried their brain" but it's not like the games have ever had a very sympathetic view to the religion.
Michael Altman is an enjoyable protagonist, even if his myopia is somewhat irritating at times. He's an everyman who only cares about his girlfriend and his career until events start utterly spiraling out of control. Even so, it's somewhat irritating that he keeps interpreting events through a specific mindset that is probably right but doesn't always fit the evidence. For example, disbelieving in the "ghosts" everyone is seeing is fine. However, Michael insists the ghosts are caused by the Marker and working to its will despite the fact the ghosts routinely attempt to thwart the Marker's will. It's a disconnect which is never explained in the narrative and one I would have liked examined.
The ending to the novel is an extreme downer but not inappropriate for the franchise. If you don't mind stories which end in a thoroughly depressing manner then and are a fan of the series then this is a worthwhile book to check out. Is it a necessity? Not really. It's more effective than Dead Space: Catalyst in expanding on the universe but its revelations aren't as surprising as they could have been. For example, the discovery Unitology was initially backed by the government as a means of control is presented as a huge revelation but is established early on in the book.
The supporting characters are somewhat lacking with none of them having any real characterization other than deluded, evil, or stupid. The villains are particularly cartoonish, being nothing than psychopath manipulators who switch their loyalty from fascism to religious control at the drop of a hat. I would have appreciated Michael Altman having other sane three-dimensional individuals to talk to in the game but even his girlfriend is treated as a deluded fool. The stock characters really weakens the narrative overall.
In conclusion, Dead Space: Martyr is a decent entry into the games and entertaining throughout. It's not great but there's plenty of mythology, world-building, and use of the setting's pre-established characters. If you're a hardcore fan of Dead Space this is a must but it's not for everyone.