Dead Space: Ignition

Dead Space: Ignition's mini-games give me the willies.

You may think my feelings of pants-wetting fear naturally go hand-in-hand with any game featuring the words "dead" and "space" in its title. After all, 2008's Dead Space was praised for its emotionally draining setting of a listing spaceship filled to the brim with nightmarish creatures hellbent on rearranging your innards.

But let's back up for a moment and ensure what Dead Space: Ignition isn't. Bestowed to those who preorder the upcoming Dead Space 2, Ignition serves as an interquel between the first and second games, explaining the events leading up to Isaac Clarke's latest escapade in The Sprawl, a massive space station.

Surprisingly, the grotesquely deformed Necromorphs take a backseat this time around.

 

Ignition's interactive comic-book-style visual narrative sharply contrasts from its predecessor's third-person action underpinnings. And although the game takes place in a space station overrun with Necromorphs, players will never set foot into a single darkened hallway.

Instead, three devilishly complex mini-games form the bulk of the gameplay. Your character, a tech-savvy systems engineer, must race against time as he infiltrates and overrides various systems on the station — all while furiously fleeing the Necromorph horde.

Dead Space: Ignition

And that's where Ignition truly starts to bring the pain. At first glance, each of the three mini-games — Hardware Crack, System Override, and Trace Route — are uninspired rehashes of similarly structured puzzle games. But the inclusion of a slowly ticking timer and the certain prospect of being ripped to shreds if you fail instills an unmistakable sense of urgency.

Hardware Crack

Deadspace: Ignition Hardware Crack mini-game

Forget those eggheaded, high-brow methods of hacking into a system electronically — sometimes, you just have to get your hands dirty.

Hardware Crack rips off the protective cover of a circuitboard to expose the peculiar guts within. Your task is to align a pair of red and green lasers with their respective receivers using strategically placed mirrors. At first, the task is straightforward enough; the kicker begins to rear its ugly head in later stages, when rotating emitters, three-way splitters, and color combinations come into play.

Oh, and you only have a limited number of mirrors to place. Have fun with that.

System Override

System Override

Fans of tower defense games will feel right at home with this one, especially those who like to go for a little role reversal.

Instead of fending off waves of attackers, System Override places you on the offensive. Up to four different kinds of viruses — ranging from robust shield viruses to stealthy "spoof" viruses — can be sent along two different tracks across the board. The trick, of course, is timing your attacks so enough viruses can slip by and damage the core.

Trace Route

Dead Space: Ignition Trace Route

Dead Space: Ignition's most entertaining mini-game is also its most perilous.

Trace Route is a sidescrolling race where you send an electrical signal through the system. Plenty of obstacles bar your path, such as red firewalls and momentum-stopping data blocks.

The biggest danger, however, lies in the AI countermeasures that doggedly stream behind your signal. One slipup can spell certain doom; if a countermeasure manages to reach the core before you do, you're locked out of the system and have to start all over again.

Finally, it's worth noting that a swath of nifty unlocks awaits you after completing just one of these mini-games for the first time — a swank new Hacker Suit, a hacker-themed skin for the Contact Beam weapon, exclusive audio logs, and a bunch of power nodes, health packs, and credits to give Isaac a slight edge in Dead Space 2 when it launches on January 25, 2011 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.