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Isaac Clarke in Unitology Suit

Dead Space
by yo go re

Here's a handy tip for when mankind eventually ventures out into space: if a ship is in distress and requests assistance? Screw 'em. Just leave them the hell alone out there forever, because they're already dead, and they want to take you with them.

Update from Recipient: Have arrived on board USG Ishimura. No survivors present, power running low. Cut off from security detail at onset of mission. Ishimura crew has been overrun by alien hostiles. Attempting to restore ship systems. Unsure if communications are working, if message received send military help.

NECA has been very good about gaining videogame licenses recently, and their newest acquisition is Dead Space. Basically a videogame version of Event Horizon (or perhaps merely Resident Evil ...IN SPACE!), Dead Space is anything but original. The game is supposedly survival horror, but its idea of "horror" is less about actual scares and more about startling you. Just because you didn't expect something, that doesn't mean you're afraid of it. A monster that jumps out of an air duct is surprising, but that alone doesn't make it scary - especially not once you learn to mistrust the air ducts.

The game's main character, and thus the one made into a toy, is Isaac Clarke. Ah yes, nothing like a nice joke name to start off the festivities. And if you don't get it, try looking up his best friend, Arthur C. Asimov. Isaac is an engineer, not a soldier, which means he's a glorified repairman. If you think that's weird, just remember that one of the biggest videogame stars of all time is a plumber. A literal "monkey wrench, pipe snake and plunger" plumber. So an engineer really isn't so bad in the grand scheme of things.

One of the game designers' goals with Dead Space was to make sure Isaac didn't just look like another generic space marine, and they definitely succeeded. Instead of wearing powered armor that makes him invulnerable, Isaac is decked out in a skintight cloth spacesuit that gets "upgraded" by welding metal bars onto it for better protection. That's an impressive mundanity, rather than random plates that appear out of nowhere and change your stats for no real reason.

This figure, one of NECA's exclusives at SDCC '09, is a repaint of the standard Isaac Clarke Dead Space figure, just done in black rather than rusty brown. That means the suit he's wearing is technically an Intermediate Engineer RIG, a.k.a. the Level 3 armor. You get the Level 3 about a quarter of the way through the game, but it's the one that showed up in every single second of Dead Space promotion: game previews, screenshots, demos, movies, posters... everything. It's the image everybody saw, so the choice to make it the basis for the toy was a smart one. The suit has armored bars around the abdomen, as well as on the right shoulder. On the toy, they're all soft, flexible plastic, to better accommodate the articulation. Other than that, he's wearing thick boots, and a lot of his fabric spacesuit can still be seen.

The easiest way to tell the different versions of the armor apart is to look at the mask - the number of lights shining through the eyeslits on the front will do the counting for you. Level 1 RIG, for instance? One giant light coming out of the faceplate. This is the Level 3 RIG, so Clarke's mask has three slits, get it? It's a handy design feature, but none of it stops the thing from looking like an outer space gimp suit.

"RIG," by the way, is an acronym for Resource Integration Gear, the general name for the exosuit worn by everybody in the Dead Space universe. Since the game is played in an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective, the RIG functions as your lifebar: a row of lights running down the spine shows the condition of the wearer, draining to the bottom as health fades. It's a clever function, and helps to draw you into the world of the game by avoiding the typical "videogamey" look. Games like Halo try to pass off their rehashed iconography by calling it a HUD inside the helmet, but Dead Space seamlessly integrates all the extra info you'd need.

In order to duplicate the RIG functions, NECA's toy has bright LEDs that illuminate both the spine and the mask. The button to activate the lights is concealed at the top of the spine, and clicks into place so the suit can glow for as long as you want it to. That's a fun little action feature, and just about as unobtrusive as it could possibly be. The head remains a fully functional balljoint, and it's not like NECA was big on torso hinges to begin with.

Other than that, Isaac has swivel/hinge shoulders and elbows, balljointed wrists, balljointed torso, an H-crotch, swivel thighs, swivel/hinge knees and balljointed ankles. The figure is a little over the 7" mark, so you can finally have that crazy fantasy fist fight between Isaac Clarke, Kratos, Altair, Simon Belmont and Rad Spencer you've been dreaming of. Ya weirdo.

The figure's only accessory is his plasma cutter, a tool designed to allow miners to shear through mineral deposits. Remember, Isaac isn't a soldier: he's here to fix a mining ship, so all his "weapons" are actually tools he finds on the Ishimura. And hey, that's probably a good choice, since the actual soldiers' guns didn't seem to do anything to protect them from the necromongers necromorphs. The gun shoots three projectiles in a vertical line, unless you switch to the secondary-fire mode and fire them horizontally.

It wasn't just random choice that lead NECA to paint this figure black for their exclusive. It's an actual downloadable costume from the game, because companies have discovered they can push unfinished games out the door and fix them later through the magic of downloadable content. Why just sell a game once, when you can bilk players out of money over and over by releasing DLC? The suit - downloadable as the "Tank Pack" - is known in-game as the Advanced Unitologist RIG, and is supposedly awarded to Unitologist members who have donated over 400,000 credits to the Church of Unitology (or donated $4 worth of Xbox Fun Bux to Microsoft). The dark suit and the cutter weapon are covered with white Unitology symbols, the script used by the game's popular cult (it's a cross between Mormons and Scientologists). The symbols on the suit are painted well, but there is one problem: the Unitologist RIG is only available in Level 5 style, while the figure is Level 3. There should really be armor on both shoulders, and on the thighs.

Dead Space Isaac Clarke in Unitology Suit is a nice figure. I've never played the game, so his character (or lack thereof) had no bearing on my opinion, meaning the toy had to stand alone. Fortunately, NECA has delivered a figure that can do just that. Articulation is good, the action feature is fun, and this variant makes sense. If you want to hunt down this exclusive, it's worth it, and if you were on the fence about whether or not to get the normal Isaac Clarke figures when they're released soon, rest assured that they'll be worth it.

-- 08/23/09

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