Reviews 1

Dead Space (2023) – Review

Dead Space - Key Art

The original Dead Space (2008) is one of the best survival horror games ever made. Offering a unique blend of Resident Evil meets Event Horizon, it featured innovative combat, nightmarish creatures, a relentless soundtrack, and a disturbing mystery. Developer Visceral Games fell victim to EA’s abysmal deal to make Star Wars games after the Disney acquisition, with the studio being shut down in 2017 after having their projects redirected and ultimately cancelled.

Despite spawning two commercially successful sequels, the Dead Space franchise has lain dormant since the maligned third entry released in 2013. Enter Motive Studio, a relatively new team made up of industry veterans who have remade the original game for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X. So is this 2023 remake a cynical cash grab from EA, one of the industry’s most infamously money-grubbing companies, or is it a labour of love with the potential to reignite one of the best survival horror series in gaming?

For those unfamiliar with the original, you play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer on a mission to investigate a distress call. The call is coming from USG Ishimura, an enormous mining spaceship known as a “planet cracker”. Isaac and his small crew quickly learn that something beyond imagining has gone wrong on the ship, as screaming deformed monsters come charging out of the dark.

What follows is 12-14 hours of survival horror bliss as you explore the various departments of the ship, from the horrific experiments that were going on in the medical wing, to the clear signs of a death cult in the crew deck. The game is divided into clearly defined and digestible chapters that see Isaac going from one catastrophic problem to the next with very few friendly faces to aid him along the way.

Dead Space - Character

The improved visuals make themselves immediately apparent; it’s clear that there’s been a jump of two console generations. Textures are crisp, dynamic lighting and the use of heavy darkness make the somewhat samey environments pop and character models (of both friend and foe) have been dramatically improved. The humans actually look like people now and the monsters have far more visual variation than in the original.

However, if I had to pick one graphical improvement to gush about it’s the lighting. The Ishimura is dark, claustrophobically so. This not only makes things super tense, not knowing what might be coming at you out of the void, but it also allows for the new lighting and particle effects to really shine. The way holographic computer displays flicker on as you enter a room, or blue sparks from a damaged cable splash across a hallway, or how a moving light source slowly reveals some horrific amalgamation of corpses in the dark, it all adds a huge amount to the atmosphere.

Dead Space - Dock

Performance on PC was fine for the most part. I did notice stuttering when entering a new area but nothing too egregious. I also notice some odd reflection issues no doubt to do with ray tracing however this strikes me as something quite likely to be patched. Finally, there was one glitch I experience when loading back into the game where the camera stayed put but I could move Isaac around the room completely untethered. This was fixed upon restarting the game so again, no big deal.

The only other issue was with the holographic recordings you come across that give a bit more background to a certain event or character. The way these would render character models, for whatever reason, was super low-resolution. The people were blurry with jagged edges everywhere, hard to say what exactly was going wrong but it certainly took me out of it whenever I stumbled across them.

Dead Space - Front

Isaac is an engineer, not a soldier, so his weapon of choice is a plasma cutter, a tool that shoots in a line vertically or horizontally. To destroy the creatures, known as necromorphs, that have infested the Ishimura, you have to sever their limbs. What this means is you’re not always aiming for the perfect headshot, but rather strategically aiming for legs or arms depending on what you’re coming up against.

Certain enemies may have armour plating on their legs, for example, making their arms the only viable target. Others may close the distance fast so taking out their legs and making them crawl is the best method of dealing with them. Ultimately the game is still a third-person shooter, but this shift makes things feel more strategic than your average shooting gallery. It’s as much about strategising and crowd control as it is about accuracy.

Dead Space - Zero G

All the weapons can be upgraded multiple times now, providing nifty little bonuses like improving the rate of fire or even applying a burning effect. Other guns like the pulse rifle have been given more powerful alt-fires, in this case, a proximity mine that uses up a chunk of ammo but will take out several enemies at once. The force gun is more useful too, and it feels great to completely peel the flesh off a necromorph leaving it a skinny, quivering mess.

There have been some understated changes to the story and how it’s told. Isaac never spoke in the original (he did in the second and third games), but here in the remake, he’s found his voice. This allows him to take a more active role in the story beats, which goes a long way to make him feel like an actual character as opposed to a blank template for the player.

Three all-new side missions (the original didn’t have any) shed light on the backstory of Isaac’s partner Nicole and what her role was on the Ishimura before all hell broke loose. The others deal with the origins of a particularly nasty enemy Isaac comes up against, and the attempt to create a master security override that allows access to a bunch of new rooms with helpful upgrades and items. None of these new missions will blow anyone away, but they’re nice additions all the same.

Dead Space - Fly

This is a fantastic remake. Even if it only featured improvements to the gameplay and visuals it would be worth buying yet Motive has gone above and beyond adding new story content too. There’s a wonderful and somewhat unquantifiable feeling of revisiting a beloved game that’s been completely rebuilt like this. It’s not quite like playing it for the first time all over again, but it’s pretty damn close. A lot of the things that made Dead Space so refreshing when it was first released remain so in the remake, largely because so few games have tried to copy it since.

The unusual take on third-person combat or the way HUD elements like Isaac’s health bar, inventory, and the map are all presented in-world; these choices are so simple yet are a huge part of what makes Dead Space so unique. Whether or not Motive will go on to remake Dead Space 2 remains to be seen, but either way, I couldn’t be happier to be back on this godforsaken ship full of unknowable abominations.

Rating: 9/10

Dead Space was reviewed on PC using a code provided by the Publisher.