Dead Space Review
As a horror game aficionado, I don’t get affected by jump scares very often anymore – the last time was Marguerite bursting through a window in Resident Evil 7. The tension they can provide makes for a key part of horror games, so you can imagine the euphoria I felt when the new Dead Space remake left me with that feeling all over again, and again, and again…
Remakes are always controversial. The original Dead Space changed the face of horror when it released almost 15 years ago, winning multiple industry awards and often being ranked as one of the greatest video games ever made. With a game so beloved and still holding up by modern standards quite well, it begs the question whether or not Dead Space really needed remaking. I was definitely among the sceptics, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.
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You take on the role of Isaac Clarke, an engineer working for the CEC. Isaac and the rest of the USG Kellion crew are dispatched by the CEC to investigate a distress signal from their flagship vessel, the Ishimura, but when they arrive, they find the Ishimura looking a little worse for wear and overrun with aliens who have been making dinner out of the crew members. From this point on, Isaac desperately tries to find his girlfriend Nicole, circumvent all the nasties, and get the hell off the cursed ship. Of course, there’s a giant conspiracy to uncover with many twists, turns and space style shenanigans along the way.
The first major change fans of the original will notice is that Isaac speaks now. Gunner Wright, the voice actor of Isaac in Dead Space 2 and 3 returns to reprise his role for the remake, proving both the voice and facial likeness. There were a lot of one side conversations in the original, so having Isaac fleshed out really provides context to conversations between characters, making the story more engaging. Isaac’s helmet mostly stays on during the game, but Gunner’s acting chops shine through, making you care more about Isaac and his jaunt through the Ishimura.
It’s not just Isaac, but all the characters’ roles and performances throughout have been expanded upon, with time even given to side characters who only got a mere mention in the original. If, like me, you’re into the series’ lore, it’s great to see how EA Motive have carefully added to the source material with deeper dives into the characters, corporations and even monsters. Plot holes that might have been there before, have now been thought through and filled in, and there’s now better ties to the stories of Dead Space 2 and 3.
From the original to the remake, a lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t. Modern remakes will often add big new sections and even change large portions, and this often divides fans. In the case of Dead Space, EA Motive has made changes, but they feel more subtle. Everything is familiar, but tweaks have been made to bring the 2008 classic into 2023. I think I noted only one chapter that had been completely overhauled, but it fits in so perfectly it’s a welcome addition.
For instance, transitioning between levels is no longer a thing. In the original, towards the end of a chapter, you’d get on the tram and head off to the next location, rarely to revisit unless part of the story. Now, there is no getting on the tram to end the level. In fact, there’s no loading anything, as the game plays out with one seamless camera cut. Now, instead of getting on a tram, you have to go through a back entrance in order to unlock the tram at the next station. At this point, it unlocks a fast travel system. It was only then that the Ishimura truly felt like a ship I could explore, being able to come and go on the tram as I please, travelling to any area I had unlocked. It’s a total game changer.
But why would you want to backtrack? Because now there’s a ton more to do than just killing necromorphs and surviving to the end of the story. Certain doors have security clearance access required to open, enticing you to return to earlier levels to pick up some sweet new gear. Also, side quests are now a thing, helping to provide more context to the events that took place on the Ishimura and expanding on secondary characters. Skipping them doesn’t affect the overall story, but there’s some alternate dialogue in conversations if you do complete them, and fans of the lore will definitely want to explore them.
Lots of other areas have also been tweaked and reworked to help the overall game flow a lot better, without taking liberties and messing with the essence of the original. Be it either changes to the puzzles, cut scenes or various gameplay mechanics, everything in the remake has been done with care. I may have jumped out my skin a few times though.
It’s been a long time since a game has had me this much on the edge. Every moment was spent fearing what was coming next. Dead Space has a very dynamic system in place called the Intensity Director, a very clever system that has over 1200 unique events that can take place in multiple combinations, while making sure it provides an even ebb and flow to your stress levels.
One minute, I’m minding my own business checking a few lockers for items, and then there’s a massive crash behind me and a necromorph has burst through a vent and is now trying to eat me. I kill it and move on with my sacred life. A room or two later, I hear the same crash and spin around to see a vent, whirling like its life depended on it. I stand there, waiting with my gun drawn for the vent to just pop out and hit the floor… but nothing happens. These random events only made sure that, from moment to moment, I was always on edge. Lights randomly flicker on and off, fog comes out of nowhere and there’s noises everywhere. True survival horror is meant to make you feel like this and I’m here for it.
Even on normal difficulty, there were plenty of times I was low on resources, especially during the first two thirds of the game. Once again, I like that I’m not able to just mow enemies down like Rambo and instead, I’m thinking on my feet and properly scavenging to stay alive. Did I say feet? Because you can also be off your feet in Zero-G. The Zero-G system has been overhauled completely to align with the free floating of Dead Space 2 & 3, now giving you full controlled movement and leading to some pretty gnarly sections that are intense and fantastic.
What helps the overall atmosphere, is the fact that the Frostbite engine makes this game look godlike. The Ishimura is dark, intense and looks like a truly ruined vessel, blood splatters drench Isaac as he kills and stomps, and the necromorphs are so finely crafted, it’s unreal. There’s even a new peeling system for the necromorphs, showing battle damage and you try to maim them. At one point, I even used the Force Gun to blow the skin off of one unfortunate beast, before another blast blew it to pieces. If I had one minor complaint, it would be that Dead Space doesn’t have a photo mode because damn, there are some pretty (disgusting) visuals to capture. That’s something EA Motive will surely add in post-launch.
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