Dead Space review — A fantastic update to a horror classic

Dead Space, originally released in 2008, was a crowning achievement of game design. Adored by fans and critics alike, Dead Space was a dark, tense, violent sci-fi adventure unlike any players had previously experienced. While two sequels were made, nothing ever quite lived up to those initial feelings of tension and excitement that I had felt the first time I had explored the USG Ishimura in search of Nicole and a way off the rapidly deteriorating ship. The mystery, the fantastic weapon and suit upgrade tree, the grotesque enemies, and the Metroidvania design of the ship – the entire game felt fresh, and despite being nearly 15 years old, still holds a special place in my memories due to the incredible feeling that came from first unraveling the mystery of the Marker.

Suffice it to say, when I heard about a remake I was excited. Sure, it’s always a bit scary to hop back into a game you once enjoyed, fearing it may not have aged well – or worse, that the remake somehow removes that spark that made the game special in the first place – but I am happy to report that Dead Space Remake is an exemplary example of a remake done right. It removes the filler and awkward moments, updates the game design to be less cumbersome, allows our hero to speak, and updates the graphics beautifully to bring this grotesque world to vivid life once again.

Since this remake will allow a new generation of gamers to step into the USG Ishimura for the first time, I’ll quickly sum up the story basics. You are Isaac Clarke, an engineer on the USG Kellion sent to respond to the USG Ishimura’s distress call. The Ishimura is a planet cracker, a ship created to mine planets for necessary supplies to sustain human life, but has recently gone radio silent. Among the crew members onboard is your lady, Nicole, a doctor.  As Isaac and the crew approach the Ishimura it is revealed that the damage is much worse than previously expected. After a crash landing, the crew set off to explore the Ishimura and uncover the secrets of the catastrophe which has occurred onboard, but quickly discover that they are not alone and that there is far more to uncover than they had originally suspected.

Most of Dead Space is spent slowly walking down dark hallways, gun at the ready, hoping that an enemy doesn’t pop up behind you. On harder difficulties Isaac is constantly on the verge of death, taking on tough enemies with little ammo and health, leaving the player constantly jumping at every noise in the air vents, every growl, every whisper. The game is an atmospheric masterpiece, creating an air of tension so palpable that you cannot help but feel intimidated every time you approach a corner. Now, thanks to the new intensity director, which switches the game up based on your playing style, you never will know what lies ahead. The intensity director is a welcome addition, at once horrifying and thrilling, ensuring that players will have a slightly different experience each time.

Despite being only an engineer, Isaac is a capable fighter, armed at first with only a plasma cutter, but eventually able to hoard an arsenal of distinct and deadly weapons including the Ripper, a gun that shoots saw blades, a flamethrower, and a force gun which knocks all enemies back. Many weapons have alternate fire modes, and a few can have the angle of their shot switched horizontal to vertical, allowing for precision attacking. Precision shots are important as enemies cannot be defeated by simply shooting nonstop, they must be dismembered – often requiring you to take out their legs, arms, and head to finish them off. This becomes quite difficult as the game progresses and you encounter enemies attacking from all sides, but it provides players with a well deserved sense of accomplishment when they finally overcome a particularly difficult encounter.

Aside from his arsenal of deadly weapons, Isaac also has stasis and kinetic abilities, allowing him to freeze enemies for a short duration and to launch projectiles at enemies. If low on ammo or in a pinch, Isaac can melee and stomp, with the stomp breaking apart enemies and often revealing credits, ammo, or much needed health packs.

For those who want to experience Dead Space but aren’t too keen on combat, you’re in luck. Dead Space has multiple difficulty levels to choose from, from a story mode for those who wish to experience the adventure without fear of death around every corner, to an impossible mode which disables auto saves, allows only one save slot, and features permadeath. No matter what mode you choose, you’re in for a treat, as Dead Space remains one of the best survival horror experiences available.

Dead Space is chock full of items to find, lending a surprisingly addictive quality to the proceedings that you wouldn’t expect from a horror-based title. Every nook is full of credits which can be used at the stores scattered throughout the ship, ammo and health packs, nodes which can be used to upgrade your weapons and suit at work benches, text and audio logs which explain the backstory, and schematics which can be used to open up additional upgrade slots for your suit and weapons or which may unlock new purchasable items at the store. There’s a constant battle between wanting to scour every corner while also a constant fear about what you may encounter if you do. It is thrilling and lends an incredible amount of replay value to the game.

The credits you find can be used to purchase ammo, health packs, and other necessary items at stores scattered throughout the ship. These stores also give you a chance to sell off any items you do not need, and to purchase nodes – the only item which can be used to upgrade your suit and weapons. Nodes are hard to come by but can be used at work benches to raise specific attributes for both your suit and weapons. Upgrading quickly becomes a balancing act, as you rarely have enough nodes to upgrade everything you desire and certainly won’t have enough in one playthrough to max out more than one or two weapons. I am a huge fan of the upgrade system and enjoy the tough choices which must be made each time you approach a workbench. I faced a constant battle of whether to go all in on one weapon, or to balance multiple weapons so I could easily swap between them during a firefight.

The core of Dead Space remains the same with the remake, but multiple quality-of-life changes have been made. The most obvious is the incredible graphical upgrade – Dead Space is gorgeous in its bleakness. Every tense step that Isaac takes leads you further into the Hell that is the USG Ishimura, with each dismembered body, every blood-soaked wall, a seemingly unstoppable army of terrifying enemies, corridor after corridor of dimly lit rooms, and clever use of shadows all combining to create one of the finest single player campaigns ever released.

Small refinements have been made, all of which help mold what was already a great campaign into a better paced one. Small sections of chapters which didn’t flow as well or are now outdated have been removed, allowing for a better overall flow from chapter to chapter and to place more emphasis on the core story and goals. For fans of the original release, these should be welcome changes, as they removed some of the more frustrating aspects of a few chapters, like having to move the radioactive orbs while attempting to board the Valor, etc.

Another addition is that Isaac Clarke now speaks and is voiced by the same actor from the sequels. While the sequels saw Isaac speak, the original Dead Space had him as a silent protagonist. Thankfully, that has been remedied and Isaac is now an active part of all conversations. This change greatly helps remove the disconnect that sometimes stems from having a silent protagonist and allows players to become more attached to Isaac and his fellow crew members. The addition of his lines is implemented so well it’s easy to forget that he did not speak in the original release.

Dead Space packs a decently long campaign, with 12 chapters each about an hour in length, if not longer depending on your penchant to explore. After completion you can immediately hop back in using the New Game+ option, which carries over all your upgrades and credits, introduces new enemies, and even opens up additional plot points. Overall, most players will find themselves completing their trek through the USG Ishimura multiple times on a quest to fully upgrade their arsenal and to complete all possible side missions.

Praise aside, the Dead Space remake is not perfect. I did encounter a few bugs, although nothing was game breaking. Lighting sometimes does not load properly upon entering a room, which at first may feel intentional, but exiting the room and coming back in will often fix this issue so I assume it was not a design choice. Another issue I encountered was the camera not panning away from the wall when I loaded up a game, which forced me to reload, but didn’t cause me to lose any progress or cause any issues otherwise.

A few bugs aside, Dead Space remains one of the best horror games ever made and a game that I am so glad that a new generation will now get to experience.

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Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. While he enjoys modern gaming, he is a retro gamer at heart, having been raised on a steady diet of Contra, Mario, and Dragon's Lair.  Chat with him via @thricetheartist on Twitter.



Dead Space

Review Guidelines

The Dead Space remake is exactly what a remake should be. Quality-of-life improvements help the game flow better and meet modern standards, while the updated graphics bring the terror to life in vivid detail, providing a grotesque beauty to the nearly non-stop carnage. Despite the years which have passed since the game’s initial release in 2008, Isaac’s trek through the USG Ishimura remains as enthralling and terrifying as ever.

Richard Allen

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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