No doubt buoyed by Capcom’s tremendous Resident Evil 2 remake in 2019, the revival of the solo survival horror has become a welcome vogue for video games. In an era of hardware able to do fleshy monsters and flickering darkness a horrible justice, developers have turned to past successes to either inspire (The Callisto Protocol) or remake (Resident Evil 4, System Shock).
The return of Dead Space is confidently the latter; rebuilt from the ground-up with new technology, but faithfully revisiting Isaac Clarke’s first encounter with toothy ‘necromorphs’ and his own mental trauma on the sprawling spaceship USG Ishimura. It’s been 14 years since the original game, which is somehow more horrifying than anything the game could possibly throw at me, but it was made with a forward looking mentality and has held up admirably.
So why the glow-up? Besides, perhaps, to get the Dead Space name fresh in the mind again? It certainly lets Dead Space’s monolithic ‘planet-cracker’ setting, liberally inspired by Event Horizon and Alien’s Nostromo, shine. As engineer Isaac and his crew approach the Ishimura on an apparent repair mission, its brutalist angles cut across a glittering galaxy, light glinting off its hull. The crash-landing is a stomach-flipping pirouette and, once inside, the guts of the ageing spaceship are a blend of rusted, busted engines, perilous walkways and pristine holographic screens. The warren-like, tram-linked corridors make for a disorientating but authentic place. But for the horrors unfolding, you might even believe the Ishimura as a place to live and work in the depths of space.
This was true of the original but it has, naturally, never looked better. It is seamless now too; where the limitations of the time saw the original carve its areas into stage-based sections, here you will loop around and return to areas until you start to develop an understanding of the layout. No small feat. And one that the remake takes advantage of by carving in some extra rooms and side-missions as Isaac works to repair the ship, find his partner Nicole and discover just what’s up with the rest of the crew turning into skittering, sharp-clawed monstrosities.
The necromorphs are spindly, Carpenter-esque creations and now have a more tangible (and disgusting) appearance. The focus of the game’s combat remains removing body parts, with the flesh now sloughing off limbs as they are hit with Isaac’s trusty plasma cutter. They serve as a health bar on the zombies as tendons and gristle start to fray before another hit lops the limb off completely. The fights can be either breathlessly panicked, or perfectly executed depending on your ammo levels and just how many monsters have burst through vents behind you.
The remake has brought in some extra weaponry ideas from Dead Space’s sequels, with effective alternative fire modes on guns such as the pulse rifle and flamethrower, but the core remains the combination of dismemberment, crowd-control and using Isaac’s gadgets. In your best moments, you will chop off limbs, slow down an approaching beast with stasis before using your kinesis module to hurl a sharp, severed limb and pin them to the wall. But just as often you are clumsily blasting plasma past the thin, swaying claws and desperately stomping and the monsters gnashing at your feet as they look to overwhelm. Both instances have their own kind of thrill. It’s not perfect and the occasional boss battle --glowing weak points and all-- can be clunky wars of attrition, but the combat encounters through the ship make a solid base for the game.
But it is the trip around the Ishimura itself that offers the most interest. Familiarity might be a factor in this case, but I feel I haven’t been properly frightened by a video game horror in some time (recommendations on a postcard, or in the comments). But Dead Space still manages to be panicked in its combat and, at the very least, unsettling in its exploration. I can somewhat take or leave its tale of religious fanatics (given a deeper presence here, along with a now fully-voiced Isaac), but its descent into madness as you witness some of the ‘surviving’ crew members doing terrible things and the suffocating oppression of space itself win out.
The game has always had a knack for using the latter in its gameplay. Scenes where Isaac is cast into a ravaged part of the ship --walls torn apart, oxygen absent and the black maw yawning beyond-- are rarely as imminently dangerous as they feel; the ticking clock of your O2 as he struggles past crumbled bulkheads is anxiety-inducing stuff. Zero-G repair sections are delightfully disorientating as you boost around open spaces with your rocket boots, necromorphs floating and flailing at you in the gaps.
New to the remake, and partly thanks to some fancy lighting techniques, there are now moments where Isaac must choose where to route the failing power of the ship at circuit breakers. You might need to shut off the lights, rerouting power to a door that promises extra credits or gear, but the chances of a necromorph barrelling at you in the peripheries of your bouncing flashlight are worryingly high. Or you might prefer a well-lit path that cuts off the oxygen.
It’s not something that fundamentally changes Dead Space, but is an addition that does add value and agency. It’s something that sums it all up rather well; this is an accomplished remake of a great game, but it doesn’t necessarily shake the cobwebs off in the same way that Resident Evil 2 did. But perhaps that’s because it didn’t need to; retaining the ghoulish sense of place and suffocation that makes the Ishimura such a horrible place to visit.
Developer Motive Studio Publisher EA Formats Xbox Series X/S (X tested), PS5, PC Age rating PEGI 18 Released 27 Jan 2023 RRP £69.99