It must be hard to come up with something new these days. I mean, something truly new, in the games market. The temptation therefore must be pretty strong to look back to a back catalogue, to see what worked before and try to understand whether it can be remade or rejigged for modern consoles. This I imagine was the conversation that took place around the remaking of Dead Space; a critically acclaimed title from the Xbox 360 generation.
Surely with the graphical horsepower of the new consoles, be that Xbox Series X|S or PlayStation 5, the time must be right for an experience to blow our space socks off. Well, it has happened, the remake of Dead Space is here, and I guess the only thing left to do is to get on board the Ishimura…
The story of Dead Space is a classic one. We are Isaac Clarke, a space engineer, called to a ship that seems to be in distress: the USG Ishimura. The Ishimura is a massive ship, used to collect resources, and so when we arrive the scene is set for a scary story. And also, just to add a little spice, Isaac’s significant other, Nicole, is somewhere on the ship…
But where is everyone? Why is no one answering the comms? And what the flipping heck just ate one of our crew mates? Well, it turns out the ship is infested with Necromorphs, creatures that are reanimated from the ship’s crew, and while they are sometimes recognisable, they have changed a bit since they last went to the canteen.
If you haven’t played the original game, then you should be aware that I’m not going to spoil the story, but suffice it to say that this is not just a remaster – there are differences between this game and the original, and the story has been sensitively handled so that it doesn’t feel jarring when it deviates from what is to be expected.
Dead Space has been developed using the Frostbite engine, last seen in games such as Battlefield 2042, and boy oh boy does this engine lend itself to a scary game. The ship is terrifying to move through, and best of all there are no visible loading screens – apart from tram rides which I suspect are cunningly hidden loading screens – which ensures the game plays seamlessly, all while allowing you to go anywhere at any time. This is very well illustrated in the continue screen, where no sooner have you hit the button to continue than you are in the game, at the last save point you used. It is very slickly put together and hugely impressive.
Visually it is a delight, not just in the way that Isaac looks, but more in regards to the creatures you come across. All is very well done. The Necromorphs are terrifying, and with the only way to kill them being the severance of their limbs, there are soon bits of bad guys everywhere. The different designs of creatures are all cool, from the tiny things that look like jelly babies right up to the Brutes that are only vulnerable from behind; the design of the creatures is bang on. But honestly, it is the ship itself that is the star, with dark spooky corridors and echoing chambers to explore, all with a gnawing sense of dread that something is going to jump out and chew your face off – the tension is almost palpable.
Sound is another area where this new Dead Space has upped the ante, with Isaac having a voice for a kick off; remember, he never spoke in the original game. The sound of the Necromorphs is all extremely creepy and so playing in the dark, with headphones on, is almost mandatory to get the most out of the audioscape. The way the computer talks to you, the way the necromorphs can be heard shuffling about, the way that the surviving crew members contact you means that pretty much everything is awesome in the presentation department.
What about the gameplay then, I hear you ask? Well, it is pretty good there too. There are some issues, which I will discuss later, but we’ll focus on the mechanics for now. The essence of a good survival horror game is to have just enough resources to get by, but never enough to be comfortable, and this balance is struck pretty well in-game. Making sure you have enough ammo to kill the foes that come at you is a constant struggle, and while in the beginning, the game seems almost generous with the things that you find, that soon stops. You are left to explore, off the beaten track, and hope to find rooms without enemies but with supplies in, and these are few and far between. This all adds to the tension; as you are creeping around in the dark, with only harsh language to throw at a Necromorph, it does wonders for the blood pressure.
As you explore you’ll happen across weapons, and the best of these is the very first one you find: the trusty plasma cutter. It is adept at slicing limbs off charging Necromorphs, and while the later weapons you find do get better, it is hard to think of a gun that I would rather have by my side. Add to this arsenal the ability to use Stasis, which not only slows down haywire machinery, but enemies as well, and Telekinesis, which can either bring things to you, open doors or even pick a Necromorph’s severed limb and throw it at them, you are all set to cause mayhem.
And with the ship being so big, it is fortunate that Isaac has retained his waypoint finder ability, and a simple click of the right stick will show you where you need to go. This even works in the Zero-G sections, which is a blessing, as it is all too easy to lose your bearings as you jet about the place, trying to avoid enemies and kill them before they kill you. These moments combined with Isaac’s new jetpack ability means that Dead Space is a lot of fun to explore.
There are a few negatives, but thankfully nothing major with the newly rebooted Dead Space. A few times I have loaded in to the game, only to find a soft lock – when Isaac spawns in, the screen doesn’t pull back, unable to move. Reloading the save usually sorts it, but it was worrying the first time it happened. I’ve also had issues where scripted moments didn’t occur – at one point Isaac is trying to get through a door, and for the life of me I couldn’t make him do it. One reload later and it turned out a giant tentacle was meant to grab me, but didn’t. Basically, if you seem to be stuck, or something isn’t right, I’d reload to be on the safe side. Luckily there are save points very frequently (more so than I remember, certainly) so this isn’t usually too bad.
All in all, niggles aside, I’d say that Dead Space is a remake done right. It builds on what the original game did well, delivering in terms of tension and environment, adding new layers as it goes. Should you be a fan of what the franchise did in the past, or are just looking to have your spine tingled, I would suggest you give Dead Space a go. And use headphones, yeah?
Dead Space is on the Xbox Store