Developer: Motive Studio
Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Horror, Third-person, Shooter,
Platform: Xbox Series X|S (version reviewed), PlayStation 5, PC
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 27/1/23
A code was provided for review purposes
Welcome Back To The USG Ishimura
Back in 2008 and survival horror fans were treated to a new kid on the block. With Capcom still reigning supreme with Resident Evil 4, EA decided to challenge the genre dominance with something different – Dead Space. Taking place within the confines of a spaceship, Dead Space reimagined the genre away from planet Earth and into the far reaches of Space.
While Dead Space – as a video game – would spawn two more sequels, it’s been in a dormant slumber since 2013. With Dead Space 3 ending on a monumental cliffhanger, eager fans have never gotten an end to Isaac Clark’s (and John Carver’s) story. And so, for the last 10 years, Dead Space 4 was a rumor that never quite went away.
Jump to 2023, and EA (along with Motive Studio) have decided to re-awaken the nightmare with the full enhancements afforded by current-gen hardware. But does Dead Space need reviving? And more importantly, does it “make us whole“?
Welcome back to the USG Ishimura…
My biggest worry about heading into this re-imagining was whether would it live up to the expectations of the original. Well, after 11 hours and 45 minutes of blood-soaked terror, I’m glad to say that not only does it live up to 2008, it surpasses it in every way. Not only have developer Motive Studio captured the essence of the original’s claustrophobic atmosphere, but they’ve also added their own spin to it. So while Isaac’s mission is still the same, it’s fleshed out with new dialogue, new story ideas, and side missions too!
Altman Be Praised!
If you missed it the first time around, the plot of Dead Space is a pretty standard sci-fi affair. Think along the lines of Event Horizon mixed with Pandorum, and you’re on the right track of sci-fi weirdness. Taking place on a sprawling planet cracker mining vessel called the USG Ishimura, Dead Space places you in the boots of engineer Isaac Clarke. Clarke, along with his band of corporate teammates, are sent to the Ishimura to investigate why communication to the ship has been lost.
From first stepping into the deserted hangar, it’s clear that something is very wrong with the city-sized spaceship. The crew is nowhere to be seen, and signs of a struggle litter every hallway. Chaos soon unfolds as the boarding party is attacked by crazed monsters, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I won’t spoil what else happens as the story is one that keeps you gripped from its opening chapter right through to its conclusion. Expectations are challenged as the plot goes far deeper than a simple body-horror schlock-fest. Instead, you’re treated to the grand opening of an incredibly detailed universe that really demands your attention.
Space Has Never Looked So Good!
Where the haunted decks of the Ishimura retain their general familiarity, developer Motive Studio has also made some tweaks. While the grim industrial ascetic carries over, everything has been given new lease of life due to current-gen enhancements. Everything from the rigid steel interior to corridors filled with rotting flesh fills you with unease. Shadows bring an otherworldly feel, while lighting effects make you question your own sanity – especially when you’re never truly alone.
The vessel has also had a makeover in terms of allowing more exploration. Again, while Motive Studio has kept close to the original design, there are plenty of areas that have been expanded upon or re-imagined in some way. You’re also able to freely traverse between tram stations, which connect to all aspects of the Ishimura. There are also a couple of new on-foot traversal points too, and a very haunting zero-g sequence involving the hanger bay.
It all comes together in a way that builds the Ishimura as the giant city-sized spacecraft that it is while simultaneously keeping things confined. Backtracking also plays a big part in this layout change. You’ll often be heading back to previously explored areas once Isaac’s security level has been increased. Not too dissimilar to a “Metroidvania,” this extra exploration – while optional – does reward you with weapon upgrade schematics and a few other goodies. Throw in a few very interesting side-missions (again, entirely optional), and there’s a heck of a lot of exploring to do.
Not one to be left out, Isaac has also had quite the face-lift. While his facial features have been reworked, and voice actor Gunner Wright returns. The most striking change in his design comes from his suit. Keeping a similar feel to the original cross between a deep sea diver, and a heavy-duty miner, Issac’s suit is just as imposing as the enemies he fights. Thanks to the new lighting textures, armoured panels now reflect light while onboard health and stasis lights illuminate weakly against the encroaching darkness. Subsequent upgrades also go hard on the industrial look, with rivets and chunky panels replacing the suit underneath.
Dead Space also further humanises Isaac away from his silent past. Originally relegated to angry grunts and blindly taking orders, Isaac now has the returning vocal talents of Gunner Wright. Wright – who originally voiced Isaac within the sequels – puts in a great performance. His voice really adds depth to the conflicted character. There’s a great degree of interaction between the cast as Isaac adds his input to the mission rather than blindly following the orders of his superiors.
Not A Zombie!
The enemies that stalk the dark halls of the Ishimura aren’t your typical zombie threat. Taking inspiration from The Thing, each Necromorph is a strange marionette of torn flesh and monstrous amounts of teeth and bone. Each enemy also fulfills a purpose in the Necromorph hive. This means there are quite a few different types to encounter. Whether it be the standard “Slasher,” who rushes towards Isaac with reckless abandon, or the “Twitcher,” whose assimilated military gear allows for lightning-fast attacks, you never truly feel safe. Quite often, you’re lulled into believing that an enemy has been slain just for it to rise once again as you get closer to it. That’s without mentioning the “Regenerator”
Fans of the original game will also be pleased to know that while the same gaggle of enemies exists here, their encounters have been remixed. The tougher Necromorph variants now appear earlier in the game, and most set pieces now comprise of more enemies to fight. Beyond this, the Necromorphs also benefit from modern enhancements with an incredible degree of detail. Each snarling menace is a real joy to fight, with plenty of disgusting appendages to destroy and movement patterns to learn. Damage is also realistically shown with flesh searing away from plasma burns to literally disintegrating due to the Force Gun.
Tools Of The Trade
Across the nightmare, Isaac is able to repurpose up to seven tools to use against the Necromorphs. Rather than being forced to purchase new weapons at the vendor kiosks, these are now introduced at various points in-game. Typically found during story set pieces, this new format allows you to take your new weapon on a trial run before ultimately deciding if it fits your playstyle or not. While a very minute change, this works as a great introduction to both veterans and newcomers. Saving you the heavy credit load the original charged, and the pain of committing to a weapon you’ll never use.
These tools can also be upgraded across a very generous upgrade tree. Unlocked via upgrade nodes, the basic tech tree remains the same. Each has a variety of nodes to unlock that’ll empower the weapon, decrease its reload time, or increase ammo capacity. Issac’s suit and stasis rig can also be enhanced via the same system – albeit both offer slightly shorter paths. The difference this time around is that the empty nodes on the tree have been removed. What this means is that you essentially unlock an upgrade each time rather than having to invest a lot of nodes in every branch. Away from this, extra abilities can also be acquired, such as adding incendiary effects to plasma beams, grenade launchers, or proximity traps. These all tie into Issac’s security level and are well worth the effort in backtracking through the Ishimura.
The Familiar Embrace Of Death
Across the nightmarish adventure, Motive has kept most of the greatest moments as they were. Yet managed to simultaneously re-working the bits that didn’t thrill. Set pieces such as battling the Regenerator across the medical deck still plays out in the same David Vs. Goliath way that originally made it a nightmarish game of cat and mouse. Likewise, the mundane asteroid defense cannon mini-game has been completely reworked. Transformed from a tedious rail shooter to a full-fledged Death Star-style trench run as you configure the cannons along the way – all while asteroids rain down around you. There are plenty of refined moments like this across the entire game. While this version of Dead Space isn’t a full remake as such, it’s these moments that certainly cast the illusion.
It’s not just the gameplay that’s had a renaissance, as the story also gets enhanced with extra details. There’s a whole side-story that deals with Isaac’s search for Nicole, which plays out via holographic displays across the Ishimura. The Isaac and Nicole dynamic is further enhanced via new audio and text logs. Each one delves into their relationship before the outbreak and sheds light on the Unitology religion too. Elsewhere and the supporting cast also features more prominently. Isaac’s fellow rescue buddies – Kendra and Hammond, now have more dialogue, and a couple of fringe characters from the original now entwine within the story in quite a big way.
As a result, the story offers a far richer experience. We get a lot of exposition that expands on the universal lore. We feel the Ishimura crew’s descent into madness and Isaac’s own desperation in finding Nicole. The eventual conclusion is far less convoluted and expands on that seen in Dead Space 2.
With its sleek gameplay and gorgeous visuals, Dead Space is a game that’ll long stay in your memory. Taking advantage of the enhancements afforded by current-gen hardware, Motive Studio have breathed new life into a dormant franchise. And did so to great effect. Whether you’re a newcomer – or a die-hard vet, Dead Space grabs you within its warm embrace and doesn’t let go. It’s a surreal experience that remains true to its progenitor but surpasses it in every way – even if the 2008 version still holds up today!
Rapid Reviews Rating
5 out of 5
Dead Space is available now and can be purchased from the Microsoft Store by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.