Survival horror at its very best
When Dead Space came out in 2008, it revolutionized and revitalized the survival horror genre. While that may sound hyperbolic, it’s worth remembering the landscape of horror at the time. Resident Evil 4 had released in 2005 with a much more action-orientated focus. Alone in the Dark had petered out while Dino Crisis came and went. Konami continued to misuse its Silent Hill IP with Homecoming, which came out the same year.
In an era of remakes, reboots and sequels, it’s perhaps surprising that we haven’t seen Dead Space re-examined and rebooted before 2023. One could argue that The Callisto Protocol, which released last December, felt like a cheap knock off, with a polarizing control scheme and a lacklustre story, but very few games have managed to capture what made Dead Space so good.
Playing through the Dead Space remake will rekindle all the reasons why this is such a good game. For the most part, the experience is largely unchanged save for some tweaks and gameplay mechanic upgrades here and there (more on that later). It really hammers home how good this game actually was for its day – and why it should be celebrated and replayed in this modern update.
For those unaware, Dead Space is a single-player survival horror title, with an over-the-shoulder camera and an intuitive UI that plays almost exclusively as holograms or visual cues on your main character. The map and menu are accessed in-game too, while visual cues like your oxygen level, health and ammo are all visible through blue-hued holograms.
You play as Isaac Clark, an engineer and ship system specialist that is sent out with a motley band of characters to investigate and repair the USG Ishimura.
Whilst onboard, Isaac soon realizes that all is not what it seems. Faint whispers of something called The Marker have caused the crew to all but disappear and in their place, monstrous creatures called Necromorphs happen to be running rampage throughout the ship. And they’re hungry for flesh.
Coming in all shapes and sizes, it’s up to you and your rabble of survivors to navigate through the horrors and make it off the ship in one piece.
Split across 12 chapters, the game takes on a pretty linear approach, although the level design brilliantly takes advantage of eerie corridors, well-placed jump scares and a mix of puzzling and tense fights across the 9-12 hour play time. There’s also New Game+, which is advised to play here as it unlocks an additional alternate-ending and extra collectibles that weren’t in the original 2008 title.
As the game progresses, a variety of different enemies come into play, including Pregnant Necromorphs that hold a belly full of tiny pests called Swarmers. There are also common Slashers, armed with two monstrous blades that rush at you, and even bat-like Necromorphs that infect corpses and turn more enemies against you. The enemy variety continues throughout the experience, with each chapter adding new creatures for you to face off against, keeping the experience feeling fresh and tense.
Unlike in other horrors, what makes Dead Space unique is the way you destroy these enemies. Armed with a variety of different weapons ranging from Plasma Rifles to Line Guns, you have to cut off the limbs for these creatures in order to stop them. With ammo scarce and health packs a rarity outside of well-placed shops across the ship, you really have to make every shot count. It’s an innovative bit of gameplay design in truth, and Dead Space maximizes that to full effect.
The controls are robust, well implemented and the modern tweaks to the remake are partly why this works so well. In the original, Dead Space only had its linear singular mission to take care of, but the remake actually adds in a couple of side missions to help flesh out the world and the larger narrative at play.
If that wasn’t enough, the levels have been tweaked to include Security Clearance keycards for certain doors, which can be upgraded over time, along with a whole host of aesthetic tweaks.
Using the power of modern consoles, Dead Space looks absolutely gorgeous too. Corridors are sometimes completely bathed in darkness, forcing you to rely on the torch at the end of your gun for light during these sections. The little lighting and environmental effects have been tweaked slightly as well, while upgrading weapons is no simple feat anymore.
To encourage that feeling of progression, Dead Space features an upgrade system that requires you to find schematics around the ship or buying upgrades from the shop (for in-game money. There’s no microtransactions here thankfully!)
Another new implementation comes from the Zero-G sections. Within these areas, you take control of Isaac and can freely fly around and navigate across different platforms to get to where you need to go. It’s hard to remember back but Dead Space 2 was actually the first time Zero-G was used in this way, not the original.
The first game didn’t actually give you any control over these sections, relying on point and click mechanics to move around different locations. It’s a small tweak but a well-implemented one that makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable and complete.
A big part of the horror experience comes from the sound design, and both the music and audio in this title are absolutely top-notch. Whether you’re listening on your TV or through over-ear headphones (which is our personal recommendation for playing!) Dead Space shines. Guttural screams in the distance, the clatter of footsteps overhead or even just the unnerving minor-chord music that plays when enemies are near, all of these elements add up to make a complete horror experience.
Dead Space is a shining example of how to do a remake – and do it well. The tiny changes to the core gameplay are all beneficial to the overall experience, while the aesthetic is absolutely stunning all round. It’s testament to how good the original is that even now, 14 years later, Dead Space holds up as one of the best survival horror games on the market. If you haven’t played it before, or fancy reliving a classic, you should absolutely give this a play.
All of our videogame reviews are also featured on OpenCritic
Verdict - 9/10