The next-gen remake of the beloved horror game Dead Space comes at an interesting time. The franchise has been dormant for a decade after the lukewarm reception to the third entry in 2013, with no signs of life. Even worse, The Callisto Protocol arrived just a few short months ago - another interstellar survival horror game that aimed to muscle Dead Space out of the niche it carved.
Fortunately, none of those challenges managed to detract from the final product of this lovingly crafted remake from Motive Studios. It's the best way to experience one of the most iconic horror games of the 21st century, and more than proves that the Dead Space franchise is back.
From grisly scares to truly horrifying enemies, alongside a fascinating story that's brimming with depth, this is a prime example of how to remake games for modern hardware. For a year that's set to be fantastic for the horror genre, it's off to an astounding start.
Aside from a few minor tweaks, the plot of the Dead Space remake is practically identical to the 2008 original. You play as Isaac Clarke, the lowly space engineer whose ship the Kellion comes to the aid of the planet-cracker USG Ishimura. Isaac's partner Nicole was last seen on that ship, and after an encounter with the otherworldly Red Marker on the planet of Aegis VII, all hell breaks loose.
In the modern gaming climate, it's impossible not to compare Dead Space's story to The Callisto Protocol. That's no shock, given the former game was directed by Glen Schofield, who created the original Dead Space back in the day. Nonetheless, there are several glaring resemblances within their stories: ancient religions, mysterious conspiracies, and enemies with particularly susceptible limbs.
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Of course, that isn't Dead Space's fault at all. In many ways, I'm glad I had played The Callisto Protocol prior to this game, because hindsight highlights how trailblazing this story is. The veneer of corporate conspiracy and religious extremism is explored much further in this game, not only thanks to powerful environmental storytelling, but a plethora of text and audio logs. The game also benefits from its two further sequels, with a few minor tweaks made here to more closely align with the continuity of the second and third entries, but it's nonetheless a great story.
I found myself much more attached to Isaac Clarke than most horror protagonists, with the focus on psychological horror alongside the hideous monsters a fascinating way to unpack his instability at the most trying of times. He's splendidly voiced by Gunner Wright, who reprises his role with far more lines and character depth than in the original game.
The only drawback was a lack of narrative thrust in the first half, where you're more focused on fixing the Ishimura than unpacking exactly what the hell has happened. Given it becomes so engaging in its second half, culminating in a near-perfect last few hours, this felt like the waste of a chance to slightly balance out the narrative.
The Dead Space franchise is undeniably known for its gory gameplay, and that makes an even more polished return here. It's more action-heavy than other survival horror games: you'll never be left needing for ammo, and despite the range of enemy types, you always feel confident and prepared going into an encounter. That's no trouble though, because the frights come more from creature design and environmental atmosphere.
As they've always been, the necromorphs are bloody horrible. Clambering around on bladed limbs, they aren't quite as gooey and slimy as the biophages on Callisto, but they're a nightmare nonetheless. It's all enhanced by the new dismemberment system, where each attack on an enemy slowly pierces their skin, showing off tissue and bone. I've never seen enemy physics done quite as well as this, and it made each encounter far more engaging. Determining the best strategy for each enemy is something you'll need to do fast, because there's lots of variety here. My least favourite were the spindly necromorphs that burst into a disembodied head and creepy spiders upon death. That caused plenty of anguish.
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The entire game is just horror combat, atmosphere, and storytelling at its absolute apex. Slowly plodding through the Ishimura - itself falling apart at the seams like Isaac - while entering new areas, learning secrets as you go, is a gameplay loop that perfectly suits the genre. My only complaint on this front is the repetitive mission setup, especially in the first half. It falls into a comfortable rhythm: head to an area, repair a broken system, discover there's one more obstacle, and repeat. This gets slightly tiresome, and feels more like you're doing busywork than battling for survival. As a first-timer to the series, I was far too over-reliant on the objective indicator mechanic as well, but there's always repeat playthroughs to remedy that.
But aside from that, it's a sheer blast to play. Weapons feel impactful and varied, the enemies always kept me on my toes, and boss fights are engaging and tricky enough to often require more than a few tries.
Playing a pre-release version of the game, I encountered only a few minor problems. There were two occasions where compulsory events or character dialogue didn't trigger, which required a fair few reloads to get past. Fortunately, the autosave system is perfect at combating that, and the wealth of save points across the Ishimura means you're never left replaying vast swathes to get back to where you were. Aside from that, a few glitchy limbs flopping about the place and some occasionally blurry character models were the only complaints I had across my nine-hour playthrough.
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Most players know what to expect going into the Dead Space remake. Luckily for me, I had no prior history with the series, which made it even sweeter to immerse myself in this world for the first time. As a survival horror fan, I was instantly engrossed by the sickening enemies, twisty story, and nightmarish atmosphere. It's so much fun to play, and even more than that, the perfect example of how to remake a game while retaining all the quirks that made it worth reviving in the first place.
With the release of this remake, the Dead Space franchise is truly back; here to reclaim the sci-fi horror throne it first claimed 15 years ago. This is a top-tier horror game that proves just why we love the genre.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.