If you had told me a few months ago that EA’s Dead Space remake, made by the same team responsible for Star Wars Battlefront II (2017), would utterly trump The Callisto Protocol, developed by one of the original creators of the Dead Space trilogy, I would have laughed in disbelief. Funny enough, here we are.

As a big survival horror game fan who never had a chance to play the original Dead Space trilogy, I was absolutely thrilled when EA announced that they would be remaking the genre-defining sci-fi horror classic with updated gameplay and visuals. Like many gamers, I’ve had a tricky relationship with the recent bout of remakes, reboots and re-releases within the industry. Despite this, one of my favourite games of all time is the Resident Evil 2 remake, so, despite being in the hands of EA, I had hopes that the Dead Space remake would do the original game justice and offer me a first-time experience with the story and gameplay with modern game technology. So, this review is from the perspective of someone who never played the original game and had no idea what the story entailed.

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The USG Ishimura is already in turmoil from the moment Isaac and his team arrive.

Developed by Motive Studio, Dead Space, which adopts the same name as its 2008 predecessor, is set in the 26th century and follows Isaac Clarke, an engineer on a repair ship called the USG Kellion. The team land on the USG Ishimura, a mining ship which has ceased communication while operating on the planet Aegis VII, to respond to a distress call sent out by Isaac’s girlfriend, Nichole Brennan, who is serving as a medical officer on board the ship. Isaac is joined by computer specialist Kendra Daniels, chief security officer Zach Hammond, and co-pilots and security personnel Hailey Johnston and Aiden Chen. Unfortunately, the Kellion ends up crash-landing on the Ishimura after a docking malfunction. And, after exploring more of the ship, the crew realise that it’s not just the docking that’s malfunctioning on the mining ship.

The Ishimura’s crew seem to be missing, or so the Kellion team think until mutated monsters attack them, killing Chen and forcing the group to disband. While they work out a way to fix their ship and begin piecing together the events leading up to the Ishimura’s downfall, Isaac and his team discover that these monsters, known as Necromorphs, have been created from the corpses of the Ishimura’s ill-fated crew.

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There are some dark secrets to uncover on the Ishimura.

I’ll be honest, I had mixed feelings towards Dead Space during the first hour of gameplay. While The Callisto Protocol was abysmal in nearly every way, its atmosphere and visuals were stellar, and I felt this was the only thing that The Callisto Protocol did better than Dead Space. In comparison, I thought Dead Space felt flat, predictable and just not as enticing. It turns out, I was completely wrong and jumped onto an opinion way too early. Dead Space was only just warming up and one of its highest achievements is consistently finding ways to grow and keep you engaged throughout the playthrough. You’ll constantly receive new weapons, new abilities, and face new types of enemies to defeat. There wasn’t a single moment in this playthrough where I felt like the game was too long. Its ten-hour play length felt perfect and Dead Space is a game which I just kept on wanting to go back to as it just kept getting better and better with every chapter.

Dead Space isn’t entirely linear; you’ll pick up a few side quests as you progress in the main story, and have the option to go and explore them whenever. I found the storylines behind these quests to be engaging enough to take me away from Dead Space’s thrilling main story, and they also connect to the overarching plot, so will give you a better understanding of the events that have unfolded before Isaac’s arrival. In fact, I enjoyed these so much that I just wish there were a few more of them.

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Isaac and his team are attacked by the mutated dead bodies of the Ishimura’s ill-fated crew.

Similarly, I was constantly on the lookout for text and audio logs left behind by the Ishimura’s crew. These are pretty standard practice in survival horror games as a way to paint a wider picture outside of the main character’s experience, Dead Space does a fantastic job of ensuring they’re all well-written and dig you deeper into the mystery of the Ishimura. I was constantly finishing the logs with further questions and a drive to find more to this story. I loved how there were returning characters in these logs and so that their stories unfolded in each newly unlocked section of the ship, such as Elizabeth Cross and Jacob Temple, two lovers who were split up when the outbreak happened, and Brent Harris, one of the many miners who worked on Aegis VII when The Marker artifact was uncovered and boarded the Ishimura while suffering from strange psychosis symptoms.

Dead Space also has quite a bit of backtracking, but not so much that you get tired of it, as the areas of the ship will change as the story progresses, becoming more chaotic as the Necrophage outbreak slowly swallows up the whole ship. On top of this, the backtracking is supported by the game’s security system. Isaac can only enter rooms or open containers that he has clearance for, there are three security levels in total which will gradually unlock throughout the main campaign, and one master key to put together if you take the time to complete the side quest dedicated to this. This means that there’s always new loot to pick up when revisiting a previously explored area, as you’ll often come back with a higher security clearance which allows you to unlock areas and containers which you weren’t able to access before.

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The Ishimura crew certainly left their fair share of clues for anyone happening to pass by their place of death. 

Overall, the map design is very fluid and exciting to explore. Throughout the story, you’ll have the chance to travel across the whole ship – from the medical bay to the engineering deck. You have a map which you can open while walking which is very helpful for keeping you in the right direction while traversing the Ishimura’s endless maze of tight corridors. But you’ll also gradually learn your own way around the ship, soon enough being able to return to a previously explored area without having to refer to the map.

As mentioned above, Dead Space’s gameplay is thrilling and consistently keeps you on edge throughout. There’s a plethora of creative and gruesome enemy designs as well as a couple of boss fights, a lot of which reminded me of John Carpenter’s The Thing. On top of this, the game is constantly throwing new challenges and situations at you, from spacewalking to turn on the ADS cannons to prevent incoming asteroids from damaging the ship, to destroying the gravity tethers holding an asteroid that’s being mined on board the Ishimura to release it from the ship.

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Even previously explored areas remain exciting as the ship is constantly being swallowed up by the Necrophage outbreak.

There are seven guns to collect throughout the Ishimura, some of them you’ll need to stray away from the main story’s route in order to find – which I wasn’t aware of as I finished the game with only five weapons. You can upgrade your weapons and armour at upgrade benches. I really liked the upgrade system in Dead Space; you simply use Power Nodes which can be collected around the map, looted off defeated enemies or bought at the store to improve your equipment. The upgrade system works as a circuit with different pathways unlocking different stat increases. You can unlock more pathways to the circuit by finding weapon schematics around the map or buying the ones available in the store. This system is not too overly complicated and easy to get the hang of. As Dead Space is a survival horror game, resources are limited. On top of this, you have limited inventory space. Not having enough ammo or inventory space will be common occurrences throughout Dead Space, so you need to use your resources wisely and make sure to take the time to loot every room.

Dead Space doesn’t have a dodge or block button, meaning you need to position yourself well and keep moving if you don’t want to be cornered. I have no qualms with this as it’s something that’s commonly seen in survival horror games such as the Resident Evil series, Alien Isolation, and The Evil Within. Unfortunately, the run toggle doesn’t work very well; sometimes Isaac just won’t run and he’s also very slow when he does. Despite this, I wouldn’t consider this a big enough issue to dock the review score, especially seeing as though this is also a problem in the Resident Evil 2 remake, one of my favourite games ever, and it’s also something that the player will get used to and learn how to work with.

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The weapon upgrade system is easy to get the hang of.

One of my favourite parts of Dead Space’s gameplay were the zero gravity segments. The physics behind this was amazing and felt as if I really were floating through space. Objects and bodies will float around you, and it becomes easy to end up upside down and needing to reposition yourself. There’s also the extra task of enemies being able to launch themselves at you, making them harder to avoid and hit. I felt like these segments were spread out enough to remain exciting and something to look forward to without being overused. On top of the zero gravity segments, Dead Space has some more fun gameplay mechanics, such as the Stasis Module which allows you to slow down objects or enemies. This is often used to move past fast moving objects such as fans or malfunctioning doors, and it also becomes very handy when tackling large groups of enemies. Isaac also has a Kinesis Module, which gives him telekinetic abilities. You can use this to throw objects or pull them towards you.

My Dead Space playthrough was mostly a bug-free experience, though I did have some issues with loading save points. For some reason, some save files would become corrupted so that I couldn’t move the camera around, and at one point the game autosaved immediately after I had been killed, so loading this save just took me to the death screen. Some loot boxes can be found on shelves, and require you to shoot them to break them open and retrieve the loot. Unfortunately, the loot would often glitch into the wall or the shelf itself and be irretrievable. I also found the ragdoll physics to be a little over the top and break the immersion somewhat. Especially because they come with squelching sound effects when a body or body part is moved around. This meant I would often hear squelching following me around, thinking an enemy is coming up behind me, only to realise that it’s just a body part from my last fight still sticking to Isaac’s foot. Ragdoll physics also pave the way for twitching bodies, making the player think that the enemy is still alive when really they’re just glitching through the floor or wall. But again, this is a minor problem.

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The zero gravity sections are some of the best parts in Dead Space.

Previously, I stated that The Callisto Protocol did a better job with its audio and visuals, having a more intense atmosphere. This was completely wrong. The only thing that The Callisto Protocol has over Dead Space is its inclusion of a photo mode. Because I do love a good photo mode.

Dead Space progressively becomes more unnerving as the Necrophage outbreak spreads and becomes more powerful. The map design is astounding, with some really gruesome and horrifying sights to uncover, which shows the Ishimura to be turning into a true hellhole. Madness is all around you on the Ishimura, most of the survivors that you’ll encounter will be too far gone into insanity to be able to save, making the Kellion crew’s situation even more dire as they fight for a way to leave the mining ship before they are torn apart by monsters or before their own minds crumble beyond repair too.

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The Church of Unitology followers somehow had the time to light a load of lanterns around the whole ship but not do some mopping up.

The way Dead Space uses lighting to build tension works really well, showing that the visual designers have full control over the game’s atmosphere. Lights will flicker on and off, rooms will glow red when locked down into quarantine, and in the dark rooms, you really can’t see anything outside of your torch beam, making it easy for creatures to sneak up on you unnoticed. Dead Space looks stunning, created on EA’s Frostbite engine, the attention to detail is astounding in bringing this living nightmare to life. The only downside is that Isaac’s face wasn’t revealed in the first installment of the original trilogy; we didn’t see what he looked like until Dead Space 2, in this game we do see his face, but they’ve unfortunately remodeled him and he now resembles Mark Zuckerberg. The upside is that Isaac doesn’t remove his helmet often. I imagine this design choice was so that his face was a better fit for his voice actor.

Speaking of the voice acting, I was really impressed with the cast of Dead Space. Again, in the original game, Isaac doesn’t speak, however in the remake he’s voiced by Gunner Wright, who also voiced Isaac in Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3. Not only is it great to see that the original voice actor was reprised for the role, but Gunner also does a fantastic job as Isaac, and the rest of the cast don’t skip a beat in bringing their characters to life. Even the minor characters featured in audio logs do a tremendous job, so it’s all round fantastic work.

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The absence of a photo mode, although not essential, is really felt in this gorgeous game.

The audio editing in Dead Space is also really effective. You’ll hear creatures crawling through the walls and ceilings, keeping you aware that something could jump out of a vent and attack you at any second. The ship is also breaking apart, and the malfunctioning technology and screams of grinding metal sound almost animal-like, turning the Ishimura into a living being itself. The haptic feedback in the PlayStation 5 controller adds to this effect. You can both hear and feel Isaac’s racing heartbeat after intense encounters, which is really effective in building the player’s anxiety too.

Dead Space uses a modified version of Jason Graves’ musical score from the original game. Composer Trevor Gureckis has added new elements and cues to build on the original trilogy’s soundtrack. Overall, I loved the music in Dead Space. Not only was it perfect for the game’s setting, but I also thought it was incredibly varied. There are some sci-fi focused tracks which suggest the Alien films, but there are also some segments which sound like they originated from a slasher film. I loved the variation in the music, as it kept the soundtrack exciting and interesting throughout the game.

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The Necromorphs aren’t the only monsters in Dead Space.

Of course, Dead Space also shines in its main story. The storyline is constantly evolving as Isaac makes his way through the ship. It feels very much like an Alien movie where the Kellion crew’s plan to escape keeps facing hurdle after hurdle. On top of this, it feels like both the ship and the Ishimura’s surviving crew members are actively working against the Kellion crew. Several of the Ishimura’s crew are members of the fanatical Church of Unitology, who are also connected to Isaac’s tragic past and even his relationship. On top of this, the discovery of The Marker, a mysterious artifact buried on Aegis VII, further drills into the mystery and gives the players more questions to answer before they can fix together the pieces to this story. Dead Space is chock full of twists and I loved every moment of it.  Behind the gruesome mutants and gory scenes of death, there’s a hidden truth that maybe these Necromorphs aren’t the true monsters in this story as there is a greater evil pulling the strings. 

Dead Space is a truly amazing experience with jaw-dropping visuals and an superbly crafted atmosphere which will raise your anxiety levels. Its enigmatic story is full of mystery and twists which will keep you hooked right until the very end. In fact, I wish that EA would also make an Alien game… wait, did I just say that? Dead Space is an expertly crafted remake of a classic survival horror game, much like the Resident Evil 2 remake which is one of the only games that I would rate a 10/10, so let’s give Dead Space that score too as aside from my nitpicks, I couldn’t have really wished for anything more.

Jess played Dead Space on PlayStation 5 with her own bought copy. Dead Space is also available on PC and Xbox Series X|S. 

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