Developed By: Motive Studio
Published By: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 5 / Xbox Series / PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Review Code Provided By: Electronic Arts
One of my most anticipated games coming out in 2023 is the remake of the beloved classic (and one of my personal favourite sci-fi horror games ever) Dead Space which last made an appearance back in 2013 with Dead Space 3. Many would argue that the first game in 2008 was a revelation, the sequel a huge step up but the third game in the series failed to live up towards cementing the trilogy as one of the greatest of all time and it was killed off with the now infamous “failing to meet sales expectations” from Electronic Arts.
There was hope for years that the series would be revisited with a sequel perhaps but after the original studio, Visceral Games was shuttered and co-creator Glen Schofield moved on to Striking Distance Studios, that hope seemed misplaced. The sci-fi horror genre just seemed like a non-starter but lucky for us gamers (and perhaps a bit of irony) Striking Distance Studios released what many considered a spiritual successor, The Calisto Protocol which came out in December 2022. EA also announced that Dead Space was getting a full remake coming just a month later from Motive Studio so both games were going head-to-head.
Thanks to Electronic Arts, we were granted the opportunity to dive in early for Dead Space (2023) but I was worried that this would be a simple cash-grab remake and might be a letdown in the same way The Callisto Protocol was. Thankfully, I can absolutely confirm that Dead Space (2023) is an absolutely wonderful, bloody, horrific return of one of the greatest sci-fi horror experiences that everyone should play. The king is back and it’s better than ever.
A Miracle Is As Terrifying As A Nightmare
Dead Space tells the story of systems engineer Isaac Clarke who is part of an investigating crew sent on the Kellion to check on the USG Ishimura, a planet cracker that has gone dark over the planet Aegis VII. It is especially personal for Isaac as his girlfriend Nicole is on the Ishimura and he hasn’t heard from her since her last sent message to him. Not long after docking (well crashing) onto the Ishimura, the crew discovers that monsters called Necromorphs have overrun the ship and it falls to Isaac to unravel what happened to Nicole, where the Necromorphs came from and if they can escape the hell they accidentally fell into.
If you have played the original Dead Space the general story beats are very similar but as the dev team has mentioned with this remake, they have added more context to the existing story structure and I for one really loved what they did. One of the biggest changes is that Isaac is now fully voiced (he wasn’t for the first game in the OG trilogy) and although it is not as extensive as one might think it was good enough for me to add some personality to him. Some side characters’ roles were shuffled around, and some were expanded more to provide more depth to their individual place in the story.
What I really enjoyed were the side quests that expand more into side characters like Nicole and Dr Mercer and their individual journeys aboard the Ishimura before and after the chaos unfolded. The side quests although not too meaty or deep provide an additional reason for the player to return to previously explored sections. The team included a lot of lore and backstory that are inspired by the sequels most especially the game’s fictional religion Unitology and its place in the Dead Space universe and how it fits into each character’s motivations.
One of the most important characters in Dead Space is of course the USG Ishimura and how amazingly realized the ship is. Every section visited is as well realized as the original game and made even better with the new interconnectedness. One thing Dead Space does light years better than the recently released The Callisto Protocol is how no matter where you visit there is information and storytelling with audio or text logs and the environment itself playing a major part in immersing the player in this hellish experience. If you played Dead Space before you will love this remake just as much and if you are a new player, you are in for a huge treat.
Altman Be Praised
Dead Space (2023) is built from the ground up using the Frostbite Engine and it is for the most part quite graphically impressive. Again, using The Callisto Protocol as a benchmark (because I mean how can you not with both releasing so close together), there are elements in that game that looks next-gen, especially with facial animation and the suit helmet lighting in certain situations but Dead Space as a whole just feels so much more accomplished. From the details on Isaac’s engineer suit that slowly grows over time with each upgrade to the environments of the Ishimura itself, the game is just such an atmospheric looker.
On the PS5 the game has two graphical modes with the Quality mode being the default (4K 30fps with raytracing on) and Performance mode (2K 60fps with no raytracing) just a toggle away in the menu. Personally, I went with Performance because the game just looks and plays so well at 60fps, and the ray-tracing trade-off is so minimal.
The sound design in this game is also quite phenomenally accomplished with the bonus addition of 3D Audio for compatible headphones. The sense of dread with every clank or groan or even whispers in the background accompanying the grim soundtrack just propels every single step the player makes in such a brilliantly affecting way. What’s great about playing this on the PS5 is that you also have the brilliant implementation of the haptics and adaptive triggers in the gameplay. Every shot sound and feels amazing. Every reverberation of machinery on the Ishimura rattles and moves the haptics in such a believable motion that completely adds to the immersion of the game.
Unfortunately, it is not a flawless experience though as there are bits of janky physics issues like assets dancing around or even enemies spawning in hilariously wrong places and getting stuck, but it was quite minimal and hopefully can be ironed out in patches.
And Lo, You Cut The Head Off The Leviathan
One of the greatest things about Dead Space is how the game is completely HUD-less and thankfully retains that critical aspect here. Health and Stasis are represented on Isaac’s RIG suit and weapon ammunitions on the weapons themselves. Depending on the difficulty settings which range from Easy to Impossible (which affects damage numbers mostly), players will find storage crates or rooms containing health, stasis recharge, and ammo littered about for the multitude of damage-dealing options that will be at the player’s disposal. From the Plasma Cutter to the Force Gun, the goal for players is to dismember the Necromorphs limb from limb to kill them or in some cases, disable them temporarily.
When it comes to exploring the Ishimura, players will go through interconnected sections slowly opening up each section for easier traversal using the tram system. This is especially useful for clearing up side quests and also to open certain rooms that require a security level that players will obtain the further along they are. One of the most important elements is finding nodes that players can use to upgrade Isaac’s RIG suit or the weapons to boost survivability or provide bonuses to the existing weapons making each one more viable over time.
The Necromorphs are also quite terrifying in variety as one of the first one’s players will encounter would be the Slashers who slowly stalk the player (sometimes quietly from the back) and then try to mess you up once close. Then there are the Lurkers who are like tiny death cats who can stick to walls and shoot out barbs from their tentacle-like appendages or the Leapers who jump at you. Whichever enemy type the player will face thankfully the arsenal of weapons at Isaac’s disposal is quite satisfying to use especially with the alternate firing modes. One of my personal favourites is the Line Gun which usually fires a shot in a long horizontal line, but its alternate mode is placing a laser which will slowly burn the Necromorphs once tripped.
Whichever way players approach each enemy type (even in zero-g) every encounter can be tense and panic-inducing but apart from a few instances where it can feel cheap (especially with the stealthy Necromorphs), is never overwhelming.
What I Absolutely Loved
- Story – The amazing story is remixed and altered slightly but ultimately makes an already great story even better this time around.
- Soundtrack & Sound Design – Quietly atmospheric but always unsettling, the sound design with 3D Audio especially is absolutely top-notch.
- Characters – A voiced Isaac Clarke adds more to his character, but the attention given to fleshing out some side characters really adds so much to the overall narrative.
- Graphics & Atmosphere – Playing at 60fps is buttery smooth (except for a very small section towards the end with some minor stuttering) and the amazing lighting just brings so much dread aboard the Ishimura to horrific life. The attention to detail especially with Necromorphs slowly losing flesh but still driving relentlessly at you is both very gory and beautiful.
- Haptics – One of the best games that implement the haptics sensation bringing immersion in the game for players to a whole new level.
What Could Be Better
- Encounters – There are some encounters that are just panic-inducing due to the unnatural stealthiness of some Necromorphs that can feel cheap.
- Minor Janky Bugs – A few dancing assets and minor stuttering with the framerate in later sections slightly affect the overall experience.
Make Us Whole Again
Regardless of what early reviews for The Callisto Protocol were, I was hungry for a sci-fi survival horror experience that really captured the magic the original Dead Space brought but it fell so short with its barebones story, somewhat beautiful but boring and empty environments and just a less than remarkable journey.
Playing this Dead Space remake really drove home such a strong point as to why this title is such a beloved game. It brought together a very strong survival horror gameplay with incredible atmospheric elements and a very well-realized story that really stands the test of time. It’s kind of an incredible parallel how The Callisto Protocol got so much wrong even while having so many similar elements and Dead Space taking a classic and making it even better. If this remake is any indication, the sequel is in incredible hands (please remake that as well!) and for the old and new generation of survival horror players, this game is an absolute day-one purchase that everyone needs to get behind. Dead Space is back baby!