With Dead Space, developer EA Motive comes up with a remake of a true horror classic. The original from 2008 and the second part from 2011 are considered high-quality sci-fi horror games. The 2013 third installment, due to certain stylistic choices and an oddly working cooperative mode, was for a long time the point where the series ironically seemed to die a quiet death. Or to use the classic tagline from the movie Alien: in space, no one can hear you scream. Fortunately, this remake manages to improve several technical aspects of the original game and expand on the story here and there.
The familiar story
In Dead Space, you take on the role of engineer Isaac Clarke. Your adventure begins on your way to the spaceship the USG Ishimura, where your friend Nicole is a scientist. After receiving a distress signal from the Ishimura, you soon find yourself aboard the ship and discover that something is not quite right. Several monsters qualified by the scientists as Necromorphs and a mysterious object called a Marker set the tone for Dead Space’s story. You are meant to solve several problems aboard the Ishimura as the story progresses. Of course, the monstrous Necromorphs in all their guises are an obvious obstacle to overcome. From every angle, shadow or suspicious hatch, they can appear. When you encounter a Necromorph in your path, of course the task is to kill them as quickly as possible. You do this by shooting their limbs with your plasma cutter. While this is your primary weapon in the fight against the Necromorphs, a hard punch or an opponent lying on the ground with a stomping motion will also be a regular occurrence.
Your range of weapons expands as the story progresses, and you will also have the opportunity to improve these weapons by placing Nodes on a specific skilltree as well as finding loose parts scattered on the Ishimura. In no time I had a Pulse Rifle, a Ripper that throws sharp discs and a flamethrower at my disposal. Constantly upgrading your weapons and thereby unlocking new options is an important part of the gameplay. Each area you enter you must thoroughly scour for new items and data logs that manage to give you additional insights into the story. Whereas I initially felt somewhat vulnerable in my role as Isaac, as the story progressed it became more and more a matter of cleverly using the available resources without really putting me in danger of dying.
On the normal difficulty of Medium, I managed to reach the credits within twelve hours. That gives an average of one hour per chapter to complete. By the way, this was while thoroughly taking my time exploring areas and trying to complete as many sidequests as possible without backtracking much within the ship. That backtracking, by the way, can be done in several ways. People who played the original know that you can use a streetcar to move between sections. What’s new in this remake is that all areas are connected outside the streetcar as well, and thanks to the SSD you will never encounter a loading screen. Which coupled with the graphical splendor the game displays is pretty impressive.
Dead Space is especially strong in its use of lights, shadows and smoke effects. Occasionally the textures on Isaac are a bit grainy and there seems to be some lag when you move between certain areas but fortunately these minor flaws never detract from the great atmosphere that Dead Space sets. Darkness is regularly your enemy, as Necromorphs can pop up in areas you thought you had already wiped clean. That’s thanks to the Intensity Director. A program within Dead Space that tracks your gameplay and regularly introduces unexpected moments in gameplay. Lights in already-visited rooms may suddenly flash, a steam pipe you’ve walked past six times may suddenly hiss or you yourself may find enemies in areas that previously seemed completely safe. It ensures that you are never completely reassured that you are in a safe space, and that feeling of discomfort is present almost the entire game time.
In terms of graphics modes, you can choose between Quality at 4K and 30 frames per second with ray-tracing, and Performance with a lower resolution of 2K at 60 frames per second without ray-tracing. There is something to be said for both cases, but I personally liked being able to see all the details better in 4K. Dead Space has become a beautiful game that shows especially well how filthy the Ishimura has become. Bloody messages are regularly seen written on the walls and the bathrooms and toilets on board look incredibly gross.
Another new aspect is the anatomy of the Necromorphs. They now consist of different layers of muscle and skin. This means that, for example, you can shoot a layer off an arm and then use Kinese to pull it toward you or even rip it off your enemy’s body.
More than visual spectacle
Dead Space is also very strong in terms of audio. The Pulse headset brings the experience even closer, and every little sound in your environment can startle you. In terms of sound design, Dead Space seems to work mostly with the principle of less-is-more. The very silences often emphasize the ambient sounds, and the music pieces that pass by are very fitting for the frantic battles you will experience. Another thing EA Motive has done is have the voice actor of Isaac from Dead Space 2 and 3 voice a mountain of dialogue. Indeed, in the original game Isaac was a silent protagonist, but in this remake he feels much more of a participant in the story and his personality comes out much more.
Once you have managed to complete the story after about twelve hours or so, you are given the option to start a New Game+ where you get to keep all your weapons and upgrades. While that’s a great way to complete the new difficulty levels, the New Game+ also contains new variants of Necromorphs and there are a number of collectibles hidden in the game that weren’t previously available. Do you manage to collect them all? Then you can unlock an additional ending. It also ensures that Dead Space has a nice amount of replay value.
Dead Space has become a remake that honors the original in every way. The gameplay is still solid, but new nuances in the story, more voice-acting, the Intensity Director that keeps the game constantly exciting and the strong upgrade of the graphics, make Dead Space highly recommended. Even if you played the original almost 15 years ago, the remake is definitely worth picking up. The technical improvements to the engine, the Intensity Director and the different layers on the Necromorphs, may not seem very special at first glance, but while playing you quickly notice how layered the gameplay is due to the innovations. Dead Space is an excellent start to the year and shows how to remake a classic game today.