The Dead Space series was cancelled a decade ago after three instalments, at a time EA was convinced games-as-a-service were the future. But it turns out single-player blockbusters are still in demand (see also upcoming Star Wars sequel Jedi: Survivor), and there’s plenty of interest in sci-fi horror, as seen by spiritual successor The Callisto Protocol. Better sound the remake klaxon, then.
Visual overhauls are all well and good – just look at The Last of Us Part I. But like that game, this current-gen exclusive has an eye-watering £70 asking price on console. How can it justify the cost, when it’s more or less a 15 year old title with a fresh lick of paint?
As a remake, Dead Space faithfully follows the story of the first game, where ship systems engineer Isaac Clarke and his crew are sent to investigate the planet-cracking USG Ishimura, which has been overrun by a deadly alien virus transforming its workers into monstrous Necromorphs. Unlike Naughty Dog’s haunting horror adventure however, this isn’t the exact same game with a fresher face.
EA’s Motive Studio has instead given Ishimura a refurbishment, improving and expanding the space. It was already a fascinating setting that took inspiration from Alien, both in the ship’s lived-in working environments as well as its Giger-esque horrors, but new console hardware means the Ushimura can now actually be rendered as a whole place rather than split up into different gameplay sections. While it does still keep to a chapter structure, you’re also able to ride the ship’s tram system back to areas you’ve been to almost at any time.
Still, God of War Ragnarok proved exploring large environments without loading screens was possible on last-gen. While this Dead Space is undeniably prettier, it’s unclear why it couldn’t have been a cross-gen release like The Callisto Protocol.
Still, for returning fans, it does mean that there’s something new on top of the familiar. New rooms have more items and text or audio logs to flesh out the Ishimura crew’s backstory, and side quests extend the game’s original 9-10 hour runtime. There’s also an alternative ending for the dedicated to unlock.
A cut above
As ever, the twist to Dead Space’s combat is that instead of headshots, the quickest way to dispatch enemies is by cutting off their limbs. Isaac lands on the Ishimura without a gun, but his familiarity with the iconic Plasma Cutter means he’s quickly the best equipped person to deal with the Necromorph threat. It’s why even after acquiring more weapons, including an actual rifle or the ripper that’s excellent for close encounters, you’ll more often than not fall back on the Plasma Cutter’s workmanlike precision.
You also acquire abilities for Isaac’s suit, including stasis used for slowing down objects and enemies. Improved physics means kinesis actually allows you to interact with more objects now, rather than just a few prescribed things. As before, your suit and weapons are designed so that you can see Isaac’s health or ammo without any UI cluttering the screen.
For some reason this new version only allows you to invert the y-axis for aiming, whereas previously you could invert everything if you’re so inclined. Otherwise, combat feels on the whole just as satisfying and much smoother in performance mode, which feels like the way to go since graphics mode doesn’t appear to support ray-tracing on consoles.
We’d argue however that movement is perhaps too smooth, especially given how Isaac is basically in a bulky metallic suit, which in turns also makes Necromorph encounter, ≥≥≥ s rather easy. Sure, the lighting means you’re often traipsing in the dark, while the chilling audio design and high-pitched strings will have your hairs standing on end, but in an actual fight we rarely felt like our survival was at stake.
I say, Isaac
It isn’t nearly as drastic a remake as Capcom’s revisited Resident Evil 2 and 3, but Dead Space still has some significant changes that mean you’re not just playing a prettier version on newer hardware. Series fans might have conflicting thoughts on them.
Most noticeable is that Isaac has found his voice, like he did in the original game’s sequels, with actor Gunner Wright returning to the recording booth. This is meant to humanise his character – there’s even a bit where he takes off his signature helmet, so you can see his face properly during a conversation. Yet we’d argue it was more interesting (and perhaps a little sinister) having a silent protagonist players could project themselves onto while he gets on with the job of slicing up Necromorphs.
We’re also mixed over lockers and security doors needing different clearance levels now. Given you can now freely explore the Ishimura using the tram system, this feels a lot like forced backtracking. In practice, the campaign structure means we would usually revisit areas with doors that were initially inaccessible anyway.
The zero gravity sections have also been shaken up, with the ability to move around freely using tiny thrusters built into Isaac’s suit. It’s less of a unique challenge than the original game’s gravity jump, where your feet would plant on any surface that you aimed and threw yourself at. Still, this change has allowed the developers to redesign certain puzzles, including overhauling a notoriously annoying asteroid section.
Dead Space verdict
On the whole, Dead Space is a superb remake. It’s largely faithful to the original in its fascinating setting and nightmarish Necromorphs, while adding just another to make it a different and more modern experience. Whether it’s a true new-gen experience that justifies the £70 staring price, though? That’s trickier.
While it certainly does have plenty of improvements, this isn’t exactly an essential nor superior remake, especially given some changes will likely split opinion. If anything, it has us nervous over whether Capcom’s upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake will also fall into the same trap.
This is still one hell of a game, especially for PS5 owners who can also take advantage of the enhanced haptics. Just know that for PC and Xbox players, that original is still there, and just as excellent.
A solid if not definitive remake of a sci-fi horror classic
Looks beautifully gruesome and terrifying
Terrific setting now more interconnected
Great combat with some enhancements
Fixed the original’s asteroid section
Remake’s a little too smooth for its own good
Some unnecessary, divisive changes
No invert-x option