Dead Space Review

Isaac Clarke shooting a Necromorph.
Image: EA

Fans of the survival horror genre are likely familiar with the Dead Space franchise, originally released in 2008. Now, almost 15 years later, the beloved series has been rebuilt from the ground up with a full-on remake of the original video game developed by Motive Studio – and with substantially updated visuals, more immersive gameplay, and a respectful retelling of the original story, this remake brings new things to the table for both long-time and new fans to enjoy, and establishes itself as the definitive way to experience the twisted and thrilling story.

Dead Space finds a crew of maintenance technicians dispatched on an emergency mission to the USG Ishimura, a high-class spaceship that has mysteriously lost all communication. As Isaac Clarke, one of the repair technicians on the mission, you make your way through the desolate corridors of the Ishimura trying to find out what went wrong on the ship. The game doesn’t waste time bringing the action to you, as your crew is quickly attacked by alien-like necromorphs, splitting you up from the rest of your crew, and leaving you alone on the dark and eerie ship.

Traversing through the Ishimura was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had within any video game, and I loved it. The rooms and hallways can be very dark, with sometimes the only light source being the flashlight Isaac has when he aims his gun, and you never know when a monster will pop out from a wall to attack. The sound design also played a major role in creating the uneasiness I felt walking through each room. The music was extremely creepy and you could hear all of the ship’s internal sounds that sometimes made me stop and make sure there wasn’t a monster crawling around.

Rebuilding a classic

Isaac Clarke in his suit of armor.

The scares never let up, either, as the absence of loading screens kept the tension alive and kicking. There were also almost never any cutscenes – the most the game interfered with gameplay was through locking doors during specific dialogue sequences in which Isaac would speak to someone via video or audio call. These brief moments rarely felt intrusive, though, as they were quite honestly one of the only moments of respite I had from fighting creepy alien monsters.

When it comes to combat, Isaac has a decently-sized loadout of weapons to choose from, which are gradually unlocked as you play through the main story. All of these weapons are completely unique and introduce new and satisfying ways to obliterate your monstrous adversaries. In addition to new weapons, you’ll also encounter a plethora of different types of necromorphs that you’ll have to fight. Each of these monsters must be killed in different ways, so you’ll always be switching between weapons – and since you can run out of ammo quite fast in even just one combat encounter, you will be forced to get comfortable with your entire arsenal.

Isaac also has abilities that he can use alongside his guns such as a Stasis ability that slows down objects, and a Kinesis ability that allows you to lift and throw objects. Using these abilities in conjunction with gunplay allows you to get creative with how you want to kill, and I had a ton of fun creating my own “combos” in my head. One of my favorite weapons to use was the Ripper, which is essentially a chainsaw gun – it felt so good to just mow down enemies with that thing from close range, and then shoot it at an enemy at long range to take out one of their limbs. That’s another thing, this game is absurdly gory. You can smash anybody – human or non-human – into multiple pieces. There’s a ton of blood, and some of the ways that Isaac can die are absolutely brutal. On that same note, some of the ways you can kill enemies are dramatical overkill.

No one can hear you scream

Isaac Clarke firing a weapon while floating in the air.

Action can be very intense and sometimes you’re being attacked from multiple directions, which isn’t helped by the fact that the rooms usually aren’t large. If you aren’t careful you can easily get backed into a corner while trying to fend off three different monsters at the same time, that is where I feel the game is the scariest. Sometimes, even 10 hours in, you have no idea how to handle fighting three, four, or even five different enemies at once, which makes combat always feel exhilarating. Since action sequences can be tight, there were a few times where I would try to run past enemies by squeezing through a seemingly big enough space between a wall and a monster, but the game just wouldn’t let me, which ended up feeling a little awkward. To combat this, though, most of the rooms where major fights happen usually have a circular or loop layout, meaning you can usually run backward if you need to gain distance from an enemy (as long as there isn’t one waiting to jump scare you from behind).

During my playthrough, I was impressed by the sheer amount of detail that went into the environment. Throughout the Ishimura you will find lots of blood, corpses, broken equipment, writing on the walls, and so on. All of these elements make Issac Clarke’s situation feel that much more real, and kept me immersed while playing. You will also find plenty of text and audio logs that were left behind by the Ishimura’s crew, detailing the unfortunate events that occurred on the ship. I spent time listening to and reading every log that I came across and found that they played a major role in getting me engaged in the story, and were actually quite interesting to read/listen to. Some of these messages were quite memorable. For example, there was a guy who knew he was turning into a necromorph, so he cut off his limbs in order to not hurt anybody. After listening to that audio log, I saw his dismembered body on the ground. That was just one of the many touches of additional storytelling that I could’ve completely missed had I not been paying attention to these missable logs.

The progression in Dead Space is for the most part very linear, with the exception of some optional rooms that you can explore, which normally contain ammo and other valuable items that are useful for your travels throughout the ship. That doesn’t mean that you won’t revisit the same areas, however, as this game includes a decent amount of backtracking and unlocking previously locked doors, in classic survival horror fashion. I found that most of the rooms and hallways looked overly similar, which made it difficult to remember where I was on the ship and where I could find valuable points of interest like save stations, upgrade benches, and stores. Fortunately, Isaac does have a map, but who doesn’t want to feel cool enough to travel through this spaceship without having to press that map button every few seconds?

Immersive horror

A shot of Isaac Clarke, partially obscured by smoke.

Speaking of the map, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there is absolutely no HUD, and all of the UI is completely integrated into the game world. The game doesn’t tell you where you can see how much Stasis Isaac has left, but you’ll find out through context clues and by actually looking at Isaac’s suit. The map, inventory, and mission log don’t bring up screens that pause the game – those things are all accessible as a function of Isaac’s suit via a holographic screen. It feels like the developers were dedicated to making you feel like you’re the one in the suit and in the world, instead of just watching someone else.

I played Dead Space on the PS5 using the Performance Mode, which worked well. I experienced no noticeable frame drops whatsoever. The visuals were of high quality, and I did adore some of the zones that I made my way through, but I never really felt wowed by the graphics in the same way that titles like Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part 1 have recently. On a 1080p screen, Fidelity Mode off shows very little difference to Performance Mode, so I would stick with the latter unless you have a 4K screen and don’t mind a 30fps video.

The art direction, however, was top-notch. I thoroughly adored examining the decisions that went behind building the expansive ship that is the USG Ishimura. I didn’t experience any major bugs while playing, most of the glitches I came across were very minor and not game-breaking. The biggest hiccup I experienced was one instance where the game just stopped letting me move Isaac – that was the only time I had to restart from a checkpoint in order to fix a bug.

Dead Space is a stunning revival of a beloved survival horror franchise from over a decade ago. New and improved weapons and gameplay mechanics provide an experience that perfectly suits modern gamers. Dead Space stands the test of time with an instantly captivating story that fans will be familiar with, and people playing for the first time will be able to fall in love with. Motive Studio clearly shows their love for the original through their dedication to keeping the remake mostly faithful, while also improving upon aspects of the original game that felt a bit outdated. This Dead Space remake serves as an excellent way to experience the story for the first time, or the umpteenth time.

Dead Space is available for PS5, Xbox Series X and Series S, and PC.