Originally released in 2008, Dead Space was EA’s sci-fi riff on 2005’s Resident Evil 4. It took the revolutionary design ideas of Shinji Mikami’s horror masterpiece – the over-the-shoulder perspective, tense crowd-control combat and zombies that weren’t really zombies – and launched them into a far-flung corner of the cosmos, switching virus-infected villagers for mutant alien necromorphs. The results were darkly thrilling, but couldn’t fully escape the light of Resi 4’s incandescent star.
Fifteen years down the line, with so much more distance from Mikami’s game, Dead Space is easier to appreciate on its own merits. This overhaul, from EA studio Motive, is a surprisingly restrained affair, resisting the temptation to supplement the game with modern adornments. Instead it streamlines the experience, altering the layout of doomed spaceship the USG Ishimura so that players may pass through it and its many horrors more smoothly. It’s a remake that embraces the original’s taut pacing and powerful forward-momentum, and is all the better for it.
EA’s Frostbite technology has allowed Motive to inscribe greater detail into the beleaguered mining ship, while carefully preserving the original’s industrial aesthetic and oppressive atmosphere. The grisly gimmick of killing enemies by cutting off their limbs is now extra gory, as space engineer Isaac Clarke’s weaponised engineering tools strip chunks of flesh from necromorphs with every blast. Isaac now speaks, and although he says little of consequence, his pragmatic observations make more sense than stubborn silence. A more impactful design change allows Isaac to float freely during the game’s zero-gravity sections, helping his brief forays outside the Ishimura to stand out.
A script rewrite adds a few side-missions intended to flesh out characters such as Isaac’s elusive girlfriend Nicole and the deranged Dr Mercer. The climactic plot twist has also been tweaked, although the overall effect of the gut-wrenching end reveal remains the same. None of these narrative changes substantially improves things – this game was never intended as an introspective character piece – but they don’t make it worse, either.
Dead Space remains a breathless sci-fi rollercoaster: from the moment the first necromorph bursts from a ceiling vent and chases you into the Ishimura’s bowels, the game wraps its claws around your adrenal glands and wrings them dry. It constantly pushes you into escalating battles, demanding you dismember these twitching horrors with surgical precision. It also excels at keeping you on your toes, often depriving you of sound, gravity, oxygen – sometimes all three – to intensify combat.
And while its human protagonist may be simply drawn, the Ishimura has character to spare. Each chapter focuses on a different function of the ship, combining objectives neatly themed around Isaac’s role as an engineer with exciting sci-fi predicaments, such as repairing the ship’s anti-asteroid defences while giant space rocks threaten to crush you, or dislodging a giant necromorph blocking the communications array. Where modern blockbusters are often weighed down by bloated worlds or predatory business models, Dead Space cuts right to the quick.