Dead Space (PC) Review

By Michael McCann 11.06.2023

Review for Dead Space on PC

Dead Space is a vibe. The original sci-fi action-horror title released back in 2008 and was popularised shortly thereafter for being a startlingly realistic portrayal of the times. It was an era of BlackBerrys, convoluted island-based fiction on the TV, and widespread, crippling financial collapse. They're all cultural touchstones that have admittedly dated in the 15 years since (except for maybe that last one, which appears more as a precipice in hindsight), but it is with no doubt for a good reason, with such out-of-date factual content, that Electronic Arts has decided to dust off the oft neglected IP along with in-house developer Motive. It helps that in the interim substantial leaps have been made in the categories of graphics, gameplay, audio, technology and audio-technology within interactive media, so this too, guv'nor, is also quite a good reason for now being a viable time for a remake. These advancements could reductively be compared to a fresh lick of paint in some darkened corners. Cynical corners. Corners of companies with corners to cut. After all, it's an existing design framework that can be exhumed, repackaged and resold. Something, mayhap, to fill up a release schedule. In this re-instance, however, it has, at the very least, never felt more brand-new or immersive.

Good graphics. Whether or not "good" graphics make the game, or if the highest of graphical fidelity is the be-all and end-all for the enjoyment of the best that the industry has to offer, is a tired, old debate. That they do and are has largely been debunked in more recent times by a widening of the market to include more casual and indie developed titles, as well as a flattening of the AAA advancement curve versus increasing.

That isn't to mention eye-watering production costs for these types of titles, the establishment or pre-eminence of more standardised practices, standardised game engines and standardised system architectures and hardware, as well as the sales success of the Nintendo Switch and that company's propensity to place a premium on game design, their brand strength and art direction over pure graphical horsepower (at least from a mainstream perspective). Don't forget perpetual titles, too, built upon systems created decades ago that just simply will not die.

With all that said, Dead Space has good graphics - and it is one of the most immediately appealing and engaging aspects of this remake.

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From the opening cinematic of the USG Kellion's recon team attempting to dock with mining ship and 'Planet Cracker,' USG Ishimura, to navigating the abandoned corridors and various quarters of the latter during gameplay segments and set-pieces, the visuals, and by further extension, overall production values, in Dead Space-what-is-remade are a delight to bathe in.

In large part, this is due to the excellent lighting work on display. While elements of the graphics, such as geometry, aren't particularly high poly or overly complex due to the nature of what the locale is, volumetric light and fog masterfully awash every detail in its environments; the lighting telling a story and directing much of the tone of the piece just by itself alone.

Very few instances break the illusion of exploring the distressed Ishimura as protagonist and engineer Isaac Clarke; fog, texture mapped onto a flat plane in one area, or chairs which feel slightly "off"-scale only stand out by their mere exception to the otherwise immaculate presentation. Assets are reused quite liberally, but generally Dead Space can get away with this as there are some infrequent yet well-placed aesthetic breaks away from the repetition, and also it does feel entirely congruent with how one would imagine a future-industrial-space-planet-cracking-mining ship would be laid out and constructed.

Screenshot for Dead Space on PC

It should be noted that some art assets, utilised as 'in-world' advertisement, propaganda or otherwise ephemera, don't quite fit in with the overall art direction of Dead Space's world, stylistically speaking. Although it is an extreme nitpick to bring up, and might be faithful to how it always was, it is enough to occasionally give one pause. Even so, it would be exceedingly difficult to deny that the USG Ishimura really works as a setting.

It's a totally oppressive and unnerving setting for horror, yet completely believable as an operational place of utility and function prior to the mysterious events that bring Isaac and co there. Perhaps, that is, it would be believable apart from the banking and shopping system onboard the Ishimura, which remains completely intact and unscathed by the events, despite most, if not all of the other critical systems on the ship being down upon arrival (that's post-late-late-late stage capitalism for you!).

Also, and rather comically, the title reinforces a commonly held personal belief that anyone who's anyone will become an amateur graffiti artist in the event of a societal collapse; and certainly, due to all of the still ripe bananas lying around, one can ascertain that this will happen at the drop of a hat, no matter whom, no matter where, no matter what.

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All joking aside, it works because Dead Space wears its influences somewhere between the electromagnetic cuff and steel-plated collar of its engineering armour. The reference points, story beats and gameplay mechanics are all blatant, informed predictably by movies such as Alien or Event Horizon, and video games such as the Metroid series.

One property that Dead Space does take from most liberally, however, and rather coincidentally, also has a full-blown remake of its own this year. It cannot be understated the impact that Resident Evil 4 had on the games industry back in the 'aughts - it revolutionised the action genre and narrative structure for AAA video games in ways that are still being seen today; current review notwithstanding. It's clear that the original pitch for this title came off the back of seeing Resident Evil 4's success, and then someone at the then-Visceral Games office saying, "Let's do that… but in space!"

On this assumption, this Dead Space remake is abstracted from, but also forever entwined with the original release's impetus for being, and therefore has an ironic sincerity afforded to it by the very nature of what the label "remake" is now becoming to mean in 2023. Because, as previously alluded to, it, too, isn't completely without a small degree of cynicism.

Screenshot for Dead Space on PC

There's this ever so slight feeling with Dead Space that's like that of the experience of meeting a person in real life that one can get quite smitten with on an initial meeting. There's the sense, or even evidence to, that alludes toward a majority of others being so, too. This person will present immaculately, be charismatic, and say all of the right things at the right times, but one will eventually come to find the reality of what these descriptors are: a well constructed facade for something that ultimately ends up being much, much less palatable.

Of course, it's fun to speculate, but this remake comes at an interesting time for EA. Rumours are abound that they're seeking acquisition or merger with a larger conglomerate to remain competitive as one of the globe's biggest video game publishers, and also in light of other competitor buy-outs and monopolisation attempts happening in the wider industry at this current juncture. In addition, with some reported uncertainty for their bigger, licenced cash-cows, the resource drain of games as a service model (excluding Apex Legends!) and a fair amount of negative press for the company over the last decade or so, it just is an intriguing time for them to be doubling down on old, no-nonsense, single-player focused IP.

Star Wars: Fallen Order was a hard convinced success for the company, it seems, and, indeed, it's worth mentioning (though it's not exactly the same thing): EA is also bringing back the old Skate team to develop a new title in that franchise after years of nowt. This reviewer will make the bold proclamation right now: it would not be at all surprising to see a new SSX or Burnout, or even (perish the thought) Black announcement in the relative coming days, weeks, months and years.

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Regardless of whatever the top-level reasons are, the age of the remake is upon us, and, in truth, there's something that's comforting and enjoyable about the old-school cadence and rhythm of Dead Space. It comes via the way of mostly linear, tightly directed progression, but also via way of the ratio and layout of elements like rooms, doors, vents and lift types. It's a video-gamey logic that's hard to describe, but has in recent years been obfuscated somewhat by other dominating facets that have taken their place. Narrow shimmy spaces, we're looking at you!

It's as if the constituent elements making up the experience could be ripped succinctly from a game design document someplace in a very undiluted way, and yet they upend any doubt of themselves in the practical sense. The original The Last of Us gets mentioned often when alluding to this concept, such like when a room is full of blocky, waist-high cover that doesn't quite make sense in real-world terms, but within the game world context it signifies more than just the place or setting. This application beyond is that which can direct or subvert a player's expectation, when immersed, and is subconsciously employed or accepted as such by the player.

On the aforementioned point of chair scale, this, too, could be a contributor to this particular feeling, and it is a wonder if it were different, would some of that "feeling" be negatively impacted? Most evident is it in the vent system running through the entire Ishimura, placing multiple instanced, rectangular fan outlets in almost every nook of every room and every corridor. Their design doesn't really make sense outside of Dead Space, that the same quite obtrusive vent would be carbon copied across a spaceship-blueprint, much less be followed through and constructed on in the design, but the disbelief can be suspended as there is a solid logic (as well as other things!) behind the vents.

Perhaps EarthGov got them all as a cut rate job lot and then had to use them all up before a yearly budget review? Most importantly, though, is that they serve gameplay - that is, primarily for the enemies in Dead Space, Necromorphs, to jump out from and scare the player.

Screenshot for Dead Space on PC

The frequency of these vents add to a state of mind that is of constant anticipation. Jump scares do indeed come quite often in Dead Space, and particularly in the early goings. So often are they that it's surprising how quickly one can get acclimated to being surprised without having a minor cardiac arrest every time that it happens; however, the vent placement does ensure that one can never quite ever fully relax. It certainly was enough to make this reviewer stomp almost every single corpse to pieces before moving on and keep two save files on the go, just to feel that bit more protected.

The scares never tip the balance towards being unbearable, though, and the feeling is largely mitigated by the accumulation of weapons and upgrades (it's always safe with a shotgun, or whatever the sci-fi equivalent is), as well as learning more of the backstory from text and audio logs scattered onboard the Ishimura. It should be mentioned that audio and text logs can often present as filler in many stories, but that isn't the case here. Despite being quite "on the nose", it remains thoroughly engaging throughout, like a good pulp.

Some of the scarier moments, oddly, come in the later stages, after a false sense of security has set in - for example, when running around the ship to complete side quests or objectives. Most of the rooms will have been previously cleared, and it's generally a bit quieter and less threatening getting about, yet enemies can still dynamically spawn and catch one totally off guard.

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Action is frenetic and scrappy, famously defined by focusing attacks toward the limbs of the Necromorphs to most effectively dispatch by way of dismemberment. It's a tactic that's reinforced by the first weapon acquired, the iconic plasma cutter. It has the secondary function of rotating the slice of its shot to either the vertical or horizontal positions to assist in limb cutting, depending on their orientation, and it stays as an effective tool in Isaac's arsenal for the duration of Dead Space's roughly 15-20 hours of playtime.

There's a good, if typical, enemy variety ensuring different types will be of a prioritised focus over others in the heat of battle and require varied strategies to thwart. Ammo and health supply always feels like it's right on the cusp of running out, enthrallingly retaining a feeling like Isaac has only just pulled through most encounters before the relief of finding the next save point or shop terminal. It's all peppered with some light puzzling, often of the keycard variety, which is none too taxing on the old grey matter, but it does add towards Dead Space's great flow. Some scenarios will even merge battle arenas with puzzle elements, whilst having to manage things like oxygen and status depletion all at the same time, and it can lead to some thrilling sequences.

Encounters can also take place in zero gravity, easily one of the key mechanics that differentiates Dead Space from other over-the-shoulder action titles. It's one of the elements that's been considerably reworked from the original, so much so that it's hard to imagine a Dead Space without the current implementation of the mechanic in it. It feels largely natural in its inclusion, and it makes it so that the way that one has to think about the physical space, movement around it, and things like where enemies will come from, can change on the fly.

Other changes have been made between this remake and the original, which include the addition of side missions that further flesh out backstory and character details, should one choose to explore them deeper, and the more fundamental change of making Isaac a voiced protagonist where once he was mute. There seems to be some mixed opinion online about this change, and certainly there is a further debate to be had about voiced versus unvoiced characters in video games; however, not being as familiar with the original, it is appealing that Isaac's characterisation isn't totally that of the typical 'gruff' action hero-type. It's positioned more as a middle-aged man who would be lost without work in his life. An every man that is perhaps a little too trusting or oblivious to many of the circumstances he finds himself in.

Screenshot for Dead Space on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

It feels like it would be a foregone conclusion that the Dead Space remake would be an unmitigated home run, but in truth that that really isn't the case. There was a huge margin for folly with the amount of time placed between this and the original. The fact that it doesn't, and feels so natural as it doesn't, is a testament to the talents of the developer, Motive. It will be an interesting exercise to compare this to the Resident Evil 4 remake and Metroid Prime Remastered, such stylistically or thematically similar titles released within the same quarter, as this being the first out the gate has set a high watermark early on into the year. It wins on its top tier presentation alone, and although it can sometimes feel like that's the main contributor that's modernising the experience, there's a great novelty and appeal to some of its, should we say, relics to game design of the past. Chiefly, relics that are of a focused, directed single-player experience that don't overstay their welcome and don't manipulate the player beyond the experience itself. Let's see how long that one lasts when we're drowning in remakes, shall we?

Developer

Motive

Publisher

Electronic Arts

Genre

Horror

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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