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Dead Space Review (PS5) – A Triumphant, Shining Example Of How To Remake A Beloved Survival Horror Classic

Dead Space PS5 Review. There’s a touch of the bittersweet about the return of Dead Space. Mostly bitter for long-time fans. For a start, the original developer Visceral, was effectively absorbed into the content machine at EA before being taken out back. Dead Space itself was an Icarus of a franchise. Soaring high on the wave of the 2008 original and its fantastic 2011 follow-up, before scorching its wings with a third entry that was a victim of the most extreme virtues of focus testing. The franchise was wrapped up in just five short years, and it was genuinely sad and more than a little annoying that we didn’t get to see Visceral thrive.

Dead Space PS5 Review

This Is How You Remake A Survival Horror Classic

It’s a thought that has stayed buried in my brain ever since the reveal of a remake of Dead Space by Motive. It’s hardly alone in the ‘horror remake by a new team’ space in recent years. Resident Evil 2 was rebuilt by a different development team, and the upcoming Silent Hill 2 remake is being made by the Polish studio Bloober Team. That doesn’t stop there being trepidation, however. Especially with how things ended for the original developer.

The sweet side of it is that Motive has absolutely knocked it out of the park and into a neighbouring house, where presumably an incredibly weary middle-aged guy has stomped it into oblivion.

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The remake of Dead Space, and while I’m not fond of writing something so corny and overused (ha), is a triumph. Everything that was so cool and fancy about Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 has been applied here, but arguably done better in so many ways.

For the newcomers, and there will be newcomers given we’ve gone a whole console generation without this franchise, the plot is as follows. Engineer Isaac Clarke heads to the mining ship Ishimura for work, and to see his girlfriend Nicole. Unfortunately, by the time Isaac and his crew get there, a devastating event has occurred, and the dead are being reborn as twisted monsters known as Necromorphs. If Isaac and his pals are to escape the gory madness aboard the Ishimura, then they’ll need to get the ship back in working order and find help from somewhere along the way.

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The big change in the remake is the Ishimura itself. No longer is it a bunch of levels stapled to a hub. The Ishimura is now a somewhat open space where backtracking and returning to previous areas is as easy as finding the right lock to bust open/get access to. Motive plays smart with this by providing reasons to return to places you wouldn’t ordinarily need to. Firstly there is a tiered access to certain rooms and areas. Without the proper clearance (usually found on some dead folks), they remain out of reach. Make a note if you see a high-level clearance room and where you saw it. It might be super useful later.

The other reason to go back is side missions. There’s not a huge amount of them, but they offer decent rewards and delve deeper into the story in ways that weren’t previously explored. They’re completely optional, but even with an embargo looming, I felt compelled to investigate these new breadcrumb trails.

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Also of note is that the Ishimura is now looking like the most beautiful rustbucket covered in dead tissue abominations you’re ever likely to see. Yes, it’s probably darker than it needs to be at times, but the visual upgrade of the place is absolutely stunning. Better yet, the memorable areas of the original are largely kept the same in terms of design, and really show the best of the visual overhaul in action. Now the Ishimura feels like a ship, not a series of levels, and it’s up there with Sevastopol Station from Alien Isolation and Talos I from Prey in terms of my favorite sci-fi settings to explore. I’m already giddy at the thought of how good a remake of the second game could be with a fully-connected Sprawl.

But it would be nothing but a bad day trip if it wasn’t for the game it houses, and even here, Motive have evolved the established order of the original into a beautifully freakish new chimera of things. Not least in how Isaac Clarke has changed as a character.

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Isaac is the classic horror game protagonist. A fairly regular guy with a regular job in space who ends up thrust into a frankly horrible situation, and he’s gonna suffer for it. Oh boy is that poor man going to suffer. He’s a bit chattier than before, putting him more in line with the sequels, and it doesn’t spoil the dread ambiance one little bit. It always felt a bit strange that others would talk to Isaac, but he would remain laughably silent. It worked for Half-Life, but not always for Dead Space. Here, having a more vocal Isaac communicates the story more effectively, and he doesn’t harp on endlessly either.

Luckily, being a space engineer means Isaac has a strong suit of metal and hard-wearing fabric to protect him from some of the Necromorph’s pointier bits (empasis on ‘some’). He also makes the most of a tool known as a plasma cutter to great effect as a weapon against the fleshy nightmares. Motive has also brought in the telekinetic kill option from Dead Space 2, so you can rip pipes off the wall and launch a Necromorph into a wall with it.

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To kill a Necromorph isn’t quite as simple as unloading a hail of bullets into them (that can work too, but ammo isn’t that prevalent, and it takes far, far longer). The removal of limbs is crucial for slowing them down, and the plasma cutter is the perfect introductory tool to teach players. The three-beam plasma fire can sever limbs in an instant, disabling the flesh and bone knives that protrude from the Necromorph’s twisted bodies. Or literally cut out their legs from beneath them, forcing them to crawl towards you like hideous babies. Additionally, Isaac can use short burst of stasis to slow a target down further and buy some breathing space. It also comes in handy for some light puzzle work too.

The weapons were always one of the stars of the show in Dead Space and the updated versions are better than ever thanks to a combination of small design tweaks and the power of the DualSense.

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It’s not any one thing that makes the weapons satisfying to use in Dead Space. The haptic feedback is different depending on the weapon, and so are the adaptive triggers. Much like Returnal, there’s an almost sickeningly sweet feel to every round fired, and it almost feels like it was designed to make you forget that ammo wasted is death brought forward. The Pulse rifle used to be a favorite of mine in the original games, but here it has a punch to it that has to be experienced to be believed. Part of that is the kick haptics and adaptive triggers bring into its rate of fire, but the way it strips away at Necromorph flesh is a disgustingly wonderful sight indeed.

The Force Gun though? It’s basically Dead Space’s equivalent of a shotgun and it is ridiculous. It absolutely obliterates foes at close range, and its secondary fire is a gravity well that pulls nearby enemies into a small space, allowing you to finish the fleshy feckers off with a hearty blast from two feet away. I love a good video game shotgun, and Dead Space’s Force Gun is up there as one of the most satisfying variations on it.

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Fans of the original game already have plenty of evidence that this is worth playing in its own right, but to sweeten the pot somewhat, let me tell you about some other cool new additions.

To kick this off, there’s an underlying system that judges how you play and doles out extra Necromorph-based challenge as it sees fit. This means that you can never truly be sure of how safe an area is because your actions to this point may have secretly decided you need to be taught a lesson. There are moments of quiet regardless, but Dead Space was never going for the OG Resident Evil survival horror experience. It is supposed to feel relentless and dread-inducing, and this new quirk in the system casts doubt on what you think you know about the game’s ‘jump scares’. It doesn’t always work, but the uncertainty it creates is worth so much in terms of manifesting genuine surprise and terror just when complacency might have slipped in.

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Another neat addition is tweaks to the game’s story that alleviate some of its more frustrating moments. For instance, no longer will you be blasting asteroids as the ship gets smashed to bits over and over. The sections with the auto defense cannons have be reworked not only to make them less of an annoyance, but to be far more hands on than they were previously. Puzzles such as the realigning of the array have been redesigned too. All weapons can now be discovered on board the Ishimura instead of just bought in the shop, which can affect your playstyle in the early hours massively.

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The node upgrade system is still in place, but even that comes with a fresh twist. You can find and buy special upgrade paths for weapons to further enhance them. So if you find an upgrade for the buzzsaw-flinging Ripper, you can make blades ricochet for longer. Or the trusty plasma cutter can be made to increase damage with successive shots. It really shakes things up in terms of which weapons work best, and combined with the node upgrades themselves, offers a pretty refined path for creating a personal playstyle.

I wrote it at the top, and I’ll write it again, the Dead Space remake is a triumph. The core of what made the original so appealing is almost entirely present in the 2023 version, but the changes have only served to make it better than ever. In terms of action horror, this is surely as good as it gets.

Dead Space releases for PS5 on January 27, 2023.

Review code kindly provided by PR.



The Final Word

With this remake, Motive has managed to treat the original Dead Space with the utmost respect whilst rebuilding it to be perfect for today. Almost every improvement serves to enhance the reputation of a horror classic. Dead Space should be the blueprint for creating a truly exceptional remake.