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One of the memorable things about Dead Space remake is that your enemies, who are dead to start with, are reanimated beings. When you shoot them and bring them down, you have to remember to stomp on them with your giant space boot. It makes a squishy sound and it feels like it shakes the whole USG Ishimura, the mining ship you’re stuck on. But you have to make sure the sucker is dead, and they usually cough up some good loot as a last gasp.
Stomping a corpse into a bloody mess is one of the routine experiences you encounter every few minutes in this survival horror remake that Electronic Arts is publishing on January 27, 2023. I had a chance to visit Electronic Arts for a demo and play the start of the game for a few hours, getting through a couple of chapters. The devs at Motive helpfully told us to remember to stomp on those not-so-dead bodies.
Hunkered down with a giant gaming PC in a dark room, I couldn’t help but feel immersed in the experience. The graphics in this experience look pretty amazing. And why wouldn’t they as this is a properly aged remake, coming 15 years after the original game. While it’s fashionable to say five years is a long time to wait in some circles for a remake, EA did the right thing in taking its time on this one.
This game is a lot more satisfying than the original because everything is better. It’s definitely hard to remember what the original Dead Space was like, as I was a child at the time. I do remember that its 3D motion made me seasick. This one didn’t do that at all. And I really did feel like I was sucked into the game because of the one-shot immersion the devs emphasized. You have no loading screens, though you have to wait for giant mechanical doors to open a lot.
The effects that EA’s Frostbite engine can produce are pretty dazzling. In fact, the graphics almost look too pretty, as you’re looking at the hero Isaac floating in zero gravity with lots of tiny debris bouncing and spinning around you and lighting and shadows producing crazy effects. I paused for a second in a room that was filling up with decontamination smoke. In environments like this, it’s scary because you can’t see where the enemies are coming from.
Scaring you was what the original Dead Space was good at. As Glen Schofield, one of the original creators, recently said in a talk, you experience quiet moments where you are alone and waiting for something bad to happen. Waiting in fear. This game has a lot of action, but when you’re walking through blood and Necromorph-splattered corridors, you can’t help but get a little freaked out.
Fortunately, it’s not too quiet, as the remake team at Motive saw the opportunity to draw you in emotionally. Other survivors are on the ship, and Isaac Clarke, the mining engineer who is the everyday hero, talks now (voiced by Gunner Wright). The other surviving crew members tell Isaac where to go to help recover some of the ship’s functionality, but he solves some of the puzzles himself and talks things through with the other survivors, who are stuck in different parts of the ship.
One of the big worries is that Isaac’s girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, a medical officer, is among the missing. Isaac worries about her aloud, and he occasionally talks to himself to keep his nerves. While other people write creepy messages on walls with blood, it is nice of Nicole not to do this with Isaac, as he has enough on his mind.
The sound of the game is quite awesome, as the many sequences of bending or grinding metal do a number on your ears. Those moments of screaming, whether it’s grinding metal or Necromorphs jumping out at you, are quite terrifying. The crew is infected and you find people like the good captain of the ship morphing into increasingly scary and powerful enemies. Even the little baby imps that toss acid at you are hard to deal with, especially on a limited ammunition diet.
You have to scrounge for resources so much in the game that you might as well commit yourself to walking over and searching every square foot of the USG Ishimura. This is a daunting task as the ship has been rebuilt in full 3D and it’s actually a fully connected and functional ship now. You can get lost wandering around it, and I did. So I had to turn on the blue line that shows you the way to your objective.
That cuts down on the immersion, for sure, but it sure saves you some time wandering around in circles on the big ship. One of the liberating parts of the game is when Isaac gets to float in zero gravity. He can move so fast and change his orientation that it makes up for all of the slow walking.
When it comes to fighting, you’re armed only with a mining tool at the start. The plasma cutter shoots laser beams that can slice through a target. But I’m not the greatest shot so it took me multiple shots to dismember the Necromorphs, either so they couldn’t keep walking at me or striking me with their giant spiked arms. You can turn your gun to shoot off legs or arms, but that takes presence of mind. Usually, I just kept firing away and ran low on ammo.
When you do manage to strategically dismember an enemy, you can close in and melee the beast if you want to save ammo. Fortunately, you get better guns over time. The pulse rifle has automatic fire that lets you quickly empty a whole clip into a beast. But the Necromorphs get bigger and more monstrous too.
Motive has a couple of cool systems it has added. It can dial up the intensity dynamically if it senses you need more action. And it has a peeling system that shows bodies not just a goopy mess when you dismember or disembowel the Necromorphs. You see layered flesh, tendons, and bones that break. You can creatively dismember a limb and then pin the Necromorph to the wall.
Of course, after playing for just a couple of hours, I didn’t get very skillful at the dismemberment. It was all I could do to just fire enough plasma into them to keep them from pinning me in a corner. These beasts are so ugly and loud that they made me panic. But that’s not what you want. You want to be stone cold, take aim, and shoot off a limb with one shot. It’s the ammo-efficient way. Who would have thought that strategic dismemberment could be such an art form?