Dead Space (2023) review: Break a leg

(PS5/Xb/PC) ***** Age: 18+

thumbnail: null
thumbnail: null
Ronan Price

Headshots don’t cut it here. Instinct and years of training in shooters tells us that a bullet to the skull serves as the shortest route to slaying a gaming enemy. But things don’t work that way in alien horror Dead Space.

The headshot was similarly almost useless in the Dead Space of 2008 and this 2023 remake sticks firmly to the script (and the set-up and the characters and the scares). You play an engineer responding to a giant space-ship’s radio silence and find deck after deck of empty corridors infested with murderous demons.

You might fairly ask what’s the point of a shot-for-shot do-over? And where are all the new ideas? But if you can forgive EA’s lack of creative imagination in bringing a 15-year-old monster yarn back to life, you’ll recognise that the terrifying body-horror brilliance of the original shines through. Not least because headshots come a distant second to dismemberment as an offensive strategy.

You uncover a dark force animating the demons aboard the USG Ishimura, and stumble on a dastardly plot by a religion called Unitology that sounds suspiciously like a satire of Scientology. As interesting as this is – and the subplot about the engineer’s wife taunting him from beyond the grave – they feel subordinate to the taxing task of staying alive while the demons pounce from all angles. Vents, doors, ceilings and stairwells all act as vectors of attack.

Pumping bullets into their brain will probably kill them – eventually – but it’s far more effective to carefully target their spindly limbs, reducing the scuttling fiends to crawling torsos before finishing the job.

This 2023 version transforms very little, as a full replay recently of the 2008 source confirmed for me. Of course, the Ishumura now looks suitably more intimidating and bleak. The audio amps up the growls, groans, shrieks and hisses to an unsettling level. A few tweaks around fuse boxes expand some of the back-and-forth between waypoints and the really annoying sequence around incoming asteroids has been tamed.

But essentially you’re immersed in a higher-fidelity version of a 15-year-old classic, right down to its marvellous weapon tool-set and deliciously grotesque mutants.

If you’re seeking demerit points, Dead Space forces you to inordinate lengths to escape the hellscape of the Ishimura – with everything – comms antennae, escape pods, power grids, etc – failing and requiring reboots, restarts and good old-fashioned thumpings. It drags out the ending considerably.

It’s an inconsequential price to pay for a grimly absorbing shooter in a memorable setting. Incidentally, Dead Space 2 proved an even more inventive sequel in 2011, so here’s hoping a remake is quietly under way if EA can’t drum up any fresh ideas for games.