Dead Space is the start of one of my favorite trilogies in gaming. There is a remake of the first title arriving in January of 2023, so I wanted to take a quick look back at why this 2008 release has become such a beloved classic. You are Isaac, an engineer tasked with finding out what happened to the Ishimura, a spaceship in orbit above the planet Aegis VII. It is a terrifying, violent, and still brilliant title that holds up far better than I could have imagined while playing it on my Series X. It’s available through EA Play if you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, so let’s get into why this one is worth checking out.
Don’t Play it on PC Unless You Are Willing to Tinker
Originally, I was going to try and play the game on my PC through the EA Play app. Sadly it was released back in the era of real shoddy PC ports, and it requires a lot of manual fixes to get it working well. I hit a bug not long into the game where I couldn’t advance and so I swapped over to my Series X. Sadly, there are no FPS Boost or resolution enhancements, but despite its low resolution and blurry textures the game somehow still looks great.
The story of these games and I loved all three in different ways, is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. You are an engineer sent to figure out why a ship has stopped responding. Lots of bad things have gone on and immediately you’re introduced to the necromorphs. The best way to stop them is with your trusty plasma cutter as you meticulously sever their arms, legs, mid sections, heads… pretty much everything. This is a survival horror game, so your inventory is limited, ammo can be sparse, and it is still absolutely terrifying the first playthrough.
For such an old game the writing holds up well, and in general, the voice acting is solid. This wasn’t the biggest budget title, but you can see the skill, craftsmanship, and eh hem “dedication to working” that the creatives behind the series had. It is played in a rather close-up 3rd person perspective with an emphasis on shooting and telekinetic abilities. While aiming you can press X to initiate a time slowdown on enemies and the environment or B to move specific items and environmental objects. Much like the limited ammo system you have a very limited amount of this stasis power at the start. Finding power nodes and credits as you stomp on dead bodies or open crates allows you to add to your overall health pool, stasis abilities, and reserves, and buy new weapons and healing items.
There are zero gravity sections where you find yourself jumping from surface to surface like a missile. Sections with no atmosphere as a timer on your back slowly ticks down showing when you’ll run out of oxygen, and it’s all served by a minimalistic UI that has indicators for your health and stasis meters built into your engineering suit. Along with the helmet design, it’s iconic and is served further by a functional UI for your inventory. One of the other cool parts, though you do have to use it a lot is whenever you press in the right stick Isaac will put down an indicator path that shows up as a holographic image in the environment. It looks awesome, but it fades away too quickly.
One of the few other (very minor) annoyances I have with the game is how the upgrade tree works. You routinely have to spend the hard-to-find power nodes on empty slots that don’t seem to do much, and it feels like a bit of a tease as the power ramp/quality of life improvements aren’t there on every use. It’s a very minor thing though in a game that still feels well-balanced in keeping things tough but rarely unfair feeling.
The Power of Backwards Compatibility
The game was originally released on the Xbox 360 back in 2008. I was able to boot it up and play it both on PC and an Xbox Series X thanks to its inclusion in EA Play. As an older title, it routinely goes on sale for quite cheap as well if you prefer “owning” your games. It is a fully single-player title and it performed flawlessly on my Series X. It supports Quick Resume and I never once had an issue with it while playing through it. The game is stuck running at 30fps at a rather low resolution on console but it still felt good to aim in, which was a hell of a surprise. Most of the 360-era titles I go back to feel off when using the right stick for aiming, due in large part to the 30fps target so it was nice to have this one feel good off the bat because there are no options for fine-tuning any of the controls otherwise.
The story, graphics, and occasional music stings hold up after all these years. I streamed myself playing a lot of the title and while there is a large reliance on jump scares during gameplay the story is legitimately terrifying at times. It’s a great setup for what I think is a great trilogy of games with Dead Space firmly in the survival horror category, Dead Space 2 shifting to Action Horror, and Dead Space 3 being a Co-op-focused action game filled with solid moments of terror.
Dead Space holds up far better than I had hoped for. It plays well, looks good, sounds great, and is one of the best in its genre. Few games mix the jump scares with a story that provides a creepy, terrifying, and well-written plot like this one does. You can download it now on a PC or Xbox through Game Pass Ultimate and if you haven’t ever played this one before, do yourself a favor and play it.