PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
January 27, 2023
Second only to Silent Hill (which has its own remake on the horizon), one of the most beloved horror franchise fans have been dying for a return is Dead Space. Following a mediocre 2013 release of Dead Space 3, the series was on ice for a decade. Finally, EA has listened to the audience and is returning to the terrifying sci-fi horror adventure starting with a remake of the original title that started it all in 2008. Fifteen years and a shiny coat of paint later, the Dead Space remake is here. Though some old faults pop up from time to time, on offer is an otherwise delightful and horrifically bloody return.
Cults, the extra-terrestrial and bloody secrets
Dead Space follows a relatively true retelling of the original events. Players control Isaac Clarke, a space engineer who, along with his crew, finds himself stranded on the monolithic space station known as the Ishimura. Home to Ishimura is a group of devout followers of the religion Unitology. Before long, Isaac learns many of the locals have wound up dead, with undead alien entities (known as necromorphs) taking over their bodies. With rumours of his girlfriend Nicole somewhere on the station, friendly crew members dropping like flies and ungodly horrors around every corner, Clarke has quite the string of mysteries ahead of him.
You’d be remiss if you were new to the Dead Space series and found this plot to be unoriginal; the fact of the matter is, this is where the sci-fi horror trend in games grabbed a true foothold. The compelling story is told once more, actually aging quite well and presented as more cinematic than ever. Many harrowing twists and turns await, with slight tweaks here or there to modernise the story and the way you experience it. Smaller instances of this are extra interactions and slight changing in climactic scenes for further context. The biggest comes with the fact that unlike the original, Isaac Clarke now speaks. This is an interesting but sensible touch; our hero is voiced by Gunner Wright in the two sequels, now returning here. This suits the story being told, helping to move the story along at times it may otherwise drag if you’re solely being exposited to.
Isaac Clarke won’t be the most emotive protagonist you’ve ever met in a game, though it doesn’t particularly matter. If anything, it indicates EA and developer Motive Studio’s intent to continue onward with the franchise, marking this as a soft relaunch. Isaac at long last has more of a personality in the opening chapter of what is a truly wondrous horror series. What will be a more bitter pill to swallow is the rare occasions he takes off that iconic helmet and we see his face. It’s not particularly bad, but a little bit nothing compared to that of the original design. Those harsher than I online have likened this new look to comedian Adam Sandler. I personally just think he looks blander than ever, which is saying a lot from the common white brunette male demographic of protagonist he falls into.
Those troubles aside, Dead Space is full of more intrigue than ever. The more you learn as you traipse around Ishimura, the more engaged and ridden with dread you’ll feel. Those scientists and Unitology followers that remain are arguably more bone-chilling than the necromorphs that wander the halls and crawl through vents. They’ll be in varying states of mental anguish, laughing to themselves hysterically, ending their very own lives in front of you. These of course are all effects of the virus that has taken over the station, but genuinely engaging readables and audio logs found throughout help to also paint a mortifying picture of some of the ongoings (be it morally reprehensible experiments or general day-to-day life) on the Ishimura before the outbreak.
Dead Space’s changes in the narrative are never overbearing nor do they overshadow the original. They’re little pieces and tidbits behind the scenes and in smaller moments to provide that smoother experience. Also included are new sidequests to further flesh out the creepy world of the Ishimura. A lot of these are hunting down information from various scientists, but the most engaging is Nicole’s series of quests, following pre-recorded holograms that further delve into the complex relationship that she and Isaac share.
There is even a new alternate ending too. I can’t speak to its quality yet, as it requires a subsequent completion of the campaign in New Game +. Though I’m eager to soon start my adventure all over again, seeing just how that mortifying original ending may change this time around.
Surviving the horror
Dead Space 2023’s fixing is quite the upgrade from the original. Referring back to comparison screenshots versus seeing the game in action… it’s night and day. Often would I step into a room and be taken aback by its eerie majesty. Every room, wing, and minor detail of the Ishimura is more realised than ever, providing a breath of fresh air to an already familiar game world. So Dead Space is here. It’s prettier. What does that actually mean? Thankfully the remaking from the ground up goes beyond fidelity and has with it clever lighting choices.
In comparison, a lot of the original Dead Space was dully lit, with little room for intricacies or detailing in that limited lighting. When needing to communicate important locations or points of interest, you’d certainly be dealing with artificial and slightly more inauthentic lighting to highlight these points. Undoubtedly limited by its technology at the time, this meant the game otherwise just had you in the deep dark with quite limited vision. There’s good horror to come out of that, squinting your way as you edge around every corner of the Ishimura. However, with newer technology comes greater ground covered. Smart lighting placements and staging of the scene can help further create moments of safety or further threat.
On many an occasion, a hallway I’d see ahead of me was lit up all the way until the end, where it’d be blacked out and void of light. This resulted in moments of tension as I slowly crept my way forward, bracing myself for whatever waited for me at the end of that stretch. Juxtaposing this in a moment of fleeing from enemies, I’d every now and then see a light in the distance, ushering me in for refuge. All one knows then and there is that that last sprint, plasma cutter in hand, is all that’s needed. Moments like these didn’t happen nearly as much in the original and huge props should be given to Motive Studio’s dedication to making locations I’d visited once before both more terrifying and welcoming than ever.
Ishimura has to be one of the creepiest game settings to date. Say what you will on the well-documented discourse of video game graffiti, but I think Dead Space has always done a good job of toeing the line between unsettling environmental storytelling and in-your-face imagery. For every repeating “Door sealed. Infected behind here,” there are also gems in the form of unintelligible ramblings, incomplete poems, or alien language, all scrawled in blood. If you’re at all into that sort of storytelling, it thrives once more here, expertly depicting a station of people very slowly losing their own sanity.
A new implementation in Dead Space is higher flesh detailing, not only creating more grizzly monster designs and kills, but visual feedback to how far an enemy is from finally staying dead. Chipping away at necromorphs’ limbs, it’s clearer than ever how you may just be that one final shot away from now being safe. Similarly, bodies will rip apart and be squished in authentic means when using Isaac’s stomps. If the vague giblets you originally got when killing the undead still had you unsure if they had life in them, that doubt is out the window the second you see more clearly them soon squelching into sweet nothing.
Other than that, Dead Space’s survival and immersion are what fans have come to know and love. Cycling between weapons and trying to take out meaty foes with pulse rifles, flamethrowers, and ripper blades is as satisfying as ever. That’s something I felt was sorely missing with quite the similar release of The Callisto Protocol last month. That extra oomph. Thankfully that’s here and then some. Players will be eager to see new alternate firing modes for both the Line Gun and the Contact Beam, helping to spice up gameplay and give you that extra fighting chance in the many, many combat arenas you’ll find yourself in. There’s even that added edge of new AI design in the enemy, allowing for respawning of necromorphs in areas you once cleared. This means that even when you feel safe, you’re never truly safe.
Other gameplay elements feel better than ever too. Sequences such as manning cannons to take out an extraterrestrial mass anchored to the ship or floating around in zero gravity in the heat of gunfire are a lot less unwieldy this time around. Isaac’s iconic kinesis and stasis abilities feel more impactful this time around also, which I imagine being at least a little bit artificially bolstered by the PlayStation 5’s DualSense haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. Though that matters not. Being in the shoes of Isaac Clarke, donning that iconic RIG suit (health HUD on the spine and all) feels oh so good.
Working around the kinks, rather than ironing them out
From a typical white cis male brunette protagonist to the aforementioned graffiti used as environmental storytelling, Dead Space has to be the most 2000s video games ever made. It’s only natural, then, that some issues can pop up in remaking it. One of those is in the emblematic design of that era. Despite fleshing out interactions to make underrated sequences drag out longer with deeper immersion, Dead Space still remains a video game with a lot of backtracking. No matter the objective you’re tasked with, you’ll be revisiting environments a good amount, always in the search of that one room you couldn’t otherwise previously access.
By the same token, boss fights can occasionally feel janky, the most notable being the final fight. With alien tendrils swinging about everywhere, volatile projectiles, and smaller necromorphs to battle, arenas can feel tight. Handling all this tension while you shoot pressure points on a larger enemy can feel like a few too many spinning plates, even with the devices given to you and the otherwise remarkable way the game plays. I look to examples such as Resident Evil 2 (what I consider to be the peak remake of the day) that had small allowances in its tough and deliberately stiff survival horror gameplay. Namely, a button prompt that allowed for a quick 180 turn. Slightly extra mobility would’ve gone a long mile.
At the end of the day, this is where the audience’s opinion on this new iteration of Dead Space will be divided. While from time to time it served as something that tested me, I also entirely see and understand that Motive Studio’s vision for the remake was more 1 to 1. This will hurt the milestone status and importance of the remake for some, but there too are enough changes in the product that I can truly see fans picking apart and finding parts they like in one version more than another and vice versa. As a horror fan all about deep diving and dissecting, that’s entirely exciting.
From minor and major quality-of-life improvements to accessibility options and higher graphical detailing, I’ve only scratched the surface of the changes here. A majority of them are feats. None feel like unwelcome changes or like they’re stepping on the toes of the original. What can only be described as a gigantic undertaking resulted in Dead Space, a title better than ever and in a shiny, new and frankly terrifying coat of paint.
- Visual upgrade is night and day to the original, providing a more immersive experience than ever
- Voice acting and minor narrative changes are all welcome story improvements
- Environmental story-telling is peak 2000s, in the best way
- Clever planning of lighting and scares
- Powers and gunplay are better than ever
- Isaac's re-design looks a little odd
- Some backtracking that feels archaic
- One or two boss encounters could use more reworks
It feels excellent to be back in the world of Dead Space. Advancements in technology have allowed for further immersion into what remains one of the most engaging and terrifying horror video game worlds. The visual enhancements don’t stop there, also translating to clever planning of scares and moments of tension as you wander the Ishimura Station halls. It’s in some of this revisiting of those beloved halls that you’ll notice some dated gameplay design points not quite ironed over. However, it’s hardly a blip in the radar when you consider the other mountain of quality of life improvements to make this Isaac Clarke’s bloodiest and most delightful foray yet, with new tidbits to uncover and stellar survival horror to engage in. Dead Space has some life in it yet.