Brands like Silent Hill and Resident Evil have a cachet that has endured decades and they’re undoubtedly mammoths of the survival horror genre, but there’s no denying that Dead Space was an instant classic when it first launched two generations ago. It upended the genre’s “aim for the head” trope, delivered a master class in tone and atmosphere and proved the exception to the rule that in space people could absolutely hear you scream.
EA Motive’s remake of Dead Space is absolutely divine.
They could have easily turned in a prettier, 1:1 experience that served to copy and paste a game that didn’t really do a whole lot wrong to begin with. Instead, Motive has taken a modern classic and rebuilt it from the ground floor to meet the expectations of ‘today’s gamer’. Isaac Clarke is no longer the stoic, silent protagonist, encounters are more dynamic, and the game’s setting, the USG Ishimura—an iconic, sci-fi planet breaking starship that rivals Nostromo—is a seamless dreadnought without a loading screen in sight.
While that’s undoubtedly exciting for people who adored the original Dead Space, I also expect there’s an audience of gamers who’ll be exposed to the series through this remake.
Dead Space’s narrative is a simple one at first glance. Aboard the Kellion, Isaac Clarke is lured to the USG Ishimura as part of a search and rescue mission, motivated largely by the fact he’s had radio silence from his wife Nicole, who has been serving aboard the vessel, after her last cryptic video log. Once aboard, things go pear shaped as Isaac is separated from his crew, pursued by mutated and reanimated corpses known as Necromorphs, and he’s left to unravel what happened here. Of course, fans will recall Dead Space having quite a bit of lore to uncover throughout.
EA Motive has done an incredible job at reworking several characters, from Isaac himself through Gunner Wright’s return performance, to Nicole and the more obscure, disposable characters like Dr. Cross, to craft a more cohesive narrative that you’re in for the duration. They’ve also injected pieces of that aforementioned lore into this game’s side missions, managing this time to show as well as tell while confirming a number of fan assumptions left unanswered by the original work.
Isaac’s resourcefulness and desperation is a very relatable part of his character. He’s just an everyman engineer and it shows through him brandishing his plasma cutter—intended as a mining tool—as a weapon. The spirit behind the original’s combat is firmly intact here, as Visceral’s genius twist on traditional survival horror tropes sees them flipped on their head. By establishing the destroyed brain matter of these reborn monstrosities, they cleverly abandoned the notion of delivering lethal headshots, instead pivoting to immobilisation. To do this, players need to sever the limbs of these horrors before leg-by-leg, and arm-by-arm eliminating their ability to reach you.
It’s an effective twist on the formula and holds up still today. The one thing that feels like it’s a detriment to every encounter and undercuts some of the tension felt is the game’s new Intensity Director. Despite the dynamicity introduced to encounters, it can tend to sap the feeling of dread as the game overwhelms you with numbers rather than fear. It felt, at times, a little closer to the more action-oriented sequels and felt notably less scary than I fondly remembered.
As far as new features go, Dead Space definitely delivers and, by the end, does feel like a new take on the experience rather than a road retread. Gated areas, unlocked only through increasing your security clearance aboard the vessel, coupled with the aforementioned side quests, give plenty of reason to trot to and fro on the seamless vessel—there’s a Metroid-feel to the game’s map that wasn’t quite evident before. The upgrade trees have been overhauled, removing any redundancies within the grid layout, and some of the weapons introduce brand new alt-fires that offer more creative and strategic avenues during some of the bigger arenas.
Moving about the vessel, and even transitioning between the story’s chapters, is also vastly different at times. I was pleasantly surprised at how often this Dead Space remake would subvert what I thought was coming and present the original’s story beats through a new lens.
Areas of the map with zero gravity now allow unfettered free movement, which is more in keeping with the original’s sequels. There are also a bunch of environmental obstacles, in the form of corrupted tendrils that can only be eradicated by shooting the glowing pustules. On top of challenging player progression throughout the ship, they also serve to pre-empt the weak spots on Dead Space’s infamous boss encounters. I’m also part way through my new game plus run and the addition of unique collectibles, stronger enemy variants and an alternate ending are going to do plenty to get me through again.
As with most remakes, and even remasters, the most apparent improvements come by way of fidelity and performance. Motive’s is clearly the prettiest and most optimised version of the game we’ve had the pleasure to play, and I certainly recommend people diving back in to opt for the performance mode. The rock solid frame rate lends to the game’s immersion and keeps players looped into the action. The game’s use of light and shadow has been completely overhauled, giving an even more grim personality to the game’s shining star—its world. It’s different enough, however it certainly honours Visceral’s tone, art direction, and atmosphere.
One thing Resident Evil 2’s remake did exceedingly well was the wet gore that added a real splash to all things gruesome. Dead Space serves up the same sinewy slop alongside a layer system that results in literal peeling of flesh from bone. The first encounter where I stripped away meat from a Necromorph’s shin left me aghast. It really enhances the shock factor of having to shoot appendages off of the shambling dead.
One touch I really loved was the retro futuristic holographic menu that returns from the original game. It’s minor and ultimately means little in the game’s context, but seeing it and feeling that pang of nostalgia served as the perfect return to Dead Space.
EA Motive could have taken a path of least resistance in delivering a Dead Space remake, though I’m thankful for everything they’ve poured into what is a tremendous reimagining of one of gaming’s truly iconic horror games. It’s gorier than ever, the story is made whole, encompassing lore elements once merely pieced together by its fan base, and feels like a genuinely fresh twist on the original.
The expanded story and lore is great
I’m glad they did away with the stoic silent protagonist
The world is tremendously rebuilt and astoundingly seamless
Looks stunning in action
The intensity director does sap part of the original’s fear factor