It’s an absolute travesty that Dead Space – one of the best survival horror franchises out there – has been on ice for as long as it has, but finally, EA has come to its senses. With the survival horror genre enjoying a stellar renaissance and linear games as a whole looking like a much more attractive prospect to publishers all across the industry, EA has decided to strike the iron while it’s hot. With developer Motive Studio’s Dead Space remake, the franchise is finally back in the limelight- and it’s a comeback that’s proven to be well worth the long, long wait. In 2008, the original Dead Space delivered what is still one of the greatest survival horror games ever made, and now, a decade and a half later, its remake has confidently accomplished that feat yet again. Not only does it recapture lightning in a bottle, it also manages to improve upon the original in truly meaningful ways. It’s a masterpiece, twice over.
Remaking a classic is not an enviable task. You don’t want to stick to the script too closely, because the things you’re doing were already done spectacularly in the original game, but you also don’t want to deviate too much from the source material, because doing so risks losing what made it so great to begin with. Motive Studio, however, proves to be more than up to the task, and toes that line perfectly. Dead Space is unafraid to make changes and try new things, and virtually all of these improvements and additions change the experience for the better. At the same time, the respect and love that the developers have for the original show constantly, and never does it feel like the remake is losing sight of the most important things. This is Dead Space as you remember it, or at least as you think you remember it- but bigger, better, and more polished.
"In 2008, the original Dead Space delivered what is still one of the greatest survival horror games ever made, and now, a decade and a half later, its remake has confidently accomplished that feat yet again. Not only does it recapture lightning in a bottle, it also manages to improve upon the original in truly meaningful ways. It’s a masterpiece, twice over."
The narrative is one of several areas that benefit massively from this approach. The story of Isaac Clarke and the ageing Planetcracker-class ship USG Ishimura is one that’s been enshrined in the survival horror history books, and the remake smartly makes the decision to not mess with it too much. The larger beats are kept intact, and at its core, its blend of conspiracies, mysteries, and psychological horror is just as effective and engrossing as it was fifteen years ago. At the same time, Dead Space also makes a number of key refinements that breathe even more life into the story.
For starters, unlike in the original game, Isaac is now a voiced protagonist, which automatically means he has a much more active role in the story. Rather than just being a passive observer in crucial scenes, Isaac converses with characters, reacts to events and reveals, expresses emotions, and is all around much more involved in the proceedings. Meanwhile, a great deal of cutscenes have also been rewritten and redone, all of them for the better, with the changes ranging from simple things like conversations and dialogue flowing much better, to more drastic ones that significantly ramp up the tension in some key sequences or alter the sequence of events in others to make things that much more impactful.
An even bigger change in the storytelling is the fact that the remake uses a one-shot camera, telling the entire story from beginning to end without a single camera cut or loading screen. The original Dead Space carved out a unique identity for itself back when it first launched with its excellent use of diegetic in-game UI, and by pairing that with a one-shot camera, the remake creates an experience that’s even more immersive. The end result is a narrative experience that feels much more fleshed out and, in turn, much more compelling- which is no small feat, given how memorable the original’s story was already.
"The original Dead Space carved out a unique identity for itself back when it first launched with its excellent use of diegetic in-game UI, and by pairing that with a one-shot camera, the remake creates an experience that’s even more immersive. The end result is a narrative experience that feels much more fleshed out and, in turn, much more compelling- which is no small feat, given how memorable the original’s story was already."
The Dead Space remake takes a similarly balanced approach to making changes where gameplay is concerned as well- though not always to the same degree. Take the combat, for instance, which does tweak some things here and there, but largely delivers an experience that falls within the margin of expectations- which is good, because Dead Space’s combat has always been – and continues to be – incredible.
Rather than simply lining up one headshot after another, Dead Space encourages you to cut off enemies’ limbs and violently stomp them to death, and that core loop is as much of a blast now as it was fifteen years ago. Avoiding oncoming Necromorphs and their varied attacks, strategically placing and timing shots, and using your abilities and the environment to gain the slightest of edges comes together in an incredibly tense and enjoyable combat system, and right up to the end of the game, that tension never lets up. The new peeling system also improves upon the already-excellent dismemberment system dramatically, so that with each shot that hits an enemy, you see more of their decaying skin, flesh, and muscles tearing apart, slowly revealing more and more of the bone inside. Not only is it a brilliant aesthetic touch that elevates an already visceral game to even greater heights, it also contributes to the strategic aspects of combat, making the damage incurred by enemies much more visual and, true to the heart and soul of Dead Space, much more diegetic.
The remake also makes tweaks where its weapons and the progression system are concerned. A combination of new alt fire modes for some weapons, more rewarding upgrade paths for others, and smart streamlining changes for the progression system as a whole makes it so that you genuinely feel encouraged to use much more of your arsenal. Sure, the iconic Plasma Cutter is still the best weapon in the game, but the majority of the others don’t feel as useless as they so often did in the original game. Using them in concert with abilities like stasis and kinesis while also keeping an eye on the different types of Necromorphs Dead Space keeps throwing at you ensures that no encounter ever feels dull or repetitive.
Exploration has also seen major upgrades. The entirety of the Ishimura is now a single, seamless map, with no load screens separating the ship’s multiple decks. Not only does that mean you can go from one end of the ship to the other without having to encounter a single loading screen, the ship also boasts new rooms and some alterations to its layout in order to make all of those pieces fit together. Meanwhile, zero g sections have also been completely revamped, and now offer full 360-degree control, similar to Dead Space 2 and 3. That, as you can imagine, is an immense step up over the 2008 game. Even in its original form, the USG Ishimura ranked as one of the best settings you’ll ever see in a survival horror video game, but with all of these enhancements, the remake somehow manages to elevate it to even greater heights.
"The new peeling system also improves upon the already-excellent dismemberment system dramatically, so that with each shot that hits an enemy, you see more of their decaying skin, flesh, and muscles tearing apart, slowly revealing more and more of the bone inside. Not only is it a brilliant aesthetic touch that elevates an already visceral game to even greater heights, it also contributes to the strategic aspects of combat, making the damage incurred by enemies much more visual and, true to the heart and soul of Dead Space, much more diegetic."
A new security clearance system also contributes to that noticeably. As you make your way through the game, you gain access to progressively higher security level clearances, each of which allows you to unlock more rooms and lockers. These rooms and lockers are scattered all throughout the Ishimura, which means Dead Space, in classic survival horror fashion, keeps encouraging you to return to places you’ve visited before to gain access to previously inaccessible rooms. It helps, of course, that the rewards are almost always worth it, from ammo and consumables to audio and text logs and even side quests.
Speaking of which, there’s plenty of new side quests to tackle in the Dead Space remake, and they all feel like meaningful additions to the core experience, rather than afterthoughts that have been bolted on just so the remake can tick the “new content” box. Not only do they make exploration even more engaging, the majority of them also improve the story by a surprising degree. Characters like Nicole get more screentime and are, as a result, much more fleshed out, while the side quests are also used in excellent fashion to add more meat to the backstory, lore, and other secondary characters.
And, of course, beneath all of those layers of gameplay additions and improvements, Dead Space remains a spectacular survival horror game at its core. This is a genre that has often struggled with striking the right balance between horror and action, but Dead Space does that better than the vast majority of its peers, both past and present. The pacing, the enemy variety, the balancing of things such as health and ammo drops, the blend of combat, puzzles, and exploration- all of it was finely tuned in the 2008 release, and the remake is no different in that regard.
Of course, Dead Space’s atmosphere is a big part of what makes it a survival horror masterpiece. That’s always been a strength of the franchise, but never has it touched the heights that it does with this remake. The visuals are stunning, to the extent that this may be one of the best-looking games you’ll have played in a long time- the Necromorphs look delightfully disgusting and horrific, and the crumbling and creaking Ishimura is brought to life with a ridiculous level of attention to detail. Blood spatter on the floor, flickering lights, rolling fog, loud banging noises echoing in the distance, rushing footsteps in the vents around you- Dead Space cherry-picks the best of the best the horror genre has to offer, and implements all of those things to perfection.
"Blood spatter on the floor, mad ramblings written all over the walls, flickering lights, rolling fog, loud banging noises echoing in the distance, rushing footsteps in the vents around you- Dead Space cherry-picks the best of the best the horror genre has to offer, and implements all of those things to perfection."
It’s a game that will keep you constantly on edge, constantly jumping, constantly afraid of what lies around the corner. With its nightmarish Necromorphs and the decaying environments of the Ishimura, Dead Space creates an incredibly foreboding atmosphere, while with other smaller touches, it infects your mind with uncomfortable uncertainty that stays with you even after you’ve put down the controller- hallucination events, randomly triggered jumpscares, creepy whispers in the background, Isaac’s painfully audible heartbeat dynamically reacting to everything that happens in gameplay. The net result is almost beyond description, and captures the essence of the horror genre better than almost any other game has ever managed to do.
While some negligibly minor blemishes, such as some small-scale UI glitches, do exist in the game, taken as a whole, it represents a work of creative perfection, one that thoroughly and comprehensively achieves everything it sets out to do, and raises the bar significantly higher for everything else to follow in the process.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
A masterclass in horror, tension, and atmosphere; Visceral, tense combat that keeps you entertained until the credits roll; Exploring the Ishimura remains engaging from beginning to end; Completely seamless map; Content additions and gameplay changes improve an already-excellent experience in meaningful ways; An iconic story, made even better by smart tweaks and improvements; One-shot camera makes for an incredibly immersive experience; Looks stunning and runs great; Incredible audio design.
Some minor UI glitches.
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