When the original Dead Space was released back in 2008 it was heralded as one of the finest examples of the survival horror genre.
15 years later, revisiting the original USG Ishimura is still an equally thrilling and horrifying experience, but some gameplay mechanics haven’t stood the test of time as well as others.
Enter EA Motive‘s new and improved remake, which attempts to capture all the qualities that made the original game such a groundbreaking release, while also introducing modern touches to bring it up to speed with what players expect in 2023. And for the most part, it’s succeeded.
For those who missed out the first time around, Dead Space puts players in the clunky space boots of Isaac Clark, an engineer whose crew responds to a distress beacon at the USG Ishimura mining ship, where Isaac’s partner Nicole happens to work.
Upon arriving at the Ishimura, Isaac quickly realises that something has caused the ship’s crew to turn into hideous mutant monsters. The goal, then, is to figure out what’s going on, reunite with Nicole and get out of there alive.
Dead Space Remake review | VGC
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This premise – and the general plot beats that encompass it – are by and large replicated in the remake, though there are a few tweaks here and there to try and freshen things up a little, the most notable example being that Isaac can now speak.
Although he also spoke in Dead Space 2 and 3, in the original game Isaac was a silent protagonist. This has been changed with the return of Gunner Wright, who voiced Isaac in the sequels (incidentally, Isaac’s also been given a makeover so he looks like the actor who plays him).
The obvious consequence of this is that practically all of the dialogue in the game has been tweaked to incorporate Isaac’s lines. No longer does the player silently stand there while crewmates and other survivors talk at them, now the dialogue feels far more natural as Isaac gives as good as he gets.
Other tweaks to the plot may be less revolutionary, but will be no less interesting to players who know the original inside out. Some characters suffer different fates than they did before, new events have been added to help foreshadow things to come, and new side quests have been introduced to add extra lore to the story.
“Some characters suffer different fates than they did before, new events have been added to help foreshadow things to come, and new side quests have been introduced to add extra lore to the story.”
Naturally, these have been incorporated in a way that anyone new to the game will have no idea what’s new and what isn’t, so while there are plenty of changes here to make fans go “hmmm, interesting”, it’s never done in a wink-wink fashion.
The narrative isn’t the only thing that’s been given a refresh, as some of the gameplay mechanics have been tweaked and others are entirely new. Circuit breakers are a key example – at numerous times in the game the player has to flip a switch to decide where to divert power. For example, one section may require you to send power to a nearby elevator so you can travel to the next area, but doing this will kill the lights at the same time, leading to a fairly tense trip.
Zero-G sections have also been mercifully changed so they play more like they did in Dead Space 2 and 3. In the original game, players could only jump from surface to surface in zero gravity situations, but now Isaac can freely float around using thrusters for control. It’s still possible to get a little disorientated in these sections but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.
Other smaller tweaks include a redesigned shop interface, new puzzles (the annoying Comms Array one has been completely changed to make the use of the new Zero-G controls), and new alt-fire modes for some of the weapons. None of these changes are groundbreaking enough to completely change the game’s feel but they’re welcome nonetheless.
Naturally, the other obvious improvement is to the game’s visuals, which are astonishing at times. Even when playing in the 60fps Performance mode, in which ray tracing is turned off, the lighting and shadow effects are still remarkable and lead to a deeply atmospheric experience (as such, we’d recommend playing in Performance mode because the hit in visual quality isn’t as noticeable as the hit in frame rate when switching to Quality mode).
There’s clearly a lot to like in the remake, but that’s not to say that the new Dead Space entirely eliminates everything that feels outdated. Although there are no longer loading screens – the game can be played from start to finish in one unbroken sequence – there are still some archaic elements such as lengthy elevator and train sequences. These are perhaps necessary for realistically getting around, but still feel like an old loading trick, even if SSD loading means that isn’t actually the case.
Some other sections can get a little repetitive and can feel like an attempt to artificially extend the game’s length. The section where you have to find and inject an enzyme into eight different infected people certainly outstays its welcome, for example.
There are also moments when the game feels like you’re going through the motions. As engaging as the limb-targeting combat is, at times it can feel quite repetitive to be constantly having to stop because a big spiky-armed critter has burst through the ceiling or a vent for the umpteenth time.
EA claims its new ‘intensity director’ feature is capable of creating 1200 unique events by combining enemy spawns and lighting changes, but either we got very unlucky during our playthrough or a lot of those 1200 events felt pretty similar.
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Dead Space (Xbox Series X|S)
Still, while there are undoubtedly lulls in the 12 hours or so it takes to beat the game, these are outweighed by the numerous other highlights, be that the big plot points, the set-pieces or just the downright gorgeous atmosphere provided by this new lick of paint.
What’s more, the updated New Game+ mode actually gives players a reason to play through the game again, by adding new collectibles designed to lead to an alternate ending. Given that this is a $70 / £70 single-player game, replay value like that is a must.
The Dead Space remake remains faithful enough to appeal to fans of the original, while modernising what’s needed to ensure those new to it don’t feel like they’re playing a 15-year-old game.
Its impact may be lessened slightly these days – something that’s almost unavoidable given that the source material has been iterated on for a decade and a half – but from its engaging intro crash sequence to its controversial (and slightly tweaked) ending, it’s still a thrilling journey through madness.