(Re)make us whole again
It’s been 15 years since Dead Space first hit the Xbox 360, and a lot has happened since then. Survival horror and action games have evolved a lot in that timeframe. With the prospect of reviving a dormant but well-remembered franchise, EA Motive has quite a task.
For the most part, though, Motive has managed to revive the spirit while reimagining the container. The Dead Space remake frequently surprised me, both in how it put twists on familiar moments and still held true to the spirit of the original. Those fans who have been hoping for their limb-cutting, boot-stomping blend of action and body horror to arrive should be satisfied in Motive’s take on Dead Space.
Dead Space (PS5 [reviewed], Xbox Series X|S, PC)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: January 27, 2023
The crux of Dead Space is still the same: engineer Isaac Clarke and a small band of operatives are responding to a distress call from the planet-cracking USG Ishimura, a station that’s also home to Isaac’s long-distance partner Nicole. A crash-landing leads the crew to begin exploring a ship that’s clearly fallen into disrepair, and they soon learn why as screaming, terrifying horrors dubbed “necromorphs” start crawling out of the air ducts, straight for their throats.
Some of the most noticeable differences between Motive’s remake and the original Dead Space are in the story. To be clear, broad story beats are still intact. But the way they happen, how characters are introduced or even possibly perish are changed, and things just play out a bit differently than you may remember. It’s not quite at the scale of Resident Evil 2, but there’s enough that I kept opening up old videos and surprising myself at how Motive had reimagined this story.
Even the way Isaac gets from chapter to chapter has changed, thanks to a few new ways for him to get around the Ishimura. The zero-gravity moment from later Dead Space replaces the swimmer-kick-and-launch from the 2008 Dead Space, and the results are pretty great. I did find reorienting was a bit awkward, so I spent a decent chunk of my zero-G time flying parallel to the “floor.” Still, sections that felt a bit stiff in the original now feel way more fluid and mobile in the remake.
Speaking of stiff, forget the old turret sequences. Rather than sitting in a chair and firing cannons at asteroids, the turret-centric portions take on a more active approach. I won’t say too much more, but Motive took those, some of my least favorite sequences in the original, and made them some standout sections.
The tram is also a bit different, serving as the fast-travel hub for a much more open Ishimura. Node doors have been done away with, and you’re encouraged to backtrack more through Isaac’s Security Clearance level, which bumps up at different points in the story. It makes sections where you’re treading back through old haunts feel a bit fresher, as there may be new treasure to discover.
Something that I didn’t gel quite as well with were the side quests. Motive has introduced a few side quests that expand the narrative of the game, diving deeper into certain characters or different sides of the Ishimura crew. While I enjoyed the drive and some of the content itself, actually back-tracking for these objectives felt a bit hollow, as it usually just meant walking back through old corridors, following my basketball-dribble waypoint line to its next target. Some are gated by security level too, something you might not realize until you get there and find out you can’t open the right door yet.
When the narrative takes drastically different turns, though, it really works. A few moments have some massive added drama and tension, characters from the original shine in new ways, and the remade versions of them look fantastic. Isaac even speaks and removes the helmet a few times, with his Dead Space 2 and 3 voice actor Gunner Wright lending his voice. It works really well, and builds up the big dramatic swings very well.
Visually, Dead Space looks great. I mostly stuck to Performance mode on my PlayStation 5, opting for the 60 FPS that made the action feel crisp and responsive. Even then, when not on the ultra-high scale settings, Dead Space looks good. Seeing all the rusted metal and occasional glints of light, contrasting the shadows where fleshy, lumpen necromorphs waited to pounce, felt like seeing Dead Space the way I remembered it.
Still, so much of what drew me to Dead Space is still here. Isaac is an engineer, trying to survive on a mining ship, so his implements and arsenal are all improvised from tools not normally meant for such violence. The Plasma Cutter rips through limbs, the Ripper slices through bodies, and the Force Gun lets out a deafening boom with each discharge. And yes, the chopping is still good. Blowing off a necromorph’s claw, grabbing it with Kinesis and sending it flying back still feels great.
There’s something about this era of game design that still shines through, and still hasn’t been lost in the update. Dead Space rarely wrests the controller away from me. And everything in its world is reactive and tumbling into each other. In one zero-G section, I was trying to line up an explosive container, to blast towards a pesky wall-clinging necromorph, when it lunged at me. I dodged to the side, still holding onto the container with my Kinesis ability, and watched as it slammed face-first into the barrel and blew itself up. It would’ve been brilliant had I planned it, but was even better in the way I hadn’t.
My absolute favorite moment of playing the remake happened during a tense fight. Necromorphs were crawling out of vents and gutters, cornering me on a narrow walkway, and I pulled out my Line Gun. I figured putting a laser trap on a handrail would give me a nice way to stem the tide, and slow down my pursuers as I fought for better ground. My shot went a little wide though, and instead of landing on the rail, it attached itself to a necromorph’s head.
Rather than shutting off, the laser activated. Now, normally, the laser would act as a wire, running from its origin point to an endpoint directly across, slicing enemies in half as they tried to walk through it. Well, that origin point was now attached to an angry necromorph’s head, and the laser now emitting from his dome was whipping around the room, like I had startled Cyclops from the X-Men.
These moments, of interactivity and reactivity, are the heart of Dead Space for me. I don’t think it’s particularly scarier than other action-leaning survival horror games. It’s certainly demanding, asking me to count my inventory and savor every health pack, making calculated risks by selling items for precious nodes that can upgrade my weapons or armor. Isaac is slow and not meant for acrobatics, and the weapons can feel clunky in a good way, mirroring how Isaac is repurposing his Space Home Depot loadout for real-time alien downsizing. Stomps made my haptics rumble, and instant deaths were brutal and quick, punctuated by the trademark flatline blaring in my speakers.
What Dead Space still nails, alongside the atmosphere and a story that’s given some extra momentum from Motive’s tweaks, is the fast and evolving survival situations. It’s walking into a room, seeing a red barrel in one corner and some stompable crates in another, and knowing you’re about to get ambushed. It’s questioning every air vent you see, and smiling when the game’s intensity director gives it a little spin, just to keep you on your toes. It is my wildly flailing laser-head zombie, slashing up his compatriots and taking a chunk out of me in the process. I couldn’t even be mad. It was just good.
There are some hitches that I ran into, from some odd menu fuzziness to pick-ups that would stubbornly refuse to be picked up, and even some weird save issues—nothing that killed my progress, but definitely enough to keep me a bit cautious.
It feels great to just dive back into the USG Ishimura, though. Dead Space as a concept still holds up, and the reworking EA Motive has provided highlights its best features while shoring up old pitfalls. Sci-fi survival horror fans should get what they want out of this: the return of a classic, with gorgeous graphics and some new twists, but the same old boot-stomping good time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]