You'll love it if:
- You’re a fan of sci-fi horror
- Even if you’ve played the original Dead Space on release
- You were disappointed by The Callisto Protocol
Not for you if:
- You were hoping for a lot of new content
- You’re not ready to pay full price for a mostly-graphical remake
- You don’t like third-person horror games
The current video game industry landscape is difficult to describe in terms of original output. We are surrounded by remakes, remasters, and “high definition remakes” on all platforms, most of which unfortunately turn out to be low-effort ports or emulations. However, there are noteworthy exceptions to be found.
Enter EA Motive, the studio that brought us Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game mired in micro-transaction controversy. Its goal – remake Dead Space, a cult-classic first entry in a franchise that was an unfortunate victim of Electronic Art’s gaming monetization strategy. With the original visionary behind the title, Glen A. Schofield, working on his stamp on the survival horror genre with The Callisto Protocol, the door was now wide-open for a new crack at the IP.
Dead Space (2023) is a masterclass on how to remake a game without sacrificing what made it iconic in the first place. Its story is brought in line with its sequels and its gameplay is tightened up to perfection – it’s an amazing horror title for both new and returning to Ishimura.
The truth was, with Dead Space 3 putting the franchise to an untimely rest, there was little hope of it ever re-emerging from the shadows. However, in 2021, EA Motive announced that they’re hard at work on remaking Dead Space with the goals of reinventing the series and bringing it to modern consoles, high-definition bells and whistles included.
The decision to develop a new entry in the series undoubtedly came from Electronic Arts’ recent successes on the single-player front, with titles like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order bringing critical acclaim to the publisher. So, on January 27th, 2023, Dead Space came back to the spotlight – but was bringing it back the right call?
Story – Welcome (Back) to USG Ishimura
Dead Space’s story has become something of a pop-culture staple since its release back in 2008. Players assume control of Isaac Clarke (wordplay of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, two of the greatest sci-fi literary minds of the 20th century). He is an engineer and together with his crew on the spaceship Kellion, is on his way to USG Ishimura, a so-called “planet cracker” class spaceship. His girlfriend Nicole is a medical officer on the Ishimura and the ship has gone mysteriously silent, prompting the rescue mission.
After suddenly crash-landing onto the Ishimura, Isaac and his crew must uncover the secrets of the ship and its gnarly, otherworldly inhabitants that have wiped out the original crew – the necromorphs. Dead Space plays out like a typical horror movie, albeit a good one. Its strongest influences include Event Horizon, Alien, and The Thing, with the Ishimura being just as much of a character as Isaac and his crew are.
You’ll slowly unravel the events leading up to the ship’s crew turning on one another, and how an alien artifact, The Marker, played a role in its demise. At the brisk runtime of 10-12 hours, you’ll never be bored or left wondering about the bigger picture. Dead Space is a self-contained story, even though its remake is a bit more in-line with the sequels’ lore and characters for good measure.
Fine-Tuned in Just the Right Places
It’s worth pointing out that this is not a straight 1:1 remake of the original game. Its story is ever-so-slightly expanded, enriched, and improved. Any blemishes or imperfections that were left over in the original are now abandoned for story-rich side missions which add to the game’s world. While these are few and far in between, they’re a worthwhile addition to the game, especially if you’ve played Dead Space multiple times already.
The game’s biggest change however comes in the form of Isaac’s personalization. He is now fully voiced and his lines are cleverly interspersed into the existing script. It never feels jarring or inappropriate for him to speak up. Gunner Wright comes back as Isaac, now not just voicing him but lending him his appearance.
This change affected all of the game’s characters who are now modeled after their voice actors, which may feel a bit strange for a few minutes. Regardless, Isaac now looks, talks, and feels like your everyday engineer, someone out of his depth, trying to survive in a bad situation. This is an amazing change that feels right, especially if EA Motive continues its efforts to revive the franchise with more remakes (knock on wood).
Gameplay – Limb-Removal Simulator
Dead Space’s gameplay was always on a level many of its contemporaries have struggled to achieve. Most recently, The Callisto Protocol attempted to reinvent the wheel by focusing heavily on its melee combat and gory violence to poor results. Dead Space keeps things in line with its main influence, Resident Evil 4.
Isaac, being an engineer, is equipped with a wide range of mining tools that are cleverly disguised weapons. You’ve got your pistol (plasma cutter), assault rifle (pulse rifle, shotgun/force gun), etc. to rely on while dispatching necromorphs throughout the Ishimura. To do so, you’ll rely on a limb-removal combat system that discourages headshots and body shots. Instead, you’ll target the enemies’ limbs to incapacitate them.
This is a clever spin on the traditional third-person shooter gameplay and results in some very hectic situations quite often. Enemies drop loot in the form of ammo, health items, and currency which you’ll spend in Dead Space’s store to buy supplies. It’s a deceptively simple but addicting gameplay loop, especially when you get to upgrade Isaac’s armor, giving him more inventory space and armor, statistically and visually.
Given its balanced runtime, you’ll always be engaged by its gameplay and are likely to come back for New Game+, packed with even more gameplay bonuses and a new alternative ending. While the new ending doesn’t shake up Dead Space’s lore to a greater extent, it’s a very neat segue into Dead Space 2 (which you can also pick up immediately after finishing this one).
A Fully Explorable Ishimura
One of the most notable changes introduced by the Dead Space remake is the fact that the Ishimura is now a fully-explorable, semi-open environment. You’ll use the ship’s tram system to travel back and forth between different areas whenever you want.
This allows for backtracking to previously-locked doors and item boxes, as well as exploration for side missions. In the original game, you could only linearly use the tram system, using it to cap off each chapter as you progress. Now, the game feels more organic and uniform, which is especially notable given its lightning-fast load times.
Introducing the Intensity Director
EA Motive was clever enough to allow us to traverse the Ishimura as we pleased. But, how do you keep the intensity of a horror game up throughout the game’s runtime, especially during backtracking? By using an AI intensity director.
The developers have implemented an intensity director which constantly monitors your progress and performance. The AI is capable of creating random frights and events such as a foggy hallway, a creaky vent, or spawning multiple enemies in an area you’ve cleared hours ago.
This keeps the momentum and atmosphere dialed to 11 and is an ingenious way for old players to find something new in the game. However, the intensity director isn’t perfect and can sometimes be unfair with its enemy spawns. Regardless, it’s a step in the right direction for the series and if Dead Space 2 ever gets a remake, the team can fine-tune the AI director to act even more organically than it does now.
Entering Zero Gravity
Even though you’ll be shooting at enemies most of the time, Dead Space still offers plenty of gameplay variety. Given the state of the dying ship you’re on, you’ll often come across areas without gravity or any oxygen. This is where Dead Space ramps up its intensity even further, as you’ll only hear muffled sounds of enemies, weapons, and the environment. The game also sports a healthy dose of brain teasers which will have you using its Stasis (stop mechanic) and Kinesis (telekinesis mechanic).
You’ll be repairing the Ishimura from start to finish, trying desperately to escape its clutches with your crew. Beyond that, Dead Space also features pretty extensive equipment upgrade mechanics, with each weapon and Isaac’s suit having various upgrade paths. This will have you scavenging for upgrade nodes or spending precious credits to buy an additional node only to unlock a special weapon ability.
The game’s lore and the worldbuilding are mostly done through audio and text logs you’ll come across if you’re eagle-eyed enough. This is optional content that EA Motive used to flesh out Dead Space’s place in the series as a whole. With the original Dead Space being treated as a one-and-done game, the team now had the hindsight knowledge of DS2 and DS3 to play with. Only time will tell whether they go beyond a simple course lore course correction and commit to fully remaking the franchise with the same attention to detail they’ve showcased here.
Visuals – A Frostbite Engine-Powered Horror Delight
Believe it or not, the original Dead Space ran on a modified version of an engine developed for Tiger Woods back in 2007. While it was heavily modified to accommodate a third-person horror game, it’s a curious note in game development history.
15 years later, its remake relies on the powerhouse known as the Frostbite Engine, which EA uses for almost if not all of its games. It is a very impressive piece of technology that has allowed EA Motive to bring Dead Space’s world to life unlike ever before. While the game is a shot-for-shot remake of the original in many aspects, it’s the little things that count the most. The Ishimura being fully explorable couldn’t be done on the technology which powered the original game.
Moreover, its lighting model is vastly improved over the 2008 original, using dynamic lighting and shadows. Each light source now casts its own shadow in real-time, which combined with the ship’s constantly moving machinery and ever-lurking necromorphs creates a true visual treat. And while the game does feature some minor physics-based glitches (dead bodies act weightless) and it did hard crash once during our playthrough, it’s still a very impressive effort on EA Motive’s part.
As Atmospheric as it is Technically Impressive
Dead Space isn’t just a marvel to look at – it also runs very well. We’ve played the game on Xbox Series X where the game supports two graphical modes – performance and quality modes respectively. While the performance mode is locked at stable 60 FPS, the quality mode was problematic at launch.
It was supposed to run at 30 FPS, however, it ran at an uncapped 35-60 FPS instead. This made the game somewhat impossible to play in quality mode, even though the performance mode still looks crisp at a 4K resolution. The team at EA Motive is dedicated to patching the game up however and minor fixes are already rolling in on both consoles and PC.
The game truly utilizes the Frostbite Engine, Electronic Arts’ in-house engine, to its fullest with its real-time shadows and particle effects. The enemies all also include a new peeling mechanic, which peels off parts of their skin as you deal damage to them. These visual features simply weren’t possible in the days of Xbox 360 and PS3 and they’re a wonder to behold in 2023.
Audio – Noises Aboard a Decaying Ship
Dead Space will make you feel as if you’re on the Ishimura, especially if you play the game with a high-quality set of speakers or a surround sound system. The team has put serious resources into the audio design to ensure that the world you move through feels believable. You’ll always know where enemies are coming from simply by listening carefully for creaks and scratches in the environment.
Once you start firing, you’ll realize that each weapon feels meaty, heavy, and impactful, just like a mining tool should. The team spared no effort in ensuring that the voice cast also delivers their best work. Each audio log or dialogue between Isaac and his crew feels natural as if these people are going through a waking nightmare aboard a derelict spaceship. This lends itself to the game’s sense of realism, even though you are fighting space zombies at the end of the day.
To the Game’s Benefit, There’s Next to No Music
While it may seem curious for a AAA game to have little-to-no music, Dead Space uses this to build tension and atmosphere. The only times when you’ll be greeted by a musical score is when a jump scare happens, or when a particularly dramatic cinematic occurs.
Otherwise, you’ll be left alone with Isaac and the Ishimura which will carefully build up the dread of turning the next corner within you. Any form of a traditional soundtrack would work to the game’s detriment because of how effective the audio design turned out to be. Combined with the aforementioned stellar voice acting and the Ishimura’s now-iconic ship computer voice, Dead Space provides players with an unforgettable sci-fi horror experience.
Conclusion – Should You Play Dead Space (2023)?
Dead Space (2023) is a remake that turned out above and beyond anyone’s expectations given the industry’s track record with remakes and remasters. It is a game that simultaneously brings back the franchise from a long and uncertain slumber and caters to both new and old players.
Whether you’ve already played Dead Space before, or you’ve only now become aware of the franchise, this is the definitive version of the first game in its series. With titles like Signalis taking a more art-house approach to sci-fi horror, there’s a place for games like Dead Space, which are more bombastic, high-budget experiences. However, if you’ve played the first game in this series multiple times over the years, waiting for a discount might be a good idea.
The amount of new content on offer may not be worth your while if you pay full price for a game you’ve come to know like the back of your hand. Everyone else should give this one a shot and experience for themselves what the best-in-class sci-fi horror games can be like when passionate developers work on them. Welcome back Isaac, it was time to make us whole again. Dead Space (2023) is available on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S right now.
Huge thanks to Bandai Namco EU for providing us with the review copy!