The sci-fi survival-horror classic returns, completely rebuilt to offer an even more immersive experience — including visual, audio, and gameplay improvements — while staying faithful to the original game’s thrilling vision.
Publisher: EA Games
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Also available for: PC, Xbox Series X|S
Cast: Gunner Wright, Tanya Clarke, Faran Tahir, Brigitte Kali Canales, Anthony Alabi
Developer: Motive Studio
Director: Roman Campos-Oriola, Eric Baptizat
Writer: Jo Berry
Composer: Jason Graves, Trevor Gureckis
With the generation of remakes and remasters in full swing, it was only a matter of time until Issac Clarke was slapped back into his rig and hurled into a shiny-looking horde of Necromorphs, but the real question is, did we need it? This was the question I asked myself upon the news of the Dead Space Remake alongside the, at the time, upcoming release of The Calisto Protocol. Surely the new franchise would build upon the shoulders of the giant that came before it and excel in ways a remake couldn’t? Looking back at The Calisto Protocol a month later, it fell from those shoulders. Motive Studio has created an experience for new and returning fans of the series that goes beyond the expectations of a remake and truly trumps the nostalgia that often holds back many returning franchises.
The story of the Dead Space game from 2008 is primarily unchanged as it graces our screens in 2023. Issac Clark and his team arrive on the Ishimura, a mining vessel that has gone dark. Things quickly escalate as it becomes clear that the ship has become infected with terrifying creatures called Necromorphs. It is up to Issac to investigate deeper into the Ishimura as he tries to find his wife, Nicole, and save the remaining crew.
Some recent remakes have taken the opportunity to polish their narratives or to diverge from the initial story to create a new entry; neither of these things was needed for Dead Space. Its story always excelled at paying homage to classic space-horror films such as Alien, and it pushed the survival horror genre with its storytelling, with its fingerprints still being seen in new releases today.
Though the story is unchanged, the Ishimura itself has become an expanded stage for the narrative of Dead Space to play out on. The interior of the mining spaceship is now filled with dimly lit claustrophobic corridors that create a new layer of tension that goes beyond the feelings previously present in the original. Looking back at the surprisingly light environments of the 2008 release, it is unbelievable how scared I was during my original playthrough. The corridors feel smaller now with more refined light sources that flicker or are seemingly cancelled out by the shadows surrounding them; fighting the Necromophs within them feels restrictive in the best way and often leads to the player needing to be aware of their surroundings. These new environments, combined with the sound design, raise the tension even further, with creature cries heard rattling down the pipes of the ship, making you unsure if you are about to come under attack at any moment. This tension creates an opening for even the crackle of a microphone as characters contact Issac to be used as a jump scare multiple times. An outstanding use of sound design but one that has also led me to ask for a refund on a couple of years of my life insurance package.
It’s not only the environment that has changed; looking back at the 2008 Dead Space game, it is also easy to be struck by images of Issac throwing himself at different walls in low-gravity situations, which now are truly a thing of the past. Issac can now fly through these rooms with full 360-degree motion allowing for new puzzles that break up the familiar gameplay of cutting through the Necromorphs, but that is not to say you are safe during these puzzles. Isaac will still have to dodge many Necromorphs that will fling themselves through the air. The smile I had on my face remembering the recalibration trench as I was flying through the remake version of this level really impressed me with how well the developer has worked and how much they care about this game. This change in gameplay mechanics breathes fresh air into so many moments throughout the 11-hour campaign and creates one of my favourite boss fights to be featured in recent years. The only problem with this new 360-degree movement mechanic is that the Dead Space Remake sometimes fails at explaining puzzles past the original designs which often leads to puzzles taking longer than necessary to work out and, in turn, leads to multiple deaths.
Death is not a painful experience in Dead Space, but it comes with its own set of frustrations. I openly laughed at the first save point I came across on the map and then laughed again 50 seconds later when I ran into another one. Ishimora is littered with save points to the point where my game time was often only going up by seconds each time I saved. In theory, this should avoid the problem of players losing minutes of game time to death, and the game does feature autosaves before critical scenarios and boss fights. Where this falls apart is in moments of uncertainty or repeated failure, Dead Space features a number of moments with a small window of success; one particular room requires you to complete a puzzle while being unable to kill a creature chasing you. The problem is if the creature completes the animation for its attack, which makes its arm explodes, the whole room explodes, and the player is sent back to the door of the room. This led to 10 – 15 minutes of frustrating gameplay in which I meticulously mapped each movement, where if I missed one, it restarted the whole scenario. And this is where the Dead Space Remake cannot escape its 2008 roots. Even with the power of the PlayStation 5, the loading screens between deaths can be 10 – 15 seconds each time.
Dead Space as a whole feels more fluid, Isaac moves freely throughout the environments, and fighting through Necromophs no longer feels clunky, which in many situations is a breath of fresh air. Often being trapped by two Necromorphs on either side of you was a quick game over. Now players can make an opening for themselves easily through movement or being able to switch weapons on the fly smoothly, granting more options in every situation. All of the original weapons and upgrade systems return in the remake, but players should note that not all of the schematics and weapons are located in the same spots as in 2008, leading to more natural exploration even for returning fans. On launch, players will also be excited to see the inclusion of New Game Plus, Phantom Necromorph variations, new Level 6 Armour, and difficulty changes after the credits roll, giving plenty of reasons to keep jumping back in, further giving value to players for purchasing the remake.
Motive Studios has shown that even beloved properties like Dead Space can be improved in remakes as long as they are developed with attention to detail and what made people love the game in the first place. Dead Space Remake will find itself planting its feet in 2023 in much the same way as it did in 2008. The refined gameplay mixed in with the environments of the next generation of consoles brings Dead Space to audiences new and old in its best possible form. Hopefully, with the success of this remake, Motive Studios will get the opportunity to leave their mark on Dead Space 2 & 3.