Back in 2008 when the original Dead Space was released, players were almost immediately enamored with its action-inspired gameplay, space horror setting, and next-generation technology that elevated the experience to a level never seen before. It’s a game whose legacy lives on and has yet to be replicated properly even by its own sequels that eventually lost sight of what made the original game so great. After the disappointment that was Dead Space 3 was released in 2013 and the closure of original developing studio Visceral Games in 2017, the series lay dormant. So in 2021, when EA announced that a full remake was in development from Motive Studios (the same studio behind the underrated Star Wars: Squadrons), many were taken by surprise.
Could Dead Space be relevant in a very different landscape of horror games? Would a remake even work? How faithful does the remake need to be to capture that same feeling of the original? And most importantly of all, can Dead Space return to its former glory?
Dead Space (2023) puts players into the thruster boots of Isaac Clarke. An Engineer who travels to the space station USG Ishimura to investigate the mysterious circumstances behind the disappearance of his girlfriend Nicole Brennan, who is the station’s chief medical officer, and discovers the station has descended into hell. From the outset, Dead Space provides a seamless experience. Once loaded into the game, the story is told in a single long shot with no loading of any kind similar to Sony’s recent God of War games. Another welcome change is that Isaac is now fully voiced by Gunner Wright, his voice actor from the other entries in the series. While initially hesitant of this change I soon began to embrace it as it’s nice to get inside Issac’s head and hear his thoughts about the horrors he’s facing. It’s tastefully done as well; you won’t find an overly talkative or quippy Isaac Clarke here.
Perhaps the most impressive change present in this remake is the USG Ishimura. Gone is the segmented and loading screen filled environment of the original game; it’s now a fully explorable space station. Filled with multiple paths, shortcuts, and wrap-arounds, the USG Ishimura borrows inspiration from the Raccoon Police Department from 2019’s fantastic Resident Evil 2 remake in its complexity and smart design choice. With this new level of freedom players are able to complete certain objectives and explore certain areas out of the intended order. For example, in the first chapter I discovered a side path that led to a different part of the engineering section away from my objective. I was able to explore and encounter every enemy in this area and gather valuable resources. Later on when my objective led me back to this area, the enemies were still cleared out and I was free to complete my objective without the threat of something attacking me. The game is designed in a way that it rewards exploration with resources, secrets, or to provide a bit of relief later on. In addition there are also locked doors that require a higher security clearance that Isaac is able to return to later on and collect rewards. The game never leads back to some of these doors so it’s up to the player to make a mental note and return later on. Each section of the ship is connected to a tram system. As players progress through the game, they’re able to unlock these stations and provide quick access to previous areas, making return visits a breeze.
Zero gravity segments also receive a control overhaul that brings them more in line with the controls from Dead Space 2. What were frustrating segments in the original, are now exciting exploration and combat encounters with the thrill of spinning around and thrusting in zero gravity.
Combat has received a welcome second look as well. In the original Dead Space, I, like many other players, found myself relying on the trademark plasma cutter for the majority of my playthrough. Not in the remake. Weapons now have new secondary fire options, opening up combat possibilities. For example the pulse rifle now has a mine launcher that can be used to lay traps for unsuspecting enemies or a direct burst of damage in a pinch. Ammo is dispersed in a balanced way that I found myself with just the right amount of it in a given combat situation but I was never overloaded. Weapon swapping is actively encouraged to keep enemies on their toes. Also returning is Issac’s stasis which slows enemies to a crawl for easy pot shots and his kinetic blast which allows him to telekinetically pick up items and throw them. It’s immensely satisfying to hit an enemy with stasis, launch an explosive tank into them with kinesis and then finish them off with the blade of a ripper. Dead Space’s combat combinations make combat encounters an absolute blast to play and the limited resources provide an adrenaline fueled experience.
But how are the scares? Does Dead Space’s brand of horror remain as effective 15 years later? The simple answer is yes, absolutely. While exploring the halls of the USG Ishimura the tone is set by a fantastic lighting system. Some halls are well lit and others are pure darkness, often forcing you to rely on your weapon’s flashlight to illuminate the area. Hidden in these hallowed halls are enemies waiting to pounce out of the many vents. The sound design adds to his tension in immersive ways as well. It’s absolutely frightening hearing a necromorph crawl around inside the walls, not knowing where it will emerge from – if at all. Enemy designs are also as grotesque as ever and feature new models with a mesh system that allows skin to fall off in gory fashion that’s in line with the damage they receive. Whenever a new enemy emerged there was a sense of fright that went through my mind as I frantically tried to find a way to dispatch them. Other situations actually forced me to preserve ammo (and my life) and forced me to actively run away from certain situations. In one scripted encounter (that I won’t spoil here), I was so frightened and anxious I found myself having chest pains. Yes, the scares are here, horror fans rejoice.
The story is mostly intact with a few new surprises for returning players but this is also a great starting point for players to jump into the series. No prior knowledge is needed. As I said before there are a few new twists that caught me off guard but are overall a welcome surprise. This remake successfully updates the game for the modern era. Players will experience Isaac’s plight on the USG Ishimura, and his encounters with the red marker and Unitarians through a fresh new lens and its impressive how Motive was able to update the story while also making smart changes that don’t feel like they’re going against the original lore of Dead Space.
Performance is near flawless in the game as well. Playing on the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X players have a performance option at 2K resolution and 60 frames per second or a resolution option that targets 4K and 30 frames per second. The majority of my time was spent in performance mode and the game was a smooth and polished experience throughout. Dead Space also features new accessibility options including colorblind options and control options. The game also unlocks a “New Game Plus” after beating the story for the first time that allows players to carry over all weapons and upgrades into an all new playthrough. It is HIGHLY recommended that players play through this mode as well as there’s a great surprise that I won’t spoil here.
Overall, Motive’s Dead Space is an astounding success. Not only does it masterfully update a survival horror classic for the modern age, it manages to bring it to even bigger heights than expected. With smart updates and quality of life changes that don’t get in the way of honoring the original incarnation, it should be celebrated that EA took the time and care needed to bring back this dormant franchise in the best way possible. The Dead Space remake is not only the best game in the franchise, it’s also one of the best survival horror games I’ve ever played.
Welcome back, Isaac Clarke. It’s good to have you back.
Editor’s Note: Review code provided by EA.