When I think of horror games, one game has always been at the top of my list, Dead Space by now-defunct Visceral Games. A new IP back in 2008, Dead Space did what many other horror games have had issues replicating. It had an intriguing sci-fi premise and never jumped the shark… at least for the first two entries in the series. And it gave us an unlikely protagonist that was always apprehensive about going deeper into the pits of hell. Since 2008, Dead Space has been regarded as the king of horror. Now, in 2023, EA Motive and EA have brought it back with a complete ground-up remake to show us that the king can still keep its crown.
Set in the distant future, Dead Space follows Isaac Clarke, a ship systems engineer. He and a small team are dispatched to the USG Ishimura, a planet-cracking mining ship, to fix a mysterious communications failure. What made this mission even more harrowing for Isaac was receiving a bleak message from his girlfriend, Nicole, a doctor on the Ishimura. What was to be a simple repair mission quickly goes south—crash landing their ship on the Ishimura, for starters. And, more importantly, everyone gets attacked by nightmarish creatures called Necromorphs. These Necromorphs kill without prejudice and can turn the dead into more Necromorphs. Now, Isaac, with the help of Computer Specialist Kendra Daniels and Security officer Zach Hammond, must try to find what caused this outbreak and save Nicole while fighting off Necromorphs with modified engineering tools, solving environmental puzzles, and conserving ammo.
Dead Space is a third-person shooter survivor horror game that doesn’t hold its punches. Its third-person view eases you into the tension. As Isaac explores the Ishimura, he’ll find some unlikely weapons in the form of modified engineering tools, such as a plasma cutter. This use of weapons that you wouldn’t expect helps you think outside the box combat-wise. And the game’s flavor of Necromorph elimination with its simple tagline of “cut off their limbs” sets the stage for playing the game differently than other horror games that emphasize headshots.
Plus, its unique mechanics like stasis, where you slow objects down to a snail’s pace, and kinesis, a telekinetic-like grab that can throw objects, make you think outside the box for environmental puzzles and gives you a step up against relentless enemies. With the distinct rarity of ammo and heals that add just the right amount of stress, all these components craft a uniquely fun survival horror experience that is hard to find anywhere else in today’s market. It walks a fine balance that sometimes leans into the action and will quickly knock you down a peg to humble you if you get too cocky.
And the sound design and graphics only heighten the horror. The noises playoff as grotesque or eerie, with whispers being heard occasionally, or when someone dies, a flatlining sound from a heart rate monitor plays loudly in your ear. This also plays off well with the graphics. Not being completely photorealistic, but having things that look futuristically picturesque with a cover of tissue-like substances makes it all feel offputting. As if something might be watching you, even if it is all in your head. For any newcomers wanting to find a way to get into horror, all of these elements add up to an amazing experience to really get your feet wet.
While Dead Space easily stands on its own, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a remake after all and remaking this game from the ground up is a challenging feat. Everything has to be just right, from Isaac’s movements to the futuristic engineering tools used for weapons and the sound design. This is especially true when the 2008 version holds up quite well by today’s standards. Nevertheless, I’m so happy to say that EA Motive nailed it. Dead Space plays just like how I remember it. Even more shockingly, I was amazed at just how much muscle memory I retained 15 years later. And that’s where I think, at minimum, this remake excels. The feel of the game is one-for-one in every significant aspect. Even the gameplay elements that have been changed have been effortlessly integrated into the game.
Previously rough aspects of the game have been markedly improved. For instance, there are several parts where you have to explore zero-g areas. In these segments in the 2008 version, Isaac had to be aimed at a location, and he would jump to that location. Now, Isaac floats around using a propulsion system. I love this change, even for how infrequently it’s used. In addition, it’s much easier now to navigate the zero-g puzzles. However, the fighting in these areas has gotten trickier since you must align yourself properly to hit a Necromorph before they leap at you.
Another great change includes making the Ishimura fully explorable. Previously, each section of the Ishimura, like hydroponics, medical, or mining, was confined to a chapter. On current hardware, EA Motive has elected to make the Ishimura fully explorable with an emphasis on backtracking. To coincide with that, a new “clearance” system was added. Before, some doors were only unlocked by using a rare item; now, they can be opened by getting the proper clearance later in the game. This is a minor change in the grand scheme of things. However, I liked returning to previous areas and finding more items or sellable materials to help me in the late game. In addition, it made the Ishimura feel like an actual ship instead of just levels in a game.
To go along with having a more explorable ship, side missions were added. While not really impactful, these were an excellent addition. Especially for a Dead Space lore buff like me, these added great context to events just before Isaac showed up. There are only three, yet their objectives are scattered throughout the ship and give great rewards. These rewards aren’t critical, but they are the icing on the metaphorical cake. For instance, one side mission rewards you with a skeleton-key-like security clearance, allowing you to open just about anything. This is especially great in the late game. Another rewards you with the history of a terrifying enemy that stalks you throughout the game. Again, they’re unnecessary and don’t impact the general pace of the game, but they are there for those who want to seek it out.
There is one change though I am not entirely on board with. In the original Dead Space, Isaac never talked. He was a silent protagonist voiced in Dead Space 2 and 3. In this remake, he is now fully voiced. Several key moments have been changed to align with this. For the most part, this was a welcoming change. He acted like a competent engineer instead of being told what to do. He gave insight into key moments and recommendations for fixing the ship or solving problems. Yet it just feels off in other parts, like when Isaac is talking to Nicole or having some small talk between other characters. Additionally, for a game that rides or dies by its atmosphere, some lines just didn’t match what was going on, which took me out of my experience every now and then. Maybe another take should’ve happened to ensure the line delivery was right.
Speaking of Necromorphs, a final piece of ingenuity I didn’t realize wasn’t in the original Dead Space was how the Necromorphs’ flesh get ripped away. As an update to the weapons, hitting Necromorphs with different weapons has different effects on them. What I mean by this is, with enough hits, you can expose their muscle, ligaments, tendons, and even bones. This adds so much to the horror factor. Numerous times, I blasted an enemy with the Force gun, saw them lying lifeless on the ground, and looked away, only to be suddenly grappled by a blood skeleton screaming in Isaac’s face. They’re not just flesh bags getting hit by plasma until their limbs pop off anymore. You can actually see the damage you’re doing to them. And for a modern sci-fi horror game, it’s an intelligent immersion-adding design decision that I’m happy was added to the remake.
How does Dead Space stand on its own, though, regardless of its past? If forgetting that it is a remake of a 15-year-old game, this game easily stands on its own. If EA somehow mind-wiped the world and announced a new IP called Dead Space, and this is what we got? I would wonder where they got this piece of gold from. This is more than just a 360/PS3 game with a new shiny coat. It’s a high-quality horror game that is a great intro to the genre. With all the tools it gives you, the horror elements can be downplayed without reducing the scary factor.
Dead Space and EA Motive pulled off what many had doubted since its announcement. They not only remade Dead Space from the ground up, but they made a superior version of one of the greatest horror games ever made. It’s not just a remake; Dead Space feels like a brand new game releasing in 2023, not just a 360/PS3-era game with a new coat of paint. All the improvements and changes are for the better, and all of the original ideas hold up amazingly. And while some of the updated cutscenes feel off, they add more depth and expansion to what we, the player, experience. This remake proved its worth in today’s gaming landscape and then some. When all’s said and done, the king is back.
Dead Space is available now on Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and PC.
- Rating - 9/109/10
Dead Space and EA Motive pulled off what many had doubted since its announcement. They not only remade Dead Space from the ground up, but they made a superior version of one of the greatest horror games ever made.