When it comes to the remake, a relatively new phenomenon in the videogame space but becoming more and more prevalent as time goes on, the longer the distance between the original release and the remake, the better. Not in terms of game mechanics, design, or story but purely in the technical realm. As time goes on and gaming hardware becomes more powerful, modern game engines can push more detailed visuals and immersive special effects.
For this reason, a shot-for-shot remake for an older videogame makes sense when a similar scenario for a film doesn’t. Dead Space
is a built-from-the-ground-up remake of the iconic 2008 science fiction horror game developed by Visceral Games
for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. It’s a faithful recreation of what many believe to be a milestone release for the horror genre. Myself included.
Because enough time has passed, Motive’s use of cutting-edge visual effects and EA’s powerful Frostbite
engine ramps up the immersion and tension in Dead Space to remarkable new heights. Although this might have been (or hoped to have been) the expected outcome by fans, it does bring to light the idea that the horror genre is the ideal candidate for the remake treatment.
It’s a faithful recreation of what many believe to be a milestone release for the horror genre. Myself included.
As seen with Capcom’s impressive Resident Evil 2 reimagining, increased visual fidelity, dynamic lighting, improved shadow effects, higher quality environments, characters, and even crisper and more vibrant soundtracks, is the outcome.
For Dead Space, reviewed on PC, this means adopting ray-traced ambient occlusion and some of the most impressive lighting and volumetric fog effects we’ve seen in a game. Remake or not, Dead Space is a visual tour de force. On the highest ultra-quality settings, it needs something as powerful as the GeForce RTX 4080 with DLSS rendering enabled to deliver what it does; a seemingly endless stream of stunning, beautiful, and unnerving backdrops.
Thankfully the underlying game mechanics, design and story still resonate to the point where we wouldn’t be remiss to call Dead Space’s action and level design timeless.
Dead Space was one of my favourite games from the Xbox 360 generation, so this remake has been on my most anticipated games list for some time. Make of that what you will, but not having played the game for several years, it’s remarkable how well it all holds up. And just how terrifying, immersive, and downright memorable Isaac Clarke’s journey through the USG Ishimura is. The setting of a giant derelict spaceship (a planet cracker, no less) is as essential to the tone and feel as Isaac’s background as an engineer. The USG Ishimura is, in many ways, the main character in the game.
One of the most significant changes that Motive brings to Dead Space can be seen in the opening moments, as Isaac and his team approach the USG Ishimura. And that change is pretty simple, Isaac Clarke is now fully voiced (with Dead Space 2
’s Gunner Wright
reprising the role of Isaac), which leads to him playing a more prominent and central role in how the story unfolds.
From restoring communication systems and power to the tram network, to entering zero-g zones for maintenance, formulating and executing plans as part of a team is a great addition. Or, more commonly, adjusting and adapting as the Necromorph threat runs rampant throughout the USG Ishimura’s various sub-sections. It makes sense and adds quite a bit to what was previously a silent protagonist that was given thankless task after task to complete.
The setting of a giant derelict spaceship (a planet cracker, no less) is as essential to the tone and feel as Isaac’s background as an engineer. The USG Ishimura is, in many ways, the main character in the game.
One minor issue with the implementation is that conversations involving Isaac’s crew asking about progress begin right after you do that thing, as opposed to right before -- which would have felt more natural.
This is not to say that Dead Space has been (necro)morphed into this character-driven cinematic science fiction tale. Isolation, dread and unrelenting tension still sit firmly at the core of the experience. And really, Dead Space works best -- and exceptionally well -- in the context of an action-horror game. The idea that the Ishimura is the main character in Dead Space is born from this; a videogame-like series of memorable corridors and connected rooms, but also a place that feels lived in, authentic, and menacing in scope and functional design.
As Isaac, it’s not long before you come across your first Necromorph, a mutant hybrid of humanoid body parts and fleshy bits of pure horror. From their animation to sound design, the shock and horror aren’t born from a jump-scare necro popping out of a vent -- but you, and Isaac, taking a look and seeing what’s now right there. Wearing a heavy engineer’s suit and armed with a Plasma Cutter tool not designed for combat leads to a string of design choices and flourishes that add to Dead Space’s legendary status.
As the Necromorphs are mutant, undead space nasties with anatomies that defy (and projectile bile-spit in the face of) logic, the Plasma Cutter is used to dismember limbs and body parts, with the ultimate goal being almost to disassemble, versus outright “kill.” Issac’s movement might be slow due to being wrapped in thick canvas and space-ready metal, but the weapons at his disposal are fast, brutal and non-traditional in the best sense.
This is perhaps the genius of Dead Space’s action. Movement and exploration are measured, and the action is fast, reactive and immediate. Often you’ve only got a few seconds to pick that Weapon of Choice
and get down to business. With limited weapon and suit upgrades, the action alone is enough to warrant a second New Game+ playthrough.
Remake or not, Dead Space is a visual tour de force. On the highest ultra-quality settings, it needs something as powerful as the GeForce RTX 4080 with DLSS rendering enabled to deliver what it does; a seemingly endless stream of stunning, beautiful, and unnerving backdrops.
Although the underlying engine has changed, the combat feels as responsive and explosive as the original. The immersion factor is just as well realised, thanks to the lack of a traditional videogame UI and other menu elements. Like the original game, Isaac’s health is visible on his back, and bringing up his inventory presents an in-game visual overlay that doesn’t pause the action. Groundbreaking at the time of the original game’s debut, it’s still impressive in 2023.
There are several subtle improvements made, from the improved map that helps you keep track of side-quests and what areas you have or haven’t visited, to the expanded back-tracking (and even some new regions and missions) that adds more variety to the task at hand. The new lighting adds a dose of mystery to each new location, too. How this remake plays with visibility is remarkable, entire rooms can be pitch black or require Issac’s torch to explore fully. And triple-check to ensure there aren’t any nasties lurking in the shadows. Compared to the 2008-era lighting of the original, it’s a revelation. The USG Ishimura feels alive, with random blackouts adding to the tension.
Even minor details like Isaac returning from small excursions into the cold and dark embrace of space and seeing those ice particles melt, giving his suit a liquid sheen -- are all excellent. The level of detail here is next-level.
In the end, there will be purists that might not agree with any of the changes; the redesigned Isaac Clarke in particular. Still, EA and Motive’s reimagining of Dead Space is faithful and lovingly put together, right down to the messy finale and “final boss” battle that still feels like the game’s weakest moment(s) -- even with the improved visual fidelity. Perhaps, it comes down to leaving the Ishimura robbing the game of its power and hold over you. Ultimately, though, keeping the Dead Space experience intact was the right move. As a remake, it solidifies the source material as timeless and iconic in ways that still feel relevant. Especially now, when it's wrapped up in one of the most visually stunning and immersive science fiction releases we’ve seen.