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Dead Space (2023) Review :: Alive and Stomping

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Dead Space

I admit, I watched the announcement of the Dead Space remake with cynical eyes. Visceral’s Dead Space (2008) is a modern classic. Their trilogy ended on a sour note, but the original game is still held on a pedestal – a holy grail of modern horror, if you must. So, naturally for me and many other fans, the game wasn’t in need of a remake. The popular consensus is that it holds up remarkably well even 15 years down the line. I used to think the same, until I tried replayed it. Don’t get me wrong, the horror, aesthetics, sound design and core gameplay aged like fine wine. But on a technical level, the game doesn’t hold up so well, at least on PC. The absence of could save, game speed being tied to the fps (and the bugs that come with it), terrible mouse smoothing, an even worse deadzone while using a controller. Then there’s also the fact that DLCs were never released for the PC version.

So, all things considered, I’d say that the decision to remake Dead Space from the ground up is an understandable if not risky move. All that matters is how the new developers execute such a tremendous undertaking. So, here’s a Dead Space remake review from a fan who’s been there from the very start. Hold on to your Grav boots. This is going to be a long one.

Dead Space
It’s like 2008 all over again

Dead Space (2023) is a ground-up remake of Visceral Games’ 2008 survival horror classic. The remake is developed by Motive Studio and published by Electronic Arts. The game will launch January 27 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC via the EA app, Steam and the Epic Games Store. This review is based on the PC and Steam Deck versions of the game.

A Win-Lose Situation

Before getting into the specifics, I’d like to address the Brute in the room. As EA and Motive reiterated during marketing, Dead Space is not a 1:1 remake of the original. From changing/adding dialogues, and map layouts, incorporating lore from the Dead Space extended media, tweaking character dynamics, reworking existing encounters and more, Dead Space is more of a soft-reimagining than a by-the-book remake. The remake also seeks to overhaul and, in some cases, introduce many subtle changes to the classic, while trying to remain respectful to what made the original so beloved in the first place. 

Dead Space
One of the major changes is the character dynamics between Kendra and Hammond

Remaking a classic is a risky task on its own, but when the remake aims to introduce such a vast amount of changes, it’s obviously going to rustle a few undead limbs. As evidenced by the tumultuous discussions appearing all over the internet, it’s obvious that numerous Dead Space purists have already dismissed the remake. Key changes like giving Isaac a voice and the altered dynamics between Kendra and Hammond have sparked rage-filled discussions. Thus, there is no win-win scenario here, and it’s impossible to please both the diehard fans and new players at the same time. While I’m a big fan of the original, I wouldn’t call myself a purist by any means. At the same time, I’m a reviewer first and fan second. Keep that in mind while I dive into specifics.

Familiar yet Different H(a)unting Grounds

By and large, the base story of the Dead Space remake remains unchanged. You are put into the gravity-defying boots of Isaac Clarke, a ship system engineer for the Concordance Extraction Corporation. After the planetcracker ship USG Ishimura’s communication goes offline (where Isaac’s girlfriend was coincidentally working), Isaac becomes part of the emergency maintenance team that’s sent over to investigate. What follows is history. Like the original, the remake also traces Isaac’s journey from unlikely hero to mentally unstable undead-killing badass. Aside from a couple of changes in the order of sequences, new interactions, expanding the backgrounds of main characters, expansion of secondary characters’ roles (through lore notes and side quests), the core narrative tries to be as faithful to the original as it possibly can (Yes, I know how contradictory this sentence sounds).

Dead Space
The game was rigged from the start

If you ask me, the story changes mostly work, as the new additions helps in making sure that the game is retroactively in line with the extended lore. Oh, and I almost forgot about the one-shot camera. Similar to 2018’s God of War, the camera stays with Isaac and the whole game is presented like one continuous shot.  There are no loading screens or camera cuts in between. This type of presentation fits right at home in a game like Dead Space, and boosts the already immersive Dead Space experience to another level. Then there’s the fact that the entirety of Ishimura can now be explored seamlessly, encouraging  exploration, with Isaac being able to travel between sections freely using the tram. The game has added lots of new rooms and item pickups to reward this newfound exploration. 

Dead Space
The one-shot camera feels right at home in Dead Space

The biggest eyebrow-raising addition to the remake is the developers giving Isaac Clarke a voice. This decision is surely going to leave the fan base polarized, as it was the case with Dead Space 2. Gunner Wright returns to voice and mo-cap Isaac. Though the times when he speaks are few and far between, it does sound weird for someone who just replayed the original. I’m not too impressed in his lines, even though Gunner fully embodies the psyche of Isaac. But that just might be me. I’m not a big fan of the new face model either. Sure, it blurs the line between actor and the role, but his face looks “too clean” compared to the beat-up face from the original game.

Dead Space
Faran Tahir who plays Dr. Challus Mercer steals the show every scene he’s in

Aside from this complaint, I absolutely love the new additions. The star of the show has got to be Faran Tahir who plays Dr. Challus Mercer. Despite having minimal screen time, he steals the show in every scene he’s in. No offense to Navid Negahban, who played Dr. Mercer in the original, but Tahir brings a new dimension to the role. His new dialogues and delivery makes the generic baddie of the original stand out in the remake. The new voice actors for Hammond, Kendra and Nicole (Tanya Clarke reprises her role from Dead Space 2) puts forth a commendable performance.

When I heard that the remake is going to feature sidequests, I was very skeptical. But I’m glad to report that all three sidequests tie into the story effortlessly. They are fairly detailed and not of the “collect X bear asses type”. They do feature some backtracking, but chances are that you’ll eventually end up revisiting these areas as the story progresses. The subtle and more pronounced additions to the story and cast breathes new life into the Dead Space remake. While some fans will obviously be disappointed by these changes, I’m of the opinion that these make the overhauled “cinematic” treatment of the story much more impactful. Even though I had just completed a playthrough of the original, the narrative of the remake had me fully invested and even managed to subvert my expectations at several points. But that’s not just on the narrative. The overhauled gameplay plays an equal role in elevating the experience. 

Old Engineer, New Tricks

“They put Dead Space 2 in Dead Space 1” – This is the best way I can describe the remake in one sentence. In the OG, the pace is slow, the exploration is non-existent and the nature of horror is more of the slow, creeping nature. Dead Space 2 was to Dead Space what Aliens was to Alien. In this outing, Isaac is a lot more agile, exploration is encouraged, and the focus is on horror-action than survival horror. Dead Space remake taps into the essence of Dead Space 2 to overhaul the original experience. By this, I do not mean that the remake moves away from things that made the original great. The buildup to a scary moment, something the original excelled at thanks to its excellent audiovisual design, is preserved in all its glory in the remake.

Dead Space
What’s scarier than actual scares? The buildup towards them!

According to marketing material’s the remake’s “intensity director” (fancy word for the AI director) is capable of over 1,200 unique encounters. While I’m cannot validate this number, I can say that from my experience that no two encounters were the same. The Necromorphs seem to have improved AI also,  being able to quickly escape to vents, play dead and surround Isaac from all sides. The introduction of Spitter, a Dead Space 2 enemy, in the remake is also a welcome addition. I wish there were more visual variety among each enemy type, though.

The remake has also rectified some of the shortcomings of the original by incorporating features from Dead Space 2. For example. The Zero G mechanic from Dead Space 2 makes a return and gives Isaac the ability to move freely during these sections. Kinesis module has also received an upgrade, with Isaac now being able to impale enemies using pipes found in the environment. With these additions, the encounters with the Leviathan, The Slug and the Hunter are massively improved. Zero G sections are now a lot less janky as well.

Dead Space
The new Zero G system is a godsend

Then there are the newly added puzzles (and traps) that provide a nice change of pace from all the limb tearing. These are nothing to write home about, but as I said, they do spice up the gameplay. On top of these, Isaac can choose to power up certain locked doors in exchange for giving up the lights. Thanks to the excellent lighting (we’ll get to that later), exploring the dark corners of the Ishimura results in numerous risk vs reward scenarios. Aside from these, there are a lot of minor changes to mission objectives and how scenarios play out. 

The Kneecapper

At the core of the Dead Space series is the limb dismemberment system. Dead Space remains very faithful to the OG combat. The third-person combat is still visceral (pun intended), gory, frantic and extremely satisfying. This time around, however, you do not need to buy weapon schematics from the market. Instead, you find weapons by following the main story. This way, you get to try out each weapon before deciding whether to stick with them or not, instead of spending 10k on the market and later regretting it. And yes, the Plasma Cutter is still OP and yes, there is still an achievement for finishing the game only using that.

I’m a grownass man but this, this scares me

Upgrading weapons and your RIG still works similarly. But this time around, the game gives you the option to respec upgrades by spending credits. This is such a nice QoL addition that rewards experimentation. Moreover, all weapons have new upgrade options that give them additional abilities or boosts stats drastically. For example, there is an upgrade for the Plasma Cutter that makes it so that you can knock over enemies with melee or giving the Ripper an extra ricocheting blade. Most weapons also received secondary attack redesigns. The awesome but impractical 360 degree firing of the Pulse Rifle has been replaced with a much more useful grenade launcher/sticky mine. The flamethrower now places a wall of flame instead of firing the napalm orb. All welcome additions!

Try to outrun me, chump!

Now, the one change I do not personally like is Isaac’s newfound mobility. In the original, Isaac controlled like a tank. It was a design decision that tied into the narrative, and the enemy encounters were designed with that in mind. Even simple actions such as melee and stomps felt weighty and deliberately slow. Dead Space 2, leaning into more action than horror, gave Isaac a lot more mobility. He could run, and turn faster, and could melee and stomp enemies repeatedly with ease. The remake’s Isaac is like the latter. He’s fast, agile and easy to control. Hell, he can now easily dispatch most normal enemies by kneecapping them with two shots, and repeatedly performing the boot stomp. The game’s enemy encounters are designed with this newfound mobility in mind. However, for me, the remake came across as extremely easy on ‘normal’ difficulty. The only time I died was when carelessly running over a laser. Hence, veterans will be better off choosing ‘hard’ instead of ‘normal’ for the first playthrough.

NG+is better this time around, though, as you can start it in any difficulty you unlocked. Tougher variations of enemies called Phantoms appear in NG+ and you’ll be rewarded with an alternate ending once you collect the 12 Marker Fragments hidden throughout.

Awwww Peng is back….

Phew, there are a lot of changes, aren’t there? But you know what? It’s still Dead Space, only that you now have access to a lot of options that should have been in the original. Almost all the new additions enhance what is an already excellent game, and hardly anything detract from the essence of the series. The moment when you open that door and that one ugly Necromorph finishes feeding off a poor sod and comes shambling towards Isaac will still send chills down your spine.

Dead Space

Eyes and Ears will Thank You

The most basic improvement one would expect with a remake/remaster are the visuals. Dead Space hits a Z-Ball home run in this regard. From the excellent lighting that directly ties into the gameplay, to current-gen standard textures and richly detailed environments, Dead Space is a visual spectacle. Frostbite Engine, combined with the excellent sound design, brings an impeccable level of detail and lived-in feeling to the eerie dimly lit corridors of the Ishimura and an eerie sense of grandeur to the vast space it stays dead in. 

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The well-implemented audio occlusion as well as the A.L.I.V.E. system (Adrenaline, Limbic System Response, Intelligent Dialogue, Vitals, and Exertions) that dictates the sounds Isaac makes during gameplay is just the tip of the excellent sound design Dead Space houses. Similar to games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel’s Spider-Man, there are three versions of scripted dialogue for Isaac, which directly ties into the A.L.I.V.E. system. Barely surviving multiple Necro attacks and hearing Isaac’s heart beating like a drum over a quality headphone is a feeling that’s best experienced in person. Then there is the amazing OST by Jason Graves. I’ll leave it to experts to further dissect the sound design of Dead Space.

Dead Space
Impeccable audiovisual design elevates the horror to another level

As for bugs and technical issues, I did run into a bug where the RIG wouldn’t show my HP. This happened twice, and I had to switch RIG skins for it to show up again. There was also a bug during the Hunter boss fight where a mission trigger glitched out. I’ve heard reports from a fellow staff that there are some bugs related to the physics engine, like body parts being suspended in air and Isaac even T-posing at one point. But I personally did not experience any such issue. So far, pretty standard stuff.

When it came to performance, the game runs at anywhere from 60 to 100 fps (depending on the area) at 1080p using a Ryzen 5600x and RTX 3070 maxed out with Raytraced occlusion and FSR/DLSS disabled. However, three or four times, the fps tanked to the low 20s randomly. It stayed there for several seconds before climbing back up again. Saving/reloading also fixed these drops. Maybe it’s something on my end. On the Steam Deck, the game runs at 30–40 fps on low-medium settings with FSR. For a stutter and micro freeze free experience, it’s recommended to install the game on an SSD, and not an SD card.

Real Talk

Remaking a modern classic like Dead Space was always going to be a gamble. With Dead Space (2023), Motive Studio and EA tried to pull off a bold and risky move to bring the series to a new audience, while remaining respectful to the series’ origins. They have largely succeeded in breathing new life into the long-dormant IP with such a quality remake. Sure, it’s not a 1:1 remake like most purists wanted but, Dead Space will surely impress newcomers and fans (at least most of them anyway) with excellent audiovisual design, an even brutal combat system, reworked lore and an immersive campaign that’ll last you anywhere from 12 to 14 hours

Whether you’re a fan of the OG or a newcomer, Dead Space is the first great AAA offering of this year. Hopefully it means more great things in the pipeline for the series. Maybe we’ll finally get the definitive Dead Space 3 experience at the hands of Motive. But that’s food for thought.


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