“Dead Space” 2023 Remake Review
Though it spawned two sequels, a couple side games, a mobile game, a pair of novels, two animated movies, some graphic novels, and a bunch of toys, t-shirts, and collectibles, the 2008 survival horror game Dead Space is often just considered a cult classic. Which made it rather surprising when Electronic Arts announced a remake of the game for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC (and just a few years after Glen Schofield, one of the original Space creators, announced a spiritual successor, the recently released Callisto Protocol). But a lot can happen in fifteen years, especially in video games, something I kept in mind as I stepped once more into the breach.
Set in 2508,
Dead Space casts you as Isaac Clarke, an engineer who’s part of a repair crew sent to find out why communication has been lost with the USG Ishimura, a mining ship in orbit above the planet Aegis VII. But when you arrive, you learn that not only is the ship badly damaged, but the crew is…well, not dead exactly. But not human anymore, either. Your mission — like you have a choice to accept it — is to restore the ship’s systems so you and what’s left of your crew can get the fuck out of there.
For those who’ve never played Dead Space, or either of its sequels, the game is a third-person sci-fi / cosmic horror / survival horror shooter. Essentially, Resident Evil in space. It even has its own version of the quantum entangled storage boxes.
But while the ship is full of space zombies called Necromorphs, they’re not like any of the living impaired you’ve fought before. Not only are they faster than the shamblers of Resident Evil 2 (though slower than the infected in Resident Evil Village), but they’re also badly mutated. Some have boney spikes protruding from their arms, others look like babies if you swapped their limbs for spike-shooting tentacles, while still others resemble manta rays, though I’ve never heard of a manta ray attaching itself to a dead body so they can reanimate it.
They also don’t die like any zombies you’ve previously faced. While you can shoot them in the head or chest, this may not stop them. Instead, you often have to take them apart, cutting off their limbs until they’re little more than stumps. And even then, you should stomp them into Doom Eternal sized gibs, just to be safe…and, well, to get them to drop any ammo, health packs, or cash they might have in their pockets.
What also made Dead Space different…
from similar shooters (well, at the time, anyway) is that along with guns, Isaac also used mining equipment to defend himself. Granted, it’s futuristic mining equipment — the Plasma Cutter, for instance, shoots a beam of energy about a foot wide — but they’re still not protected by the second amendment. It’s what made this game feel even more unique when compared to other third-person shooters…save for the Ratchet & Clank ones.
That said, Isaac does get some guns, and they are sometimes effective. Isaac’s Flamethrower, for instance, comes in especially handy when you’re being swarmed by little Necros, or approached by their Karen of a mother. And when you run into the Necromorphs whose legs have fused together into a scorpion-like spiked tail, you’ll be happy you have (and can easily switch to) Isaac’s Pulse Rifle. Especially since, like all of Isaac’s weapons, it has a secondary function; in this case, proximity mines those creepy crawlers never notice until it’s too late.
Further aiding Isaac in combat, as well as navigation, is a device called a Stasis Module. Not only can it be used to temporarily hold enemies in place, but it can also fling objects at them (though it works best if they’re sharp or explosive). It’s also helpful when you need something to stop moving for a moment, or if it’s really heavy and needs to not be in your way.
Getting around — or rather, figuring out how to get around — is also a big part of Dead Space. Though unlike similar parts of the Resident Evil games, they’re more situational problems in need of solving. You’re never looking for the four parts of an old statue you then have to put back together and place on the open space of a fountain, which will drain the water, letting you grab the coin you need to get the candy bar out of the vending machine because it has the door code to the storage room where the bolt cutters are stored, which you need to cut the lock on the chain holding the side gate closed, even though you have a shotgun that could easily blow the lock to shreds. No, in Dead Space you just have to do things like move a large battery so you can power up the door to the storage closet where they keep the explosives you need to blow open a hatch.
It’s during these parts…
that Dead Space also occasionally cuts the gravity. Good thing Isaac’s suit has small maneuvering thrusters, and magnetized boots, which allow him to cruise around like Iron Man when he hovers, but land when he needs to be grounded. Especially when there’s no gravity because of a hull breach or because Isaac needs to take a stroll outside.
Though what really makes these moments unique is how they sound. In space, no one can hear you scream…but you can hear yourself breathing, and the oppressive silence of these non-gravitational moments really adds to the tension.
It’s something that Dead Space excels at, and not just in the air-free space. By using atmospheric sound effects, sparse musical tones, and bits of creepy, far away-sounding voices — “…careful…with that axe…Eugene…” — the game really sets a mood that puts you on edge…which it then takes advantage of by having Necromorphs jump out of you from behind air vents, ceiling panels, and other places you wouldn’t expect. And even if you do, too bad; they may not be there when you first look.
Speaking of which, Necromorphs will even at times, come up behind you while you’re dealing with one who appeared in front of you, almost like they’re connected, like they’re coordinating their attacks.
Further adding to the atmosphere of Dead Space is the USG Ishimura itself. Between all the broken lights, debris, and its inherent industrial feel, it feels more like the lower levels of the Nostromo in Alien than any of the clean, well-lit ships of Starfleet.
The narrative of Dead Space is also driven by a compelling sci-fi space opera story, one told with real cinematic flair. Kind of like if Alien, The Thing, and Night Of The Living Dead had a baby. An unholy baby. With spike-shooting tentacles and shit.
The result is an unnerving,
and unrelenting, but also an exciting shooter that would be effortless if you didn’t constantly need to take breaks to let your heart palpitations subside. Though once you calm down, you’ll want to get right back to it. It’s that compelling.
Now, obviously, this new version of Dead Space is a must for anyone who enjoys shooting, sci-fi, and getting the shit scared out of them.
But it’s just as worth it for people who’ve played this game before, even if they’ve done so recently, or multiple times.
As with most remakes — well, the ones that aren’t of old arcade games trying to be as authentic as possible, that is — this new version of Dead Space boasts improved graphics and animations. It also supposedly has redone sound effects, though they sound the same to me. Which is good; as I said earlier, the original’s sound design is a big reason why that game was so disturbing and scary.
It also doesn’t really mess with the action of the game, either in terms of the controls (which were solid and intuitive, and still are), or most of what you have to do and where you do it.
That said, there are times when you may be attacked where you weren’t before, or by more or different Necromorphs than you were expecting. That includes when you think you’re in a safe space, or decide to go back to an area you’ve already been to because your clearance level has been raised and you want to see if you can unlock that closet.
There are also more rooms to explore,
and to figure out how to access, than in the original, with some adding to the lore or giving you something small to do. Though if, like me, you haven’t played this game in years, you might not remember the layout of the Ishimura exactly anyway.
This remake of Dead Space also leaves the story intact, though it does do a slightly better job of explaining the religious aspects of the backstory. While the religious elements only made sense in the original if you’d already watched the prequel animated movie, Dead Space: Downfall (which told an interesting story in an uninteresting way), and read Antony Johnston’s eponymous prequel graphic novel (which was really good), this version does a better job integrating those bits into this game’s narrative.
As for how this remake compares to similar ones, it’s not as much of an improvement as the recent Resident Evil 2 and 3 ones, though only because those games originally came out in 1998 and 1999, and thus had really dated controls that got completely modernized. Dead Space‘s original controls, by comparison, still held up. Similarly, the gameplay additions, noticeable or not, make this a bigger step up than The Last Of Us, Part I, though, again, because the original Us wasn’t that long ago or in need of much revising.
In fact, the best comparison, oddly enough, would be the recent remake of the original Crash Bandicoot games collected in the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. If only Isaac could spin really fast when surrounded…
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of comparison shopping, this version of Dead Space is better than its spiritual sister, The Callisto Protocol [my review of which you can read here]. Though not by a lot, and fans of one should absolutely play both.
In the end,
whether you’ve played Dead Space thirty-seven times over the past fifteen years, or not even once, this is an absolutely great game. The pairing of unique enemies and equally unusual weaponry, along with varied places to fight them, an epic sci-fi space opera story, and some truly disturbing atmosphere, makes this one of the best sci-fi shooters ever made…again.
One thought on ““Dead Space” 2023 Remake Review”
Pingback: "Resident Evil 4" (2023 Remake) Review ... .