Dead Space (2023)

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Dead Space (2023) review
Samuel Corey


(Re) Make us Whole

Philosophy of Remake

Some older games require a tremendous amount of reworking to bring them up to modern standards. For example, when Capcom was putting together their remakes for the old PSX Resident Evil titles, they had to redesign the games from the ground up just to work with the modern control scheme they've been using since Resident Evil 4. That was not necessary for Dead Space though. Even though the original is fifteen years old, it still holds up quite well, both in terms of visual quality and gameplay mechanics. Indeed, in many ways, it is better put together than modern offerings like The Callisto Protocol.

Obviously, the game has been given a visual overhaul with HD textures. But aside from the obvious visual overhaul, remaking Dead Space called for small, iterative changes, and the developers at Motive have wisely embraced this philosophy. Layouts of certain rooms have been tweaked, enemy spawn positions have been randomized, and the upgrade system has been overhauled, but this is very much the same Dead Space that came out in 2008. Of course, it is a bit galling to pay $60 ($70 on PS5) for a game that is basically the same as one that came out in 2008, but at least it's a good game from 2008. In a fair world, it would be priced like the Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot remakes, but this world is anything but fair.

The most significant way that Dead Space differentiates itself from its predecessor is with its protagonist, Isaac Clarke. In the original Isaac was a silent protagonist. Indeed, you didn't even get to see his face until the ending cinematic. Now, there is nothing wrong with silent protagonists in and of themselves, the problem is that Isaac's story includes a lot of scenes where he probably should have something to say, most notably when he's reunited with his girlfriend, Nicole Brennan after being separated for months and fearing for her safety. There are times when it's not appropriate to greet someone with stoic silence.

However, other than being able to hold a conversation and take off his helmet from time to time, Isaac's story is unchanged from the first game. He is still an engineer (or a glorified space janitor), sent on a repair mission to the USG Ishimura. The Ishimura is a spaceship that was ostensibly on a mission to harvest resources from a barren moon but was in fact on a secret mission to recover an alien artifact at the behest of a radical religious cult called the Unitologists (a satire of Scientologists so thinly veiled I'm amazed it didn't draw legal action from the notoriously litigious cult).
Naturally, this artifact plays havoc on the Ishimura, driving a few members of the crew insane, while transforming the rest into deformed monsters. By the time Isaac and the rest of his crew arrive on the ship, there are very few humans left onboard, and fewer still that are entirely sane. Worse still, Isaac and his crew are quickly stranded onboard the Ishimura, and since the monsters aren't interested in routine maintenance, the ship is falling apart. It is up to Isaac to keep the bucket of bolts in the sky long enough to find a way off.

Updated for a Modern Audience

While overall, Dead Space makes sensible changes when updating the game there are a couple of small, but rather glaring exceptions. One can only assume that these were attempts to update the material for "modern audiences" and if that is so, I wish that Motive had spared the effort. All they do is detract from the overall experience of the game, though fortunately, they are easy enough to ignore.

The most obvious and intensive change is a new optional feature that plasters content warning messages across the screen whenever a player is about to see or hear something particularly nasty. Since this is a horror game, turning this on causes constant warnings. I wish the developers just dusted off the old "Some parts of this game may be considered violent or cruel" content warning from Silent Hill 3, it would have accomplished the same end while being much more stylish. Still, as silly as this is, I can't complain too much as it is an optional feature that is disabled by default.

More significant, but still comparatively minor, is the awful graffiti that has been added to some surfaces in the game. The most brain-dead one I saw reads "Fuck this ship, it's a shitty capitalist organization." First, who uses proper punctuation when they're defacing public property? Has the edgy-15-year-old that Motive hired to handle their wall textures ever seen graffiti before? Moreover, I'm left to wonder what sort of person takes a job on a mega-corporation's planet-cracking ship while simultaneously pining for the day when the workers will finally seize the means of production. Do modern-day oil rigs have a problem with their workers scrawling quotations from Marx and Greta Thunberg on the walls?

Fear Factor

In my mind, Dead Space has never been an especially frightening series by horror game standards. Part of it is no doubt the necromorphs themselves, which are grotesque but more in a way that I associate with insects I want to squash rather than predators I want to flee from. Indeed, when the monsters appear under decent lighting, they tend to look downright goofy. It doesn't help that there are only a couple of different flavors of necromorph and it's difficult to get scared of anything I've hacked to bits fifty times before.

By far the larger issue though is the fact that the combat in Dead Space is just too damn fun for me to dread running into adversaries. There is a wonderful variety of weapons, each with multiple fire modes and a whole tree of upgrades, so half the time when enemies appear I'm downright thrilled because it means I will get to play with my new toys. Health and ammo are limited, but they are never so scarce that I opted to avoid combat altogether. Indeed, the item pickups are mostly randomized so you will get enough equipment to scrape by regardless of how well or poorly you're doing. Tellingly, Dead Space is at its most frightening in the lulls between big combats when you're just moving from point A to point B. It is here that the disturbing atmosphere of the ruined spaceship and the chilling sound design have the necessary space to start to get under the player's skin. Still, there are worse things than a game's combat being too exciting to fill the player with much fear, even when it happens in a game that is supposed to be scary.

Fortunately, Dead Space does provide the player with one way to ratchet up the intensity. If combat doesn't scare you, then you can always turn on the Impossible difficulty setting where if you die once then it's game over (the remake has helpfully added the option to continue playing at reduced difficulty, the original would just delete your save entirely). I would highly recommend checking out the Impossible difficulty, even if you're not the sort that generally goes in for challenge runs, if only because it gives the game a sense of urgency and tension that it otherwise lacks.

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fun score


Captures feel of original Dead Space while making numerous small enhancements, Isaac makes more sense as a voice protagonist, Impossible difficulty is loads of fun.


Some questionable updates, Rather expensive for a game that is largely unchanged from 2008.