Release Date : January 27, 2023
Developer(s) : Motive Studio
Publisher(s) : Electronic Arts
Platforms : PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Remakes are always a subject of debate and legitimacy. Dead Space was no exception to the rule when it was first announced in summer 2021. After a compelling sequel and a much more disappointing third episode, Dead Space appeared to be ready for a new lease of life, while the license clearly had no future with Electronic Arts.
Besides, The Callisto Protocol was released in December 2022. And aside from the divided reception – highly entertaining for some, disappointing for others – we’re talking about a true heir to the saga that began back in the late 2000s, and Glen Schofield is one of the project’s key players. So is it really relevant to talk about Dead Space as a remake? After all, the game still performs very well today, despite the obvious signs of its age.
Well, at Motive Studios, the answer was yes, and the developers rolled up their sleeves to make one of the kings of horror shine once again, with the aim of offering a graphical and sound overhaul that honors the title originally conceived by Visceral Games. Moreover, we’re going to see that the Canadian studio didn’t stop at mere technical aspects, making the (re)discovery all the more interesting.
Usg Ishimura, Hell and High Water
There’s no need to dwell on a familiar scenario, but let’s not forget that we play the role of an engineer, Isaac Clarke, who has to intervene on the USG Ishimura, a huge surface breaker, where communication seems to be malfunctioning and where Nicole Brennan, the crew’s chief medical officer, and our hero’s girlfriend, lives. Inside, the situation becomes more disturbing every day, and in an efficient introduction, we quickly become acquainted with the bloodthirsty creatures who seem to have taken over the premises: the Necromorphs.
Immediately, we sense the remake’s additional immersive potential. The original had already raised the bar on this point in 2008, and the atmosphere was its greatest strength. Here, the very first corridors quickly make us realize that we’re going to need more courage than before to explore the ship. And this impression is confirmed, to our delight, room after room, chapter after chapter. The atmosphere of Dead Space Remake is a real gem, and manages to do even better than its original model.
When it comes to sound, the 3D audio and its spatialization work twice as well: you can locate the source of a noise quite precisely, but since its origin can take many forms, you often find yourself watching around you because the USG Ishimura is so chatty. Apart from the occasional scripted moment, which is sometimes predictable, you’re constantly on your guard because of the feeling that you’re being watched or hunted, even though the sound alarm may come from the poor condition of the ship, its mechanisms, and engines, or even from the activation of the showers in the crew’s changing room.
Blame it on those notorious Necromorphs who are always ready to play with our nerves, regularly using their unpredictability to swoop down on us. Sometimes you’ll hear one pop up from the other end of the room, sending a slight shiver down your spine until you’ve identified its position, and sometimes, suddenly, another will leap out from the ventilation system next to or above you. And when it’s not these perfectly real noises that are disturbing us, the mysterious, disquieting whispers we regularly hear serve to keep the fear alive in our minds.
Slightly perceptible in 2008, they become more comprehensible here, making them even more frightening. We’ll let you discover their details for yourself, though – it’s sure to have an effect. This masterful management of that feeling of insecurity, truly effective on us, the players, is also fully experienced by dear Isaac. His heartbeat, breathing, and rales of pain vary subtly according to the situation, and are expressed symbiotically and coherently. Now that he’s speaking, his diction is even affected by his state of health and his possible shortness of breath at the start of a dialogue, much more dynamic as a result. The devil is in the details.
With the addition of lighting, fog, and shadow effects, also superbly enhanced by the new machines and Frostbite engine, Ishimura is fully recreated and more terrifying than ever. And to surprise fans of the original game, the developers have taken away the precious light that gives us a bit of courage, making certain moments quite stressful. On a few occasions, we’re the ones who take away the light by manipulating a circuit-breaker, one of the many elements that add a touch of innovation to the game’s polish.
A Tasty Recipe That Is Refined in Small Steps…
While it would have been pleasant to play the same Dead Space from 2008, with the addition of technical improvements, this would not have been enough for fans or neophytes, or to make a good remake. One of the additions to the remake is the circuit-breaker, which allows you to distribute the energy available to power one door at the expense of another or an electrical device. Other doors can only be opened via an innovative access level system. As in Metal Gear Solid, level 3 rooms and resources can only be accessed once authorization has been obtained during the main story.
While not particularly revolutionary, this addition rethinks how the Ishimura is navigated, and brings a certain freedom of exploration to this Dead Space Remake, unlike the base game, whose linear structure, punctuated by story chapters, left no room for backtracking. The chapters are still there, but the streetcar allows you to return to all the sectors of the Surface Breaker you’ve already visited, and go back to retrieve anything you may have forgotten or locked.
All in the form of that famous sequence shot brandished by the Motive team, where no concrete loading time interrupts the action, apart from death. The result is a pleasing sense of constant fluidity, aided by a Performance mode with few false notes. By the way, we’d advise you to prefer this display setting, as the benefits of Fluidity mode are barely noticed, while being less pleasing to the eye.
It’s a pity that the map system, which has also been slightly redesigned, spoils our journey by being so difficult to handle because it’s used in real-time. And when we do manage to get the hang of it, we’re fooled by the bad information the map displays. Often, a door that has been locked at a given moment will remain declared as such on the map, even though it is perfectly accessible. This means wasting time, either searching in vain for an alternative route, or checking the access status yourself.
By avoiding such a problem, backtracking could have provided a fully successful evolution to exploration, which also features side quests to extend the lifespan and give more depth to the secondary characters, including Nicole. Special access can even be gained by collecting RIGs (identifiers) from staff members. These ultimate credentials allow us to recover precious resources, some of them unique, in order to improve Isaac.
When facing deadly danger, our engineer can once again rely on maintenance tools transformed into weapons to defend himself. As in the original game, he can use a workbench to draw on the strength points needed to reinforce his equipment, but the way he spends them has changed. In Dead Space Remake, no more empty nodes, each point confers an advantage in damage, ammunition reserve, or rate of fire, for example. However, the grid only displays part of the nodes. The rest can only be unlocked by finding the upgrade plans for the relevant weapon to fully reveal the grid.
In addition, special nodes grant a particular bonus to each weapon. The Plasma Cutter can inflict damage over time, while the Cutter benefits from additional ricochets from secondary shots. This makes these weapons much more enjoyable to use against the Necromorphs. DualSense and its adaptive triggers contribute to this pleasant feeling, and the damage inflicted has become sharper. From now on, the damage inflicted on enemies, and by extension the drop in their “hit points”, can be read naturally. From skin to muscle to bone, dismemberment has become more precise and legible, and this improvement in targeting means that the focus is now on better-defined areas of impact, rather than just the limbs as a whole. A further achievement in favor of immersion.
To the Point of Touching Its Fundamentals
In addition to these welcome changes, the structure of the adventure itself has been transformed. To be clear, Dead Space Remake doesn’t go so far as to give us a Final Fantasy VII Remake, without imitating The Last of Us Part I either. In other words, the story remains essentially the same, and can be played most of the time in the same way as before, with the occasional change in level design and narrative.
This may involve a few script variations, some of which prove to be rather significant, in order to stick more closely to the lore developed in chronologically later productions, while the content of a handful of dialogues is even impacted according to the progression of side quests. And in the best-case scenario, significant parts of the chapters have changed. Either because their puzzles are solved differently or the staging has evolved, or because they inherit a transformation linked to new zero-gravity sequences.
Used extensively in this remake, it picks up on the handling introduced in Dead Space 2. So much the better, since initially, Isaac had to aim at point B from point A, crossing the room in a straight line. This means moving around is more flexible, smoother, and in short, more pleasant, but there’s still room for improvement. In fact, some passages can be a real pain, especially those with small spaces, due to the unusual handling. It’s hard to explain this in writing, but it can be hard to get your bearings, and you often have to use the “right-side-up” button to get your bearings. In the end, though, we appreciate the game’s strong focus on zero-gravity, as this mechanic leads to some pretty nice moments, particularly outside the ship.
Among the remake’s major changes, and without spoiling too much, we even take part in boss battles that are quite different from the original title, thanks to the use of this movement system as the core of the gameplay. The Ze-Ball mini-game is also back, as expected. This consists of sending balloons into targets in order to maximize your score and earn rewards according to the result obtained. Ideally, and in line with what has been reworked on the zero-gravity side, we’d have liked to see a similar adjustment to Isaac’s handling.
Here again, a certain weight is felt when he moves, which is understandable given the engineer’s outfit he wears, but not unpleasant in itself. That said, during confrontations, there’s still a lack of reactivity to respond to the Necromorphs’ regularly sudden assaults. The absence of a quick U-turn, as used in the Resident Evil 2 remake, or of a dodging system, particularly in the face of projectiles from Crawlers or Spitters, means that there are still too many frustrating moments when life points are foolishly lost. But let’s not end this review on a sour note, and let’s address two aspects that will undoubtedly delight everyone: the remake’s replayability and accessibility.
Naturally, we can’t fail to mention the famous Impossible mode, based on the Difficult mode, where this time you only have one save slot and one life. Basically, dying turns your game into a Difficult mode, and you’re good to go again. Knowing that there’s a unique outfit and weapon to be won at the end of the run, such a challenge should motivate hardcore gamers. The New Game+ is back, this time offering an alternative ending if you collect the 12 Marker Fragments scattered around Ishimura. Finally, in terms of accessibility, Dead Space Remake offers the opportunity to discover the game for everyone, whether in terms of visual parameters such as subtitle size or color-blind mode, or in Story mode, a difficulty where enemies are no longer a real threat, so you can make the most of the plot.
Motive Studios’ Dead Space Remake is undeniably worthy of the original. Full of changes in many areas, mostly welcomed, from the smallest detail to the point of surprising seasoned players by slightly modifying its core structure, the remake still has some leftovers from 2008, notably in terms of its overall handling. But clearly, the remake features top-notch techniques, enhances the already excellent horror atmosphere, and delivers an overall copy that will delight fans just as much as it will welcome newcomers to this captivating horrific universe. Only its launch price ($69.99) could discourage the curious and the nostalgic.