The survivor horror genre has been a series of constant surprises for me. The game that really started it all, Resident Evil, was a groundbreaking new experience unlike anything I’d played before. I assumed Silent Hill was just Konami’s attempt to cash in on the hype of Capcom’s offering, only for it to be a brilliant descent into psychological horror. Years after I thought I’d seen and done it all in scary games, Corpse Party came along and showed me how wrong I was.
Visceral Games’ Dead Space was among those titles that totally caught me by surprise. I had no expectations for it at all, no hopes for how exciting or interesting it would be, and only finally got around to it a handful of years after its launch. And yet, when I did finally step into the well-armored boots of protagonist Isaac Clark, every hour I spent with Dead Space was one filled with thrills, twists, and a surprising balance between brutality and beauty. As much as the game was Resident Evil meets Event Horizon, I also saw some similarities with Silent Hill, which only made me appreciate it more. Like Konami’s cursed resort town, the USG Ishimura was a place that I loved exploring, and the game was never afraid to let the action quiet down so that I could take in the wonder and spectacle of what I was seeing.
Playing EA Motive’s Dead Space remake, all of those emotions I felt those many years ago suddenly came rushing back. Sure, a lot of work has gone into modernizing the game in terms of visuals, audio, and gameplay, but that core that existed back on the Xbox 360 and PS3 still exists here—and man, what a core it is. Dead Space remains such a fantastic experience, from its initial moments as your small crew lands on the Ishimura unaware of what’s happened to the ship and its residents, to all of the unique locations you’ll visit and the horrors that await there, to those quieter, more atmospheric moments I mentioned above. The survivor horror genre has grown, evolved, and transformed over the years since the original Dead Space’s launch, but it’s amazing just how fresh and engrossing it still feels to this day—even as someone who’s going through it again, and not for the first time.
Of course, this Dead Space has indeed received numerous upgrades and enhancements thanks to the team at Motive, and I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the project to turn out as good as it has. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when a giant company like EA looks to bring one of its older games back to the modern era, but every change I came across felt like something done in service of making the original game better, not dumbing it down or cheapening it in some way.
While, yes, it’s not quite at the level of what I expect from a game focused only on the current gen of consoles at this point, Dead Space is still a beautiful game. The various environments of the Ishimura come to life far better than they ever did before, with the entire ship now looking more detailed and inhabited while simultaneously also being grimier and bloodier. Lighting is far beyond anything the original could attempt, and the necromorphs better resemble the gross monstrosities they’re meant to be. And, while it’s an element that some players might never even notice, the new peeling system—where you can see actual damage to an enemy’s skin, muscle, organs, and bones as you damage them—is pretty neat in practice. The first time I used the Force Gun against a necromorph, I basically ripped all of the skin rights off of its body, which made me pause for a moment in surprise.
While the game’s weapons have pretty much remained the same on a basic level—and yes, the Plasma Cutter is still one of the best default guns gaming has ever seen—most sport new secondary functions that boost their usefulness. Upgrading your firearms has changed as well, including, thankfully, the removal of any empty nodes on their upgrade charts. Similar tweaks to core gameplay elements are found all throughout the game, such as Isaac being able to full fly around in zero-G areas (versus just hopping from location to location), the punch and stomp buttons getting swapped (which makes more sense), a welcome rethinking of the notorious asteroid-shooting minigame, and a reworking of some of the game’s puzzles.
That includes some new ideas, such as circuit breakers, an element that I think was a fantastic addition to Dead Space. At times, you’ll need to reroute power from one of the area’s functions to another, and the choice can have some pretty big consequences. As one example, there’s a location where, in order to progress, you either need to turn off the lights or the life support, forcing you to make a choice: Do you want to fight against enemies you potentially can’t see at your own pace, or do you want to have to quickly clear them out as your oxygen level continues to drop?
The Ishimura itself has undergone a massive revision, and it’s one that longtime fans of the original game may or may not like. Now, the entire ship acts as one gigantic interconnected locale, and you can return to previously explored areas at (almost) any time. As a part of this, a new security clearance system results in plenty of doors, lockers, or item boxes that are inaccessible early on, but which you can return to and open once Isaac has received a higher clearance level. As well, there are now more side missions that delve into the fate of the Ishimura and its crew, which will also only open up if you divert from the main narrative path to return to areas you might not otherwise.
Given how well the original Dead Space worked as a linear narrative that charted a clear path throughout the ship’s sections, I’m sure that some out there won’t appreciate how big of a change the remake is in that regard. Personally, though, I’m far more in favor of having access to older areas at any time, especially given just how captivating the Ishimura is as a setting. And, really, if you don’t want to do a lot of backtracking, you mostly don’t have to—though you may miss out on some items or weapons. If you do make full use of the game’s more open-ended nature, do be warned: Dead Space now sports an “intensity director” that can cause a long list of random events to occur with the purpose of scaring or surprising you. Areas you’d think should be clear of enemies may no longer be, and that hallway that was perfectly safe the first 20 times you ran down it isn’t guaranteed to be so on your next trip.
As much as I’d loved my time with the original Dead Space when I played it years ago, I’d kind of forgotten about it over the years since. Even in the days leading up to playing it for review, I’m not sure I was even all that interested in EA Motive’s remake. Now, after having returned to the USG Ishimura, remembering just how stellar the game really was while also getting to experience it in a fresh, upgraded way, I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t have more excitement for this release. The Dead Space remake may not be everything it could have been given the hardware we now have access to, but damn if it isn’t a brilliant (and bloody) journey in surviving the horrors that wait out there in deep space in nearly every other way.
Dead Space is one of the true legends of the survival horror genre, and EA Motive’s new remake does the original game full justice while also introducing a variety of fantastic new additions and reworkings. Other than some slight disappointment in its visuals on a technical (but certainly not artistic or atmospheric) level, this is a remake that finds a near-perfect balance between retaining the heart and soul of its predecessor and reanimating its body in some unexpected (but positive) ways.
M - Mature
|Dead Space is available on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC. Primary version played was for PS5. Product was provided by EA for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.