Dead Space did an incredible thing for horror games when it first came out in 2008. It revitalized horror in a time when the genre was in a poor state. While Resident Evil was leaning into action and Silent Hill was floundering, Dead Space came around and showed us that games can be legitimately terrifying again. Remaking such a masterpiece was a tall order, but EA and Motive Studio have taken up the task with their remake of Dead Space coming in 2023. Recently, I got a chance to sit down with an early build of the game and after what I saw, I feel confident they are on the right path to both a solid revisit to the original and a definitive experience all its own.
A darker, deadlier, more connected Ishimura
For the purposes of my demo, I got to see the opening act and first few chapters of the Dead Space remake, up to around the point where we go explore the Medical Wing and all of the terrible things that happened there. Perhaps one of the most notable features of the Dead Space remake is that Isaac has full dialogue this time around. No longer does he simply grunt, groan, and play passive observer as other characters carry on the narrative. Isaac is, himself, engaged in the narrative. He’s as desperate as the rest of the crew to make sense of the situation and survive, and his actions and emotions are carried out masterfully once again by the impeccable Gunner Wright.
The voice of Isaac Clarke since the very beginning, EA and Motive Studio knew they had to bring Gunner back. In fact, Project Technical Director David Robillard and Senior Producer Philippe Ducharme told me it was imperative. At this point, everyone is of the mind that Gunner is Isaac. He understands the character and gives him life in a way that would be nigh impossible to replace. And I felt that in my short time with the game. Wright’s reworked delivery of Isaac gives a new level of desperation and effort to sort out the chaos that Isaac didn’t originally have in the first game because he was relegated to grunts, screams, heavy breathing, and further non-verbal noises.
The second thing I noticed was just how beautifully ugly and terrifying the reworked USG Ishimura is in this remake. EA Motive has rebuilt this game from the ground up after all. Every corridor, every shuttle bay, and every common area all stay close to what the original looked like in their depth and feel, but they’ve been given a huge level of polish over their 2008 counterpart. The incubator chamber in the Medical Wing glows green from the liquid tubes as creepy baby Necromorphs skitter around it. Restrooms feature shattered toilet stalls where desperate victims tried to flee, only to be cornered and half devoured. Lobbies are strewn with hastily packed and scattered luggage, some destroyed, others soaked in blood… And desperate last messages from the dead and/or dying are scrawled everywhere.
The USG Ishimura felt more alive to me than it ever felt before and the combination of this well-built environment and Isaac’s new engagement with it made a lot of familiar bits hit in an altogether amplified way. It also helps that the game is built without loading screens. The expedition through the Ishimura loads seamlessly as you explore it. This was a priority of Motive Studio, creating one long and immersive cut of Isaac’s journey, and it seems to be paying off so far in creating an uninterrupted scare fest.
Bringing lessons learned back to the beginning
Perhaps one of the coolest subtle things I saw in this early version of the Dead Space remake was the implementation of later Dead Space tools and moves in this original setting. For instance, you couldn’t impale enemies with objects thrown by the Kinesis Module until Dead Space 2. That function has been brought here (and why shouldn’t it? It’s great). Moreover, I was never a fan of the Pulse Rifle in the original Dead Space. I hated its alt-fire where the gun became a mid-height turret because it often missed low enemies. For this one, the Pulse Rifle has its under-barrel proximity mine alt-fire back instead, as well as making the shots feel more impactful. Ultimately, it was a far more fun weapon to use.
According to the devs, it wasn’t just about remaking a 1:1 version of the original masterpiece. It was about taking what was great about that, as well as the lessons learned and improvements from later entries and thoughtfully applying them where applicable. This even applies to Zero Gravity segments. Where in the original Dead Space, players could only jump straight from surface to surface, the freeform and thruster movement of later Dead Space games returns. Now players can float through Zero G segments of the Ishimura, exploring as they will and engaging enemies in free-floating combat. It’s hard to guess at whether or not I would have felt deprived if these later game features weren’t here. Because of Motive Studio’s efforts, we won’t have to worry about that.
Something old, something new
The original Dead Space was a masterpiece, and Motive Studio clearly cares about it as much as we do. In my time with this early version of the Dead Space remake, I felt that passion throughout the product. These bloody walls were familiar, but the improvements upon them made them feel harrowing once again. The use of later game features, the redesign of the settings and visuals, and Isaac being given a proper voice to carry this story make so much of what I knew from 2008 feel fresh again. And it’s not at the cost of losing what made Dead Space incredible in the first place. If EA and Motive Studio can stick the landing when this game launches in 2023, it stands a good chance of becoming the definitive Dead Space experience.
This preview is based on a hands-on demo session provided by the publisher in which travel and accommodations were provided. The Dead Space remake comes out on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on January 27, 2023.