How do you improve upon a masterpiece? Where do you begin? Do you challenge that there are flaws worth correcting? Do you make the best parts even better? Do you mix a little of A and a little of B into what could be an altogether improved, yet different thing at the risk of alienating the original audience? I don’t know, but apparently EA Motive does. Taking on the challenge of recreating Dead Space from the ground up could not have been an easy task. Not only did they take it on with gusto, but they succeeded in ways I never would have expected. Dead Space 2023 is a familiar, yet fresh return to the classic, visually and mechanically polishing the things that made the 2008 game amazing while reworking a number of key points to make it one of the most impressive and exciting modern horror experiences I have ever played.
Something old, something new
The story beats of Dead Space 2023 are mostly the same as the original. Contact was lost with a “Planet Cracker” mining ship known as the USG Ishimura in the orbit of an off-limits world known as Aegis VII. With such a sizable investment on the line, a team is dispatched to check in on the ship and discover the fate of its crew. The player takes up the mantle of aeronautics engineer Isaac Clarke, whose girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, was a doctor on board the Ishimura. It doesn’t take long for everything to go to heck. The Ishimura is infested with brutal, bloodthirsty creatures that seem to be mutated versions of the ship’s crew. Isaac and company’s ship they arrived on is soon destroyed by the monsters and with various systems of the Ishimura failing, it’s up to the rescue crew to repair what they can and try to escape the insanity.
The first thing returning players will notice is that Isaac talks in this game. Where he was once a stoic pile of grunts, groans, and screams, Isaac now engages in the conversations between his crew. I liked that. Gunner Wright once again fills the voice role of Clarke and you can tell from jump street just how comfy he is with delivering Isaac’s dialogue and reactions to everything. The same can’t always be said of every bit of dialogue in Dead Space though. Despite the fact that they’re trapped on a ship full of ravenous monsters that want to mutilate them, everyone feels just a bit too brusque with their dialogue, if not unusually calm.
It doesn’t detract from the core experience, though. These folks are accessories to the true stars of the show, which are the Ishimura, its monsters, and the tools Isaac uses to kill them before they can kill him. The redesigned Ishimura is a masterful tapestry of disturbing design, well crafted from the trappings of the original. The flashing lights, various technology (both working and failing), and remnants of panic, violence, and chaos are rebuilt smartly, adding details both grandiose and minute to what was already an amazing environment to explore. It’s further aided by the fact that the game is almost always seamless in its transitions. Once you load into your adventure, you’ll pretty much never see loading screens again. Dead Space 2023 plays smooth like butter and the impeccable level of quality in its performance makes sure you never have stuttering pulling away from the fear, tension, and action.
The soundscape is better than ever too. Dead Space is one of the few games I always want dead silence around me. The director system of the game makes sure that enemies could come at you from any angle at any time. In the stark quiet, I was always looking around me carefully to make sure I wasn’t getting hit in the back by an unnoticed assailant. Its louder points are magnificent too. Whether you’re hearing the panicked music of an incoming enemy assault or just the grinding, whirring, screeching, buzzing, and other chaos of the ship’s systems, this remake kept me on my toes, listening and watching carefully just as much if not more than the original.
Pretty handy with a Plasma Cutter
If you think you know exactly what weapons you want to use when it comes to Dead Space 2023 based on your experience with the original, I’m here to tell you to reconsider the whole arsenal. There were definitely weapons in the 2008 Dead Space I wrote off because they didn’t fit what I wanted, but in this Dead Space, they all felt viable to me in one way or another. The Plasma Cutter still does exactly what it used to, but the Pulse Rifle brings Dead Space 2 and 3’s proximity mine alternate fire into play whether you want to make a trap or run it as an underbarrel grenade launcher.
Likewise, I had completely shelved the Flamethrower in the original game because it sucked. Not so here. Not only is it great for keeping large groups of enemies in check, but its new alternate fire pitches out a flame wall that stops the approach of most enemies and gives you some breathing room to focus on other threats. Where it was an insta-drop into Item Storage in 2008, the Flamethrower was one of my most used weapons here. Other weapons feel equally improved in their performance and I couldn’t really give you a reason why I wouldn’t use one other than I just liked others more.
Enemies and encounters also feel well-improved. I have a long history of getting really annoyed when a horror game gives me an arsenal that makes me feel like any enemies I come across are trivial. Dead Space has the arsenal, but I never felt overconfident. First off, it throws a reasonable amount of enemies at you at nearly every juncture, eating up your ammo if you intend to fight them off. On medium difficulty, I always felt like I was scraping by for every clip of ammo and every precious medkit keeping me alive. I never ran out, thankfully, but I felt a distinct gut cramp every single time I missed a crucial shot or took a hit I felt like I could have avoided. In short, I was nearly always on edge and that’s the way I feel it ought to be if you’re going to give me so many weapons.
Some of the encounters and set pieces in this remake have been hugely improved over their original counterparts, as well. There’s a certain part where asteroids are pummeling the Ishimura and Isaac has to do something about that. The original “on-rails shooter” approach to this was one of my least favorite parts of the 2008 Dead Space. Here, EA Motive reworked that section entirely and not only does it avoid sucking fun out of part of the game, but it actually feels perfectly sensible the way you go about it. I was really dreading playing that part and EA Motive turned it into a fun and intense, yet sensible segment. There are some encounters that play almost 1:1 to the original, but the parts where EA Motive took liberties make sense and generally paid off to make a good thing even better.
Unfortunately, finding your way to the next location wasn’t always one of those things. Dead Space has always had this pinging system where Isaac reveals a holographic digital line that will point him in the direction of his next objective. I don’t know if I’m misremembering, but here in the remake, that line fades away much too fast. I often had to objective ping multiple times, especially if the directions went behind Isaac, simply because I didn’t see where they were pointing before they were gone. A minor inconvenience, but it was one I had to deal with all game.
I will say, Dead Space ups its gore game to the max with some extremely impressive shredding mechanics. You’ll see the flesh, muscle, blood, and bone strip away from enemies with every shot, visually telling you what kind of damage you’re doing. However, this includes ragdoll physics when you blow a monster’s limb off or kill them. In my experience, there was no lack of janky ragdolls just spasming all over the floor. I appreciate the attention to detail in the gore, but sometimes the silly ragdoll effects pulled me out of the tension. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good, silly ragdoll dance. It’s just hard to remain locked into the scares when a dead foe is going all whack-a-doo on the ground.
That said, the Dead Space Remake has a lot to enjoy even after you roll credits, too. There’s a New Game+ in which you can discover secrets and even a new ending that can’t be obtained in the first run. Just as well, for the truly insane and hardcore, the highest difficulty features a new suit and reward for Isaac if you can manage to complete it. With a campaign already easily clocking in at double digit hours, there’s a ton of game to enjoy here.
Death is only the beginning
When Dead Space originally came out in 2008, it revitalized a stagnant genre. Horror was in a slump from too much of the same thing and well-known franchises leaning more towards action. In came EA and Visceral Games to turn the genre on its head and give us something truly innovative and terrifying to play, a new spark to ignite the fear we were deprived of at the time. Remaking that is a tall order, so I’ve been nervous about EA Motive’s attempt from the get-go, but I’m happy to admit, my fears were unfounded. Not only is the 2023 Dead Space remake good, it takes everything that made the 2008 game good and makes it better, even outright swapping out certain weak points of the original to make a top-to-bottom must play for anyone looking for a good scare in their games. And if this leads to further remakes and content in the Dead Space franchise? Then I’m glad EA Motive are the ones at the wheel.
This review is based on a digital PlayStation 5 copy supplied by the publisher. Dead Space comes out on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on January 27, 2023.
Dead Space 2023
- Environments are beautifully recrafted and disturbing throughout
- Soundscape perfectly punctuates the horror design
- Monster shredding physics take the gore to new heights
- Most set pieces and encounters are reworked for the better
- All weapons are reworked and well worth a revisit
- Isaac's new dialogue is a welcome addition to the story
- Plenty of side quests, secrets, and post-game content to explore
- Almost zero loading throughout the game after startup
- Dialogue is occasionally too punchy and missing emotional depth
- Ragdoll effects sometimes look silly and take away from the tension
- Objective pinging is too brief and sometimes hard to follow
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Dead Space (2023) review: Embrace the evolution
how was the Dualsense? debating between xbox and PS5 version
I think the biggest place I noticed the DualSense was in the Pulse Rifle and Ripper. Getting the saw blade wedged into an enemy provided a really interesting effect and you get a faster rate of fire upgrade on the Pulse later that really makes the controller go nuts. It was okay, but not notable with the other weapons and interactions.
Awesome, I am pre ordered on the PC and counting down the hours \m/ :) \m/