Making new stuff is hard! Let’s remake old stuff instead! Such is the refrain of the modern games industry, and it’s become commonplace to see old classics dusted off (or refashioned entirely) on the shelves yet again. The stores are a little different: they tend to be digital rather than physical. The shelves are a little different: they’re folders on an Excel spreadsheet rather than actual chunks of metal. But the idea remains the same – sell it again, Sam.
And sometimes this works out great! Dead Space in 2023 is still a horrifying tale of zombie-smashing in the far reaches of the final frontier. And thanks to some fine work by developer Motive Studio, makers of the fine Star Wars flyer Star Wars: Squadrons, it’s also just as good as it was back in the day.
You might know this story: Isaac Clarke, space engineer extraordinaire, and his crew are sent out to the planet-cracker mining ship Ishimura. They’re there to find out what’s been going on with the suspiciously quiet ship, but they rapidly discover why it’s been so quiet: an alien force has started converting the dead on the ship into hostile Necromorph creatures. As they find their numbers rapidly picked off, Isaac and his crew will have to fight for their lives. All the while, Isaac continues looking for his missing girlfriend Nicole, a doctor onboard the ship whose survival seems increasingly unlikely as the bodies keep piling up.
So what’s new in the remake? There’s quite a few changes here and there, but they definitely tend to be refinements rather than revolutions. For instance, combat’s been spruced up a bit. While the Plasma Cutter is still a reliable go-to option, other weapons have received a little help in the form of the “peeling” system whereby it’s possible to strip Necromorphs’ flesh and leave them vulnerable to limb removal. As ever, that’s the best way to deal with the zombie menace, so this new system is a great addition.
There’s also a variety of new alternate weapon modes, such as the Pulse Rifle’s proximity mines that can be used to help cover Isaac’s back in spicy situations. Zero-gravity adventure also saw some tweaks and upgrades, making it play more like a take on Descent’s 6-degrees-of-freedom models rather than the awkward point-to-point jumping of the original game. You might want to engage in a little more of this spicier gameplay, so it’s fortunate that a bunch of new sidequests offer extra loot and lore if you want to diverge from the main story.
Finally, and perhaps most prominently, there’s a Left 4 Dead-style AI director that adjusts various aspects of the game to ratchet up the tension. It’s hard to point down exactly what this is doing at any given time, but there’s no question that the Dead Space remake really does feel pretty spooky even if you’ve played the original game. I suspect the experience is meant to evoke something like the insanity effects from the horror classic Eternal Darkness, but the game never goes out of its way to tell you when the director’s doing a thing, it just does the thing…and poof, now there’s an extra Necromorph standing right behind you. It’s a great idea for a remake that otherwise sticks as close to the original as this one does.
These all work together to make Dead Space feel like a fresh new experience, but perhaps the greatest upgrade lies in the presentation. The graphics are glorious, the sound is amazing, the environments lend that extra bit of fear to make the experience feel just spooky enough…it’s fantastic. Perhaps more fantastic though, is the performance. Give it a little space to roam on PC or a nice console and you’ll be trucking on through the Ishimura at a lovely clip. If we’re going to keep on cranking out the same games over and over again, we can at least ensure that all the Xeroxes are done as well as this one.
Combine all this with the fact a month of EA Play Pro is only $15 and offers plenty of time to complete the game and it’s hard to argue against the 2023 remake of Dead Space. It’s a loving rendition of a survival-horror classic that retains all the old scares while adding in a few of its own. If you’re feeling burned by Dead Space 3 even to this day, or even the more recent The Callisto Protocol (which has Dead Space DNA), perhaps another trip to the Ishimura will help ease the pain. Just make sure to aim for their limbs.