Here’s the thing: if you’re a fan of the original 2008 Dead Space, you’ll enjoy its 2023 remake, because it’s largely the same game. Big parts of the original have been reproduced with meticulous attention to detail, including a few of its flaws.
The words “largely” and “big” are carrying a lot of weight in those sentences. With Dead Space ’23, EA’s Motive Studio has kept what worked about the original and jettisoned a lot of what didn’t.
The end product feels like you’re playing DS ’08, but without several of that game’s petty irritations. It’s still predictable as hell, though.
I coincidentally went back and knocked Dead Space ’08 off my backlog last year, before EA announced the remake was on its way. The original DS still holds up in 2023, with really weighty-feeling combat, and it’s got some of the best monster design in its console generation.
Its biggest issue, which it shares with its remake, is that it falls into really obvious patterns. If there’s a duct cover or grate in the walls, floor, or ceiling, it’s an enemy spawn point. Nothing’s ever just in a room waiting for you when it could abruptly burst out of the vents. If you dropped a few big firebombs into the Ishimura’s ductwork, the rest of the game would be 20 minutes long.
Motive Studio’s overhauled most of Dead Space for the remake, and has addressed most of the issues that were holding that game back. The story’s more elegantly told, Isaac Clarke is no longer a silent protagonist, the turret sections that everyone loathed have been unceremoniously kicked out the airlock, and the combat and navigation have been overhauled. The only problem DS ’08 had that’s still in the game, inexplicably, is its reliance on “monster closets.”
It’s the 26th century, and humanity’s spread from Earth into multiple off-world colonies. The constant need for additional resources led to the creation of giant “planet-cracker” starships, which process entire worlds into usable minerals.
When one of the oldest planet-crackers, the Ishimura, suddenly goes dark, a small team is sent to investigate why. They quickly discover that most of the Ishimura’s crew is dead or worse at the hands/claws/tentacles/[other] of an alien contagion, and the handful of survivors are even more insane than one might expect.
As the team’s engineer, Isaac Clarke, you get separated from your group early on. You’re left alone to figure out what the hell is happening; to find Isaac’s girlfriend Nicole Brennan, one of the doctors stationed aboard the ship; and to make field repairs so the Ishimura doesn’t crash or explode before you can find a way back off it.
A lot of Dead Space‘s storyline and environments have been ported straight across to its 2023 edition, such as particular rooms, enemy placements, puzzle solutions, and even graffiti. You’ll revisit the same parts of the Ishimura in roughly the same order, fight many of the same monsters, and deal with many of the same big plot twists along the way.
On some level, this is a smart move; the best thing about Dead Space ’08 is its setting. The Ishimura is, with the benefit of hindsight, one of the great creepy settings of its console generation; it’s all cramped corridors, distant machinery, and screeches of metal fatigue, like you’re trying to sneak through hell’s own boiler room.
Sure, it’s essentially all the same color, and it’s difficult to imagine the Ishimura ever being a fun or safe place to work. As a haunted spaceship, though, it’s great.
The remake expands the Ishimura into a single open map, rather than 12 unconnected levels, which encourages you to spend more time navigating its halls. You’ve even got an overhauled system to let Isaac maneuver in zero gravity, which lets you freely explore the exterior of the station, Prey-style.
That being said, there could be more to do in the Ishimura. There are a few side missions and useful resources that you can get by backtracking, but enemies frequently reappear on decks you’ve already cleared, so you quickly hit a point where the risk/reward ratio on exploration isn’t in your favor.
It’s still a step in the right direction, however, and it’s easy to imagine this kind of open-ended environment in a future game. As a proof of concept, it’s cool.
It’s also worth noting that your arsenal in DS ’23 is mostly the same as it is in ’08, but a lot of your extra weapons have been reworked. The weak guns like the pulse rifle have picked up some extra weight and impact, while all-timers like the Ripper are still as fun to use as they always were.
At time of writing, I’ve just unlocked the final upgrade for the default Plasma Cutter, which makes its melee attack hit like a sack full of doorknobs. Suddenly, Isaac’s awkward flailing pistol-whip knocks all the taste out a necromorph’s mouth. It instantly makes combat 90% more entertaining.
My biggest complaint about the Dead Space remake is a question of familiarity.
If you’re brand new to the game and series, then that’s obviously not an issue. Dead Space is an early contender for the best survival-horror game this year. Go in knowing as little as you can, as you would with any horror experience, and you’ll probably have a blast with it.
DS ’08 is still fresh in my mind, though, and the remake follows a lot of that game’s moment-to-moment gameplay like a blueprint.
The remake does have a couple of new fights, and the side missions offer some details about previously unexplored parts of the story, but there are long stretches of DS ’23 that recreate every detail of DS ’08 down to individual enemy placement.
It’s the one thing that Motive Studio could’ve mixed up a little from DS ’08, and it didn’t. The remake’s creepiest new moments are reserved for its back half, but before that, just like the original game, it’s a shooting gallery full of obvious monster closets. Worse, it’s all the same monster closets.
I did notice a few changes on my second run through the game, such as halls that are suddenly filled with smoke or new enemies, but they were few and far between. There’s supposed to be an AI-driven “intensity director” that adds more variety as you play, but I barely noticed it on my initial run.
By way of comparison, the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes took the original games, only kept the broad strokes of their stories in place, and built largely new games back up around them.
The Dead Space remake, conversely, feels like an enhanced, modded version of Dead Space ’08. It could really use a few new big scares or a true randomizer to recapture the original game’s tension.
Dead Space Remake Review — The Bottom Line
- Smooths over some of the original game’s rough edges with new systems and redesigned encounters.
- What changes it does make to the story are mostly successful.
- Isaac Clarke is a much better character now that he talks and makes decisions.
- It gets much creepier in its back half.
- A game built around replay value that doesn’t let you skip cutscenes.
- Very fond of simply dropping an enemy into your blind spot.
- Gets predictable the same way the original does.
- That’s double predictable.
I probably would’ve had more fun with the Dead Space remake if I hadn’t just played the original. The weapons feel good to use, the enemies splatter in a satisfying way, and you feel like a mad genius whenever you impale something on an electrical conduit.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t have any fun. I can recognize the work that’s been done here to make an old, decent game better, and there are a few all-time great moments scattered across Dead Space‘s runtime. This is just a bizarre case where a remake’s fixed every problem a game had, except the most obvious one.
[Note: EA provided the copy of Dead Space used for this review. Featured screenshot by GameSkinny.]