Originally published at: Review | Dead Space (2023) - XboxEra
The original Dead Space was released back in 2008 to critical acclaim. It has been one of my favorite games to go back to, thanks to the backward compatibility on modern Xbox consoles. When this remake was first announced I was overjoyed because the PC version of the original is rough and EA has been on fire lately as a publisher. Motive has done the seemingly impossible task of not only being faithful to the original but improving upon it with every change and addition they have made. Dead Space’s remake is beautiful, bold, confident, and a masterpiece.
Set in 2508, Earth is a wasteland after being stripped of nearly all its valuable resources. Humanity has taken to the stars and a ship known as the USG Ishimura is in orbit over the planet Aegis VII looking to crack open its 35th planet. Things have gone silent and your playable character Isaac Clark is part of a crew sent to find out what has gone wrong. One immediate change from the original is that Isaac talks now. The game’s dialogue has been completely redone, and Isaac’s voice actor from Dead Space 2 and 3 is back in the role once again. Despite his iconic helmet I never understood why Isaac didn’t talk in the original, and this is one of my favorite changes made. It helps add so much weight to the story to hear more than just groans of pain out of the game’s protagonist.
The main plot of the story stays true to the original, and you’ll quickly find a ship infested with weird body horror enemies known as Necromorphs. Shooting them in the head doesn’t put them down, and you’ll need to use the game’s assorted tools and weaponry to sever their limbs in a truly horrific fashion if you are to survive. The plot of Dead Space was always great, and the remake adds in more lore and ties into the sequels than I could have ever hoped for.
This is a complete remake, and you can see the skeleton of the 2008 release being used as a springboard but never a rigid blueprint. Just having Isaac talk changes how scenes play out, and the side characters are better fleshed out. They feel like actual people with emotions and not simple plot devices. Isaac’s main goal is finding his girlfriend Nicole, who is a medical specialist working on the Ishimura. The game starts up immediately with a video call she sent to Isaac and my god is this game gorgeous.
Frostbite is Alright
Utilizing D.I.C.E.’s Frostbite Engine, Dead Space is one of the best-looking games to hit the Xbox Series console. There is a bug at launch where the resolution is running lower than it is intended to on both Xbox and the PlayStation 5. Still, running on my 1440p monitor it is a stunning graphical showcase. The texture work is top-notch, and the facial animations and models are high quality and carry the emotion behind each line well. There are two graphical modes on offer on the Series consoles. The base mode is a weird, jittery mess if you don’t have a Variable Rate Refresh enabled display and I hated it. Performance Mode was a silky smooth feeling sixty frames per second with high image quality and a weird reconstruction bug whenever someone was behind glass. I also immediately turned off Film Grain and lowered the motion blur down to five to increase the IQ.
Necromporphs tear apart in horrifically realistic-looking ways, losing their entire skin and muscle systems with well-placed shots or heavy hits from the biggest guns. The art direction tells a story in every room, with combat staying easy to read even in the most hectic situations. The star of the game is the USG Ishimura itself, as this leviathan of a ship has been made whole. In the 2008 release you would use a tram loading screen to move from one section to the next, and while the tram still exists the entire ship is one large piece now. New sections have you flying around in low planet orbit around it and the scale is jaw-dropping. Those new sections were some of my favorites in the game, with the zero-g movement sections adding a massive spectacle that only modern hardware could pull off.
The minimalistic UI during combat is a series staple, with Isaac’s health and other meters showing up on his back. Most communication with NPCs takes place in a holographic communication device that shoots up from Isaac’s chest plate. The excellent character models, writing, and voice acting work to keep this trope from ever feeling… well like a trope. As someone that has beaten the original trilogy at least 5 times the graphics and story felt familiar, which is the highest compliment I think I can pay to a remake. It feels like Dead Space at every turn, but I know it’s full of changes and additions. In my nostalgic mind’s eye, this has already supplanted the original as what I think of when someone mentions this series now. That goes for the game’s excellent combat and puzzles as well.
Slicing and Dicing
Any fan of Dead Space is a fan of the Plasma Cutter. This is your first and main weapon for most of the game. You’ll get others that all have their place, but the Plasma Cutter is king. Controls have been lightly modernized with run mapped to a click of the left stick. Other than that things felt familiar as the left trigger aimed your weapon, right trigger shot it. The right bumper was the secondary ability for your gun and using the right trigger while not aiming caused Isaac to stomp the ground viciously. That stomp is important as enemies will pop open like a one-prize pinata after death and stomping them for it conserves your precious ammo. There are a wide number of difficulty options available now with Story, Easy, Normal, Hard, and “One Death and It’s Over” Impossible. The always excellent trend of accessibility features is here as well offering up various assists for aiming, menu narration, colorblind modes, hiding disturbing scenes, single button presses for quick time events, toggle modes for aiming and sprinting, and a bevy of subtitle options.
Guns aren’t all you’ll have to fight off the undead hordes as Stasis and Kinesis are back in all their powder blue-tinged glory. Stasis allows Isaac to slow down enemies and environmental pieces to a crawl, but it has a meter that requires single-use modules or wall-mounted bays to recharge. Kinesis, on the other hand, has no limits to its use and with a press of the B button while aiming you can pick up items such as batteries for puzzles or weapons which you then hurl at foes with a press of the right trigger. It varies up the combat and puzzles nicely so that I never felt bored. In performance mode aiming felt great, and I was sniping off limbs and babies tentacles like a pro. That limb-cutting mechanic is extremely satisfying, and I found the other weapons to be more useful this go around than I did when recently replaying the original release for a retro review last year.
The Dead Space Remake is well-balanced, with Normal offering up a challenge while feeling fair. Hard was damned hard, and easy was pretty freaking easy. It’s good to have options and from what I’ve seen achievements are not tied to difficulties, which makes it a lot easier on those who look to 1000 every game they play.
Sounds and Stability
The voice cast has done an excellent job of keeping the vibes of the original game. The dialogue excels in selling the motivations of each character. They have depth and rarely feel like a cudgel trying to bash a plot point into existence. The music is good, though it heavily relies on high-pitched strings that can be grating during an intense fight. If you are playing with a pair of headphones I would recommend going into the audio options and enabling the 3D soundscape. It not only added to the creepiness and terror, it helped me locate where enemies were coming from far more easily than the regular stereo mix.
Bug-wise I ran into nothing major. Enemies and their chunks would sometimes clip through walls or have their physics go haywire for a few seconds. As far as actual game-effecting issues I didn’t have a single one happen to me. From the pixel counters out there the game’s resolution seems to be running lower than Motive intends, so hopefully, that is remedied with a patch in due course. Loading times are excellent with no more than 5-10 seconds passing whenever I loaded back into the game or came back from a gruesome death. The only issue some may have is the price tag. $70 is the new norm for AAA titles, and while you will get 10% off with Game Pass Ultimate it still stings. They’ve added some solid replay value though, with a secret ending only accessible with a New Game+.
Wrapping Things Up
The Dead Space Remake has no flaws for me. It took one of my favorite franchises and reinvented it perfectly. It is stunning to look at, and every single change or addition they made works. This remake is a masterpiece and I hope that this is the rebirth that the Dead Space franchise deserves.