James Stephanie Sterling
Dead Space Remake - A Visceral Response (Review)
Released: January 27, 2023 Developer: Motive Studio Publisher: Electronic Arts Systems: PC, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox XS
The Dead Space remake offends me.
I’m as big a fan of Dead Space as you could ever hope to meet, so much so that in my career as a pro wrestler, I named my finisher the Planet Cracker in tribute. By far my favorite debuting series of the seventh console generation, Visceral’s work remains one of the very best action horrors of all time. I adore Dead Space.
The most important aspect of this sentiment is that Visceral’s work is what I fell in love with, and I loved it in spite of everything its publisher did to destroy the series. Electronic Arts vandalized Dead Space, from desperate attempts to turn it into a multimedia franchise to unrealistic sales expectations to the disgusting monetization of Dead Space 3, EA’s pressure and meddling turned a once great game into a confused sellout of an intellectual property.
After ensuring Dead Space would be a failure and shunting Visceral from one doomed project to another, EA would do what it does best and closed the studio.
I hold that reckless, feckless, far from speckless company responsible for the downfall of both Dead Space and its developer. For EA to sell a remake of the original with a different team and try to profit off of something it so carelessly wrecked is, like I said at the start, fucking offensive.
Originally I’d planned to snub the game entirely and not play it, but having returned to writing reviews and curious to see what they did to my boy, I was compelled to check it out and… it sure is Dead Space! More accurately, it’s Dead Space with alterations I don’t much care for and a $70 price tag when I can play the superior original for comparative peanuts.
The Dead Space remake is shinier, I’ll give it that. Graphical improvements one would expect with fifteen years of technological advancement are all in place. In terms of detail, lighting, and effects, Dead Space is most certainly improved from the 2008 original, because it was released in 2008. Artistically, however, I can’t say I’m particularly impressed.
Quite why this remake felt the need to completely redesign protagonist Isaac Clarke is thoroughly baffling to me. He never looked particularly striking to begin with, but this new one is just a guy. To redesign Isaac is one thing - to be so unstunning about it is paradoxically stunning.
(Edit: apparently they just copied the face of the voice actor so they didn't even design it. Ha)
It’s disappointing that he’s voiced now, too. While Isaac did speak from Dead Space 2 onwards, the original game was lent a particularly lonely atmosphere by its silent protagonist. The cold indifference of the Ishimura was enhanced in Isaac's mute presence, and while he’s not chatty in the remake, his dialogue is frequent enough that Dead Space’s uniquely isolating atmosphere has been punctured. I feel it made the final scene, as Isaac attempts to process exactly what just happened, all the more poignant. Dead Space 2023 would always rather tell than show.
As an action horror game, Dead Space Remake is solid as a direct result of the original’s foundation. After all these years, nothing still plays quite like the methodical limb-tearing action of Visceral’s classic, and as a result I mostly enjoyed playing the remake through sheer dint of its faithfulness to the original. Mostly following the exact beats of the original, Motive's take on Dead Space is pretty much just Visceral's take in terms of direction, story, and action.
There are some quirks that differentiate it - the antagonistic Necromorphs are harder to take apart and the iconic Plasma Cutter feels far less like the only gun players could ever need. By contrast, the once situational flamethrower is more universally useful simply because the game loves handing out ammo for it when equipped. The sheer amount of flamer fuel awarded as loot reached such extremes I could play through whole chapters using that one weapon without ever running out of the stuff - something that proved impossible with even moderate use of any other weapon.
Dead Space 2023 features some new content, possibly in a bid to justify the upscaled price tag. A few side quests fleshing out the story and offering unique rewards have been added, but given the layout of the Ishimura, they almost entirely equate to a ton of backtracking. Objectives mostly consist of scurrying backwards and forwards through previously explored locations. Some quests are annoying in the other direction, giving you objectives that you won’t be able to complete for hours because you haven’t progressed far enough in the story to unlock the route to them. These objectives just sit in the menu, some for at least ten hours, taunting you with red text and a litany of associated locked doors.
There is one major improvement over the original, and that’s the removal of doors requiring Nodes to open. These doors originally made players trade rare upgrade components in exchange for crucial resources, but the remake no longer makes you choose between strengthening gear and acquiring items. In the place of Node doors are ones that require a single weapon shot to open, and ones that are incrementally unlockable as Isaac upgrades his security clearance. I'm all in favor of removing the anxiety associated with upgrades.
Also, they overhauled the horrendous section where Isaac needs to shoot down meteors with a massive gun emplacement. While it's still rubbish, having Isaac merely point and blast at meteors rather than engage in a woefully unfair shooting gallery is appreciated.
Less appreciable are wonky physics glitches that border on absurd. Severed body parts are very prone to breakdancing and spinning around like the Tazmanian Devil on amphetamines. Corpses occasionally pop in from nowhere after you return to an old location, sometimes shuddering as if still alive. Once defeated and dismembered, Necromorphs simply don’t feel dead - they’re so bouncy, so spinny, so comical in their frantic tendencies they alternate between providing accidental jump scares and making the player laugh at the stupidity of it all.
Additionally, button prompts sometimes remain onscreen after corresponding actions are completed, limbs on Necromorphs and dead humans alike are fond of folding in on themselves, and I encountered a few moments of temporary freezing. Stability on PS5 doesn’t seem to be great, putting it politely. The game has crashed multiple times while playing, and occasionally it wouldn’t even run, hanging on a black screen until it was closed and restarted.
There’s really not much more I could say about this remake of a game I used to easily talk about all day.
In sincere honesty, I want to give this game the lowest score I possibly could due to how insulting I find its mere existence. Scoring a game on philosophical grounds rather than how it works as a piece of media is a curious prospect, and I’ve pondered exactly how much meta consideration should reflect the final critical assessment of a game. I’m being heavily biased here and I don’t think that’s a bad thing - all reviews are based in bias and the sensibilities of the individual reviewer - but I also understand there are many readers who wouldn’t find much use for a grade built on a grudge.
Splitting the critical difference between this remake as a pure videogame and as a galling example of EA’s cynicism seems like the best bet. This compromise is made all the easier by the fact that even when judged as a product in a bubble, I’m simply not impressed by a remake that improves little and offers changes I mostly dislike.
Everything good about Dead Space 2023’s basic gameplay, combat, and narrative is a result of what Dead Space 2008 built. Most of what this remake adds is either less appealing artistic alterations or side content that generally amounts to unnecessary padding, and quite frankly I’d have been more interested in a remaster than a glitchy new take that’s less enjoyable and costs more. When you add the repulsive context of EA benefiting from a series it once destroyed right down to the developer, you get a game that leaves a sour bloody taste, even if it’s an acceptable mimicry of its predecessor.
Dead Space 2008 is fifteen quid on digital storefronts.