Prior to tackling our Dead Space Remake review, I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed a re-do. While the sci-fi horror romp is now almost 15 years old, its unique package of genre-defining mechanics and interstellar terror still holds up today. Thankfully, Motive has respectfully transformed the original concept into something that feels like a 2023 caper, all while retaining everything that still makes the original grotesquely brilliant.
Motive’s Dead Space Remake is definitely up there with the best horror games of all time, but you could attribute that feat to Visceral Games’ fantastic source material. It pays homage to classic flicks like Alien and Event Horizon by blending together body horror and survival agency, ultimately offering something only a videogame could achieve.
So while the remake has big shoes to fill, it fully understands the assignment. During my playthrough, I realised I’d forgotten what the 2008 release actually looks and feels like to play, and I can’t see myself returning to the original after stepping into Isaac’s new, shiny boots.
If you’re not familiar with the Dead Space franchise, the third-person survival horror places you in the boots of Isaac Clarke, an engineer tasked with carrying out repairs on an enormous mining vessel known as the USG Ishimura. If you’re partial to a spooky space movie, you’ll already know where this is going, as Clarke and his maintenance team are ambushed by a bunch of monstrous alien lifeforms shortly after boarding.
Rather than turning a machine on and off again and calling it a day, you’ll need to guide Isaac through the Ishimura and fend off countless flavours of ‘Necromorph’. Both the original and remake share this in common, but EA’s renewed space oddity has undergone substantial changes that alter the narrative and setup.
Isaac now does a lot of talking, which is a stark contrast to the original where he was a silent protagonist, only finding a voice in Dead Space 2 onwards. This matters more than you’d think, as it provides a bit more insight into the protagonist’s personality and moment-by-moment emotions. It also facilitates more side-character chit-chat throughout, which helps add context to an ever-unravelling narrative.
Speaking of side characters, I won’t delve too deep in order to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve played the original, you’ll definitely recognise some of the faces on board the Ishimura this time around. Ultimately, the new narrative framework does a great job of expanding upon the original premise, even if the end result leaves Isaac in a similar state.
Updated visuals are a vital remake ingredient, and Dead Space is bursting with flavourful fidelity. You know that feeling when you play an old game and realise it looked better in your head? Well, Motive’s take almost looks like a warm nostalgic memory – not that “warm” is perhaps the right word to describe an undead-infested spaceship.
I can’t stop thinking about how much life Motive has injected into the game’s charcuterie board of effects. Finding time to enjoy the view in a horror game is a chore, but you’d be foolish not to spend a few moments basking under a random light or dwelling within a murky shadow, as it’ll hammer home the love poured into every detail by Motive.
Gorgeous shadows, intricate textures, and alluring lighting help repaint the original piece with a new brush, but the end result is still unmistakably Dead Space. Long-term fans will be pleased to know the Ishimura still looks as homely as the inside of an industrial garbage can, and the enhanced visuals drench the cold, unforgiving halls of the mining ship with more detail than ever, which aims to upset your eyes in the best way possible.
Accompanying the remake’s sour eye candy are the frankly frightening audio enhancements that’ll mess with your noggin no matter how high-end your audio setup is. The orchestra of directional screams, ear-shattering clashes, and blood-curdling roars will instil fear into the hardiest of horror fans. Once you’ve endured a couple of hours of sensory torment, you’ll be able to detect sneaky Necromorphs coming from all angles, but I can’t decide if hearing said sounds hampered my third-person shooter skills.
Regardless, the original Dead Space’s sound design slapped, and it set a ridiculously lofty bar for future horror games to achieve. Using audio in this way is infinitely more immersive than the highest-quality visuals, as it’s arguably easier to fool your ears over your eyes. Nevertheless, Motive manages to focus on both with its remake, and you’ll struggle to find a spookier combo within your Steam library.
When it comes to weaponry, much of it is still the same, but there are a few key differences to be aware of. Nodes are back with a bang and vital for upgrades, whether you opt for the punchy Pulse Rifle or the precise Plasma Cutter, but schematics are thrown into the mix too now for additional upgrade and ability choices.
Weapons now also have alternate modes such as Line Gun laser traps and staggering Contact Beam blasts, all of which add an extra layer of versatility to every undead tussle. You don’t have to actively devise crowd control tactics or entrap enemies to survive every encounter, but doing so will save you from using far more resources than is necessary in unfortunate situations.
You’ll find collectables like schematics, nodes, and new suits scattered throughout the Ishimura, but they’re not the only reason to stray off the beaten path. For starters, some rooms and boxes feature ‘security clearance’ locks that can only be accessed after a certain point in the game, so you’ll need to revisit earlier areas if you’re craving upgrades. In addition, side quests are now a thing, and each helps provide expanded lore and alternative conversations between characters.
Messing around with mechanics can make or break a remake, but Motive has certainly achieved the former with its Dead Space take. The star of the show is the ‘peeling’ system, as it allows players to tear through layers of skin, muscle, and bone when blasting Necromorphs to bits.
Peeling enemies like a satsuma is as putrid as it sounds, but it serves a practical purpose. Severing limbs is the only way to take down a Necromorph, and the peeling system acts as a visceral visual aid of sorts, almost like a barbaric health bar. Simply put, if you can see limb tendons, you’re halfway there. Got some bone showing? Another shot should seal the deal.
Whether or not you’ll actually pay attention to enemy wounds during frantic showdowns is another matter entirely, but the useful mechanic takes Dead Space’s body horror to the next level. As sick as it sounds, the best way to get a good look at the feature is by shooting human corpses in the face, so if you’ve got an iron stomach, you might want to give that a try.
Gore aside, the remake has reworked zero gravity, as you can now float around using thrusters. This is a massive improvement over the pseudo-platforming mechanic featured in the 2008 version, as it made entire sections of exploration feel needlessly clunky. The change actually makes boss battles like the Leviathan (the cosmic sphincter from the original) a bit more bearable, but it still took me a million tries to send the butthole into the abyss.
Dead Space Remake is wonderfully wretched, but there are a few quirks that somewhat spoil the mood. While the following might change in the future, especially if pre-release patches are a thing, each roughens the edges of what would otherwise be a flawless finish.
If you’ve already familiarised yourself with Dead Space system requirements, you’ll know that recommended PC specs are somewhat hefty. Sadly, exceeding GPU requirements will still potentially result in frame spikes during cutscenes and some specific areas, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. Making sure to enable Nvidia DLSS can offset performance dips, but it feels more like an issue under the hood than a specific hardware problem.
As infinitely amusing as it is, janky ragdoll physicals are also a distraction, as there’s nothing sillier than dancing Nercromoph limbs. Not every abomination in the game is afflicted with erratic legs and arms after dismemberment, but when it happens, immersion completely takes a back seat.
On a perhaps more serious note, I encountered one or two game-breaking glitches during my run-through. During one instance, Isaac found himself stuck during an automated prompt, unable to move. Even dying didn’t fix it, forcing a reload from a previous save. While there were only a handful of glitches during the review period, they were enough of a nuisance to mention, and the sort of jank you’d expect from the 2008 original, not a brand-new rework.~
If The Callisto Protocol failed to quench your cosmic horror thirst, I’m confident that Dead Space will once again sate your needs. It’s ever so slightly rough around the edges, and Isaac Clarke now looks like Adam Sandler for some reason, but it’s a respectful rework that’ll hopefully mark the franchise’s triumphant return. Thanks to Motive, I’m now more open to the idea of Xbox 360-era remakes, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the cards for Dead Space 2.
Dead Space Remake review
Motive’s Dead Space Remake is a gloriously grotesque glow-up that embraces the original horror game’s robust formula, and only a slight amount of jank keeps it from achieving perfection.