The Dead Space remake may not feel entirely necessary, but it improves on the original in almost every aspect of its design.
14 years is a long time in the video game industry, but it still feels insufficient for EA’s Dead Space. The original 2008 game is a modern classic that, by today’s standards, holds up extremely well. There’s very little about its design that feels dated, and the strategic dismemberment that serves as the foundation of its combat still provides a unique and gory thrill that has yet to be replicated.
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The remake’s improved graphical fidelity breathes new life into its suffocating horror, but public debate has centered on whether it even needs to exist in the first place. That may be a cynical point of view, but it is not without merit. And, having reached the end credits myself, I’m still not entirely convinced it needs to, but I’m glad it does. Remaking Dead Space in 2023 may not seem particularly necessary, but EA Motive has created a game that improves on its excellent predecessor in a variety of ways, albeit only marginally.
These enhancements begin with its story, which has been expanded through a variety of changes to both its characters and storytelling. The basic plot beats of the original game are retained, beginning with your fateful arrival on the USG Ishimura. You find the hulking planet cracker-class ship floating lifelessly above the planet of Aegis VII after responding to a distress signal.
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Once aboard, things take a familiar sharp turn downward, but the previously silent protagonist Isaac Clarke now has a voice to react appropriately. I’m not a big fan of silent protagonists, but there’s always the risk of vocal characters being too chatty, especially in a horror game where atmosphere and tension are so important. Thankfully, this is not the case here, and Isaac’s newly discovered agency makes him feel less like a simple tool to be manipulated.
Gunner Wright reprises the role after playing Isaac in the Dead Space sequels, so there’s a level of continuity here that’s mirrored in other aspects of the remake’s design.
Dead Space Remake: Everything You Need to Know
Much of the script has been rewritten to accommodate Isaac’s speech, but the story remains compelling. The church of Unitology—a cultish religious sect that plays an important role in the Dead Space universe—plays a much larger role this time around, especially early on. Characters mention the infamous church in a natural way, discussing the sect before they realize how significant its impact will be on future events.
Kendra Daniels, one of Isaac’s coworkers and your main point of contact throughout the game, has also been rewritten to elevate the remake. She was previously prickly and leaned into some unnecessary antagonistic behavior, but she’s now been transformed into an empathetic character, which pays off in a more effective way than before.
The remake is structurally identical to the original game, from the frantic dash to the elevator after the initial reveal of the zombie-like Necromorphs to the critical task of disabling all of the Wheezers that are poisoning the air on the Hydroponics Deck. However, there are a few minor level design changes scattered throughout, as well as some notable gameplay improvements.
To begin, instead of rigidly hopping from one surface to another, the zero gravity sequences now allow you to leap from the ground and use your suit’s thrusters to freely move around each area. The ability to essentially fly through these segments makes them far more interesting than before, as you’re forced to deal with enemies who can attack from any angle while orienting yourself to solve various puzzles.
Some of these sections, such as the Ishimura’s hangar, have also grown in scope, deviating from the ship’s innards design to give you more freedom to explore. Others, such as the ADS cannon repair job, have been completely redesigned to increase the tension, shifting from a stale turret shooting gallery to a perilous spacewalk, and this carries over into your battles with The Leviathan.
If you’ve played Dead Space 2, the freedom of movement in these redesigned zero-G segments will feel immediately familiar, and this is a theme that runs throughout the remake. Special upgrades for each weapon in Isaac’s mining tool arsenal have also been carried over from the 2011 sequel. Another mod allows you to use the Disc Ripper to ricochet sawblades that slice through multiple enemies.
These mods are scattered throughout the Ishimura, so exploring every nook and cranny of the desolate mining vessel will reward you. A new security clearance system initially keeps you out of certain rooms and lockers, but as you progress through the story, you’ll gradually unlock higher clearance levels.
[EA Motive’s Dead Space remake] improves upon the original with some smart new additions to almost every aspect of its design.
This system appears to have been added to support the inclusion of custom side quests that require you to return to previously explored areas of the ship. Having a reason to return makes revisiting previously locked doors feel organic—and the now-seamless travel between each part of the ship makes it feel like a genuine place—but the side quests themselves aren’t particularly interesting from a gameplay standpoint.
Enemies will occasionally appear to provide an impediment along familiar routes, but you can usually backtrack safely, and these quests essentially consist of picking up an item or activating a previously recorded message. Getting more backstory on what happened aboard the Ishimura before everything went to hell is a narrative treat at the very least, especially if you’re invested in the series’ lore, but it’s a shame these side quests aren’t more involved.
Unlike the previously mentioned upgrades, the primary fire modes for each weapon have remained largely unchanged from the original game. A few of Isaac’s repurposed firearms, on the other hand, have entirely new secondary functions. Previously, the Pulse Rifle’s alternate fire was only useful when completely surrounded by enemies, allowing you to hunker down and envelop yourself in a hail of bullets.
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This took a heavy toll on your ammunition, and there were few opportunities to use it without feeling wasteful. Isaac’s Pulse Rifle now has a dual-purpose proximity mine that can be used as a trap or a makeshift grenade launcher in the remake. I found myself using this and the secondary fire modes on other weapons more than I did in the original Dead Space, owing to the fact that they add an extra layer of strategy to each encounter with the ship’s Necromorph infestation.
Another good example is the Flamethrower’s new secondary fire mode, which allows you to shoot a wall of flame that can separate enemies by cordoning them off with a fiery blaze.
The Force Gun, however, stands out among all of the revised weapons. This mid-game weapon was previously little more than a tool for pushing enemies away. It’s been redesigned to fire a massive burst of energy that rips skin and muscle clean off the bone. It’s a delightfully gruesome weapon that makes excellent use of the remake’s new peeling system, which looks every bit as disgusting as it sounds.
The revamped visuals of the remake are fantastic all around, bringing Ishimura’s suffocatingly grim bowels to life with a disgusting sheen. It’s an iconic location for a reason, and the visual upgrade and meticulous attention to detail make it feel more lived in than ever.
That is true whether it is the abandoned suitcases strewn across the arrival lounge, the cramped crew quarters and the glimpse they provide into the dreary existence of those working aboard the ship, or the posters for a product described as a “carbonated hard bar” providing the only semblance of color among its metal-carved corridors.
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The peeling system is one aspect of the remake’s improved graphical fidelity, and it adds a delightful touch to every combat encounter. It ensures that enemies’ skin, fat, and muscle layers are ripped off with each successive wound, exposing the exposed bones to snapping in half from a well-placed round or two. The green light running up Isaac’s suit’s spine is a visual indicator of his health, and it serves as a reminder of the Necromorphs’ own bodies.
Because it avoids genre conventions such as the headshot, Dead Space’s combat still feels somewhat fresh. Necromorphs can only be killed by slicing off their limbs, and using weapons like the Plasma Cutter to lop them off at the legs before blasting away at their elongated arms as they desperately crawl toward you is incredibly satisfying. The peeling system adds to the fun, especially when using the Force Gun’s secondary fire. This fires a gravity well, attracting enemies and ripping their corpuscles off in the process.
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This, like many of the weapon’s secondary fire modes, begs for experimentation. You could set a trap, using the gravity well to gather a swarm of enemies before burning them all down with the flamethrower or the Plasma Cutter to expose their bare bones. For as good as the original Dead Space was, repetition set in during the final couple of hours, but the remake’s added strategy and variety of tools prevent this from happening again.
It’s unrealistic to expect the Dead Space remake to be as transformative as the Resident Evil 2 remake. Because of the way EA Motive has woven its changes into the Dead Space mold, the generational leap isn’t as grand, and so much about it feels inherently familiar to the 2008 original.
Dead Space Remake Gameplay Trailer | YouTube
The new side quests may leave something to be desired, but every other addition contributes to a remake that stays true to its predecessor while also improving on it in a variety of ways. Newcomers and die-hard Dead Space fans will get the most out of it, but this is now the only way to play one of the survival horror genre’s best games.