I'm no stranger to admitting my gripes with the whole nature of remakes and how commonplace they are becoming, but that hasn't changed the fact that what EA Motive has been cooking up with the Dead Space Remake has been interesting to me for some time. Following a preview event late last year, I've been eagerly awaiting the full launch to see how the game shapes up, and now that it has come to this, I feel completely comfortable with starting this review by telling you this is a very good remake. From a technical, polish, faithfulness, and new welcome additions point of view, Dead Space does it pretty much all correctly. Still, before I get back to each of these areas, let me just hang out some dirty laundry if you will.
Here's the thing, I don't think the coupled genre term of 'survival horror' does Dead Space much justice anymore. Unlike the Resident Evil's where you genuinely can run from enemies and have to deal with the stalker foes who literally cannot be stopped, Dead Space plays differently. It still has that terror at its core, but really this is an action game, one where you are over-encumbered with desperation. And what I mean by this is that you never really see Isaac as being truly in danger, he always comes across as the master of his destiny and not fighting to extend his life by a few further minutes while escaping the monsters that hunt him. No, Isaac Clarke is more of an action hero who would sooner solve problems by hurling plasma rounds downrange instead of sneaking and evading.
And this leads me onto the 'desperation' part, as for me for a game to be dubbed 'survival' it has to see you grappling with more threats than just the enemies in front of you - else every action game and shooter could fit the bill. Sure, Dead Space has oxygen levels to manage sometimes, but this is more of a niche gameplay mechanic at certain points. No, the biggest enemy Isaac will have to overcome, and hence why I think 'desperation' better describes this title in this day and age, is the ammo economy, which relies on the age-old 'survival horror' tropes of smashing crates and looting corpses to find ammunition while away from stores, and from my experience, this isn't really the most rewarding of mechanics. Dead Space likes to provide you with tons of spendable Credits over ammo, and this means you'll be heading to shops to just buy stacks of bullets so you can continue your Necromorph-slaying rampage. At the end of the day, why buy an upgrade for a gun if you have no ammo to put it into practice.
So, this is why I think we should stop looking at games like Dead Space - and even the recent The Callisto Protocol - as survival horrors, because they aren't really either of those things. Don't get me wrong, the improvements and additions that EA Motive has worked on in this remake do seriously scale up the terror and ambience, but you never feel truly scared when playing.
But as for these improvements, I'm alluding to the audio-visual experience mainly, which is unlike much else today. The game is graphically stunning, and the way that the developer uses volumetric fog and steam on top of sparse lighting sources makes the Ishimura feel hostile in a way that it never has before. Add to this the audio improvements that bring 3D audio to the game, something you will absolutely need to experience with headphones, as Necromorphs will pop out of vents from all directions and your best friend and saving grace when they do will be your ears. All of this comes together to make Dead Space Remake feel like more than just a remake, it's a fresh take on the iconic sci-fi series and one that I would encourage players to actually try with a lower than usual brightness setting; as having to rely on spotlights and Isaac's torch does wonders for tapping Dead Space more into the horror vein.
The ambience and technological improvements are not all that EA Motive has looked to tweak. In this remake, Dead Space is a seamless adventure. There are no clear loading screens (rather they are masked as travelling on the tram, waiting for doors to open, squeezing through tight spots), meaning you can wander around the entire USG Ishimura without being constricted to an actual game level. Add to this the ability to traverse in zero-gravity and zoom around like Isaac does in the later Dead Space sequels, it all makes this remake feel modern and fresh, despite the fact that the narrative and story is still the same as what we all fell in love with back in 2008.
Now I'm not going to tell you that Dead Space is flawless, because it isn't. When in conversation, Isaac seems to space out and never actually focuses on the person he is chatting with, which is really unsettling. Plus, it is hard to appreciate the improvements that the development team has made to the Necromorph enemies (giving them skeletons, flesh to incinerate, and detailed anatomies), as you use the same formula as ever to defeat them - i.e. blowing off their limbs. It's prettier gore, if you can describe it as such, but not much else, as it never really changes your approach to combat. You'll still most likely just forcefully use the Plasma Cutter to chop away limbs, instead of using the weapon types to strategically take down enemies, which should look something like using the Flamethrower or Pulse Rifle to blast off or burn away flesh, so that you can more easily cut through bone with the Cutter. It just doesn't really ever play out like that in practice.
Otherwise, I do find the save points to be a rather archaic mechanic still, as there are autosave elements, it's just not frequent. You can never tell when you can rely on the automatic system or when you actually need to take charge yourself until it's too late and the respawning loading screen finishes cycling. Plus, a final little thing that jars me is this flight (or rather zero-G) systems, which can become a little sickening when you start to lose your bearings. Granted, this could be a very real interpretation of what actual zero-G movement feels like, but I've never been to space so it just comes off as a bit nauseating.
But none of this changes my opinion that Dead Space Remake is one of the best remakes we've ever received. The technological, audio, and graphical improvements all do wonders for the level of immersion that this game relies on, and the quality and polish is so welcome when considering some of the other 'finished' games that we've seen as of late. So, whether you're new to the Dead Space universe or looking to return, this is a game that is worth taking a look at, as it's thrilling, freaky, engaging, and most importantly for a video game, a lot of fun.