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In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Gave me an excuse to play Dead Space again?
  • Finding Nicole is given more ludo-narrative weight
  • More robust zero-gravity mechanics
  • Asteroid-shooting mini-game is completely redesigned
  • Some fun scare fake-outs
  • More accessibility options
  • Variety of unique weapons
  • Ishimura feels like a functional place
  • Scathing parody of Scientology

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Doesn't substantially change or improve on the original
  • New content adds tired horror tropes
  • Upgrading weapons on a whim
  • "Shoot the glowy weak spot" boss fights
  • Game-breaking bugs
  • Cover art

Overall Impression : C+
An unnecessary remake full of [mostly] lateral "upgrades"

Dead Space - cover

Developer:
Motive Game Studio

Publisher:
Electronic Arts

Platforms:
PC (via Steam or Epic Store),
PlayStation 5 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox S|X (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $60 USD PC, or $70 USD console

Original release date:
27 January, 2023

Genre:
sci-fi action horror

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
16 hours

ESRB Rating: M (for Matures 17+) for:
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

Official site:
www.ea.com/games/dead-space

I'm gonna be perfectly honest with you right up front: I'm coming into this review with a negative bias. This is a remake that does not need to exist. Dead Space is only 10 years old, is an HD game that still looks fine. It is designed around gameplay conventions that are still standard practice today, and so the original still holds up well, outside of some mildly-dated presentation. I get the desire to remake or re-imagine older games that actually are dated, like Resident Evil 2 or Final Fantasy VII, which were both completely redesigned with modern gameplay conventions and (in especially in the case of Final Fantasy VII) bold new creative and narrative decisions. I would also understand the desire to go back and take another stab at more recent games which are really good, but which may have been virtually unplayable due to technical problems. Fallout: New Vegas comes to mind.

But this recent fad of rote remasts or remakes of PS3-era games that were already highly-polished and still modern-feeling (and thus hold up well today) just feels like lazy, cynical cash-grabs to me. Games like Dead Space, The Last of Us, and Mass Effect just feel like completely unnecessary remakes -- especially if they're going to be direct recreations of the original with little-to-no creative liberty. Heck, even the Demon's Souls remake feels unnecessary. I would much rather than Sony and FromSoft just release a digital version of the PS3 game on the PS4 and PS5 storefronts and keep the servers going. Maybe even patch the PS3 game with some of the ease-of-use features that were added for the PS5 remake. I'm still on the fence about Silent Hill 2 and Resident Evil 4, since those remakes might take enough creative liberty to justify their existence (assuming they don't shit the bed in doing so). As such, I did not buy this remake of Dead Space retail. I bought a used, second-hand copy in order to save a few bucks and to not give money to EA (and so as not to seem to give implicit support for this trend of unnecessary remakes).

Coming off of Callisto Protocol, Dead Space feels like a masterpiece.

All that being said, having just recently come off of playing through The Callisto Protocol, the difference is night-and-day. This Dead Space remake is, by far, the much better game. It's a good remake of a good game, and it's a good survival horror game in its own right.

Mostly how I remember it

Dead Space is a pretty straight-forward, by-the-numbers recreation of the original game, with only a few creative liberties taken. It's still a 3rd person shooter built around the challenge of shooting off the limbs of zombies and monsters instead of aiming for the center of mass or going for head shots. The story, mission structure, map, and many set pieces will all be completely recognizable to anyone who played the original game, even though some things here and there might be a little different.

As such, pretty much any review of the original Dead Space still holds mostly true here. All the things that I liked about the original game are still present. Unfortunately, I never reviewed the first Dead Space on this blog, so I can't just link you to that. I'll have to just summarize my feelings here.

Isaac is fully voiced and has more agency compared to the original.

The enemies are threatening, and the combat is challenging. The non-traditional weapons, combined with kinesis and stasis and creative enemy design, provide a lot of variety and strategy in combat that goes far beyond just "shoot bad guy in the head". The setting and lighting really help to sell the sci-fi horror aesthetic. The in-universe, diegetic, holographic interface holds up well and never pulls the player out of the immersive environment. The Ishimura itself still feels like a believable, functional place. The story is derivative, cliché, and cringe-worthy in some parts, but I do like the religious undertones and parody of Scientology.

While the remake doesn't substantially alter the core Dead Space gameplay or story progression, it does make some small and subtle changes. Some work. Others don't. For one thing, Isaac is no longer a silent protagonist. Instead of simply being ordered to go from one end of the ship to the other to fix something, he is now suggesting courses of action and volunteering to do them. This does help to give Isaac (and, by extension, the player) a bit more sense of agency, instead of feeling like we're just running around the ship doing fetch errands for other people.

There's also a handful of new side quests. The most notable side quest is one involving Isaac following a trail of holographic logs from his missing wife Nicole. These logs outline her activities prior to the start of the game, as well as some back-story about the 2 characters' relationship. On the one hand, it helps to humanize Nicole a little bit more, and to give the player a little bit more investment into Isaac's desire to find her. This is a huge narrative improvement over the original game. It continuously reminds the player why Isaac took this assignment, while still leaving it up to the player whether they want to pursue this particular plot thread. On the other hand, it introduces some tired horror tropes that I don't recall being in the original game, and which I would prefer to have been left out.

Nicole gets a lot more screen presence due to a lengthy side quest.

Access granted

Perhaps the most impactful change to the overall game strategy is that Power Nodes are no longer used to unlock certain doors. Instead, a simple key card system (think Metal Gear Solid) is used instead, in which doors and lockers can have a tiered lock, and a keycard of the appropriate level is required to open the door. Some of these key cards are given to the player as part of the main story, and others require some optional side content to unlock. The game's main campaign will force the player to back-track a lot, which gives plenty of opportunity to access previously-locked doors and chests. Though the map doesn't do a great job of labeling locked content. It does label the doors, but individual chests or lockers aren't marked on the map, so these can be a bit of a pain to find.

Optional doors are now locked by
leveled keycards instead of Power Nodes.

Unlike the original game, I don't need to keep a spare Power Node or 2 on hand in my inventory in order to unlock a supply closet. I can instead dump all of my Power Nodes into weapon upgrades. While there are still meaningful choices regarding which weapons to upgrade and which upgrades to take, the whole process feels a lot less impactful and strategic now. That push and pull between the short-term benefit of "more supplies now" versus the long-term benefit of permanent weapon upgrades is just gone. Further, the fact that I can reset all the upgrades at any bench, get a full refund on Power Nodes, and re-allocate them to any other weapons or upgrades means there's not even really an opportunity cost for committing to a particular weapon or upgrade. I can change my upgrades at any time. No pressure.

Yes, there are some practical advantages. If I invest nodes into a weapon, only to find that I just don't like that weapon (*cough* the Contact Beam *cough*), I can always pull them out and put them in a weapon that I prefer and will actually use (the Ripper). But then again, this also has the drawback of further encouraging the use of my best, most buffed-up weapon (the Ripper), and ignoring the other, perhaps more utilitarian tools. It also means that when I pick up a new weapon, I can pull nodes off of other weapons to put on the new weapon so that it doesn't feel weak by comparison.

All Power Nodes can be dumped into weapon upgrades, and reset at any time.

OK, well, that's not entirely fair. Resetting the upgrades and retrieving my Power Nodes costs 5,000 credits, which is half the cost of a new Power Node. So it's not a trivial cost, and I'm not going to be resetting weapon upgrades whilly-nilly. But it is still cheap enough that if I put even one single node into a weapon, only to find that I don't like the weapon, it's still totally more cost-effective to just reset the upgrades and put that node in a better weapon, rather than buy a new node. For me, the whole weapon upgrade system just feels limp and inconsequential now. It's ... too convenient.

Artificial gravity

Another substantial change from the original is the more robust zero-gravity set pieces. In the original Dead Space Isaac just walked along the walls and ceilings and jump from surface to surface. Now, he can freely float in 3-D space, and can even engage in combat while free-floating. The developers even added a few extra zero-G setpieces so that the whole mechanic doesn't end up just feeling like a one-and-done gimmick.

Unfortunately, the controls themselves are actually a bit clunky. Isaac cannot freely move along all 3 axes. Flying straight up or down requires pitching Isaac's body forward or backwards and then flying forward (like a really slow-moving airplane). It can be disorienting (and maybe even nauseating for some players). I really wish Motive had just given Isaac dorsal and ventral thrusters so that pushing "Up" or "Down" on the stick would propel Isaac up or down in space, respectively. The controls, as they are, just feel unnecessarily restrictive.

Zero-gravity mechanics are more robust, but the controls feel restrictive and disorienting.

One other nagging issue with the new zero-G mechanics is that there isn't all that much strategy required to play them. The original mechanic of jumping from wall to wall required a bit of thought and strategy, as the player had to think about where is the best perch to hit a particular target, and how best to line up with that perch. With the new mechanic, I just kind of float around, pointing and shooting at whatever. This maybe could have been solved by adding more obstacles or more complicated geometry so that there isn't one spot in the middle of the room that gives near perfect visibility (and line of sight) to the entire arena.

Shortly after the first zero-G section, in chapter 2 of the game, I suffered a near game-breaking bug which kind of relates to gravity. After completing that first zero-G section (and returning to normal gravity), objects and enemies started falling through the floor geometry. Every item pick up would drop through the floor as soon as I would open up the locker or chest that they were stored in. Breakable boxes would fly through the floor or walls instead of shatter and reveal the goodies inside.

Worst of all, every enemy would spawn in, and then immediately, all of their body parts except for their hips would break apart and fall through the floor. All that would be left would be a set of defenseless, disembodied, floating necromorph hips chasing me around the medical research lab. Without arms or legs, the enemies were unable to attack me, and I was barely able to fight them. Since I couldn't shoot out their arms and legs, I basically had to just chase them around and bootstomp their disembodied hips.

The enemies glitched out, and become nothing but defenseless, floating, disembodied hips.

After going through a couple set pieces like this, without the game fixing itself, I resorted to reloading my last save (which was from before the bug started). This thankfully fixed the issue, but I have no idea if saving after the bug occurred would have corrupted my entire game. If it happens again, maybe I'll test it out.

On the topic of glitches, I suffered a soft-lock about 2 chapters later. After loading a save from just before a new chapter started, the game failed to load the events that started the new chapter. There was supposed to be a conversation with one of the NPCs, followed by a new objective being given. Neither of these things happened. I just walked down the hall in silence, and when I got to the elevator, the elevator control panel just flashed red with a warning not to exceed the weight limit. I thought maybe there was an invisible enemy in the elevator with me. Nope. Once again, a reload (from the same save point, no less) resolved the issue.

This particular glitch came right after the asteroid-shooting segment, which thankfully has been totally re-designed for the remake. I cannot stress enough how frustrating and annoying the asteroid-shooting mini-game was in the original Dead Space. It was unnecessarily difficult, and I had one friend who almost gave up on the game entirely because he couldn't get past that mini-game. I had to do it for him.

The new asteroid-shooting set piece is another zero-G space walk, along the exterior of the sip, so it was a great opportunity to add another zero-G section using the new mechanics. In the remake, the player simply has to fly to a control panel, then use your own weapon to target the laser cannon and shoot incoming asteroids before your air runs out. It's short and relatively simple. The game throws in a couple trash enemies to shoot at your back and distract you for a moment, but they're easy to deal with.

One of the worst set pieces from the original game was completely redesigned.

Not as scary?

The biggest problem, for me, is that this remake of Dead Space just wasn't scary. Granted, the original wasn't exactly the most horrifying experience ever, and always lay further on the "action" end of the spectrum, rather than the "horror" end. Most of the "horror" of Dead Space comes from the legitimate threat of death from the necromorphs. Resources don't feel particularly sparse (especially if you are making frequent use of kinesis, stasis, and the Ripper), and so it really just comes down to the question of whether a particular set piece kills me or not.

The remake still throws frequent ambushes at the player, and will spawn enemies behind your back to get in a few cheap hits. Heck, it will even spawn enemies while I'm trying to read memos or watch holographic recordings, which is very annoying. The remake also has an annoying habit of hiding the little face-hugger enemies around a blind corner, such that they jump on me before I can even pull out my Flamethrower and torch them. None of this feels nearly as cheap as the health leeching in Callisto Protocol, but there's still far too much damage that feels borderline unavoidable.

Maybe the original Dead Space benefitted from the fact that survival horror, as a genre, was kind of dead at the time. The old fixed-camera horror games had fallen out of favor, and previously horror franchises like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and even Silent Hill were all firmly in the camp of being action games. Dead Space, therefore, felt like a breath of fresh air that took its horror theme a little more seriously, while also providing a fresh take on the sub-genre with its sci-fi theme and focus on dismemberment.

There are still health-leeching ambushes and cheap shots.

Now, however, the remake is launching into an environment that is inundated with actual horror games (as opposed to action shooters with horror set dressing). From successful relaunches of old horror franchises like Resident Evil 7 and the Resident Evil 2 remake, to original games like The Callisto Protocol, to the glut of high-profile P.T. knock-offs like Visage and MADiSON, horror is having a renaissance. Add to this the aforementioned remake fatigue, and Dead Space just doesn't feel all that special or fresh.

Heck, even the cover art is more boring than the original. The original cover art (a dismembered arm floating in space debris) was unique and ominous, while also conveying the tone of the game and the core mechanic of dismembering enemies to kill them. It remains one of my favorite video game cover artworks of all time (at least for North American covers, which tend to be more dull than the Japanese or European cover arts). The new cover is just another instance of a portrait of the player character, in a long, sad history of North American video game box art just showing a boring image of the player character posing.

The original box art was way better.

By halfway through the game, I felt like I was kind of just going through the motions. Nothing was particularly surprising or interesting. Even the new quests involving Nicole and Mercer felt like fluff that didn't add much to the game. I was kind of surprised that the Regenerator wasn't changed to be a procedural stalker enemy, like the xenomorph from Alien: Isolation or Mr. X from REmake2. In hindsight though, this might be a good thing. Going that route might have made the Dead Space remake feel even more like it's just chasing popular trends.

In general, bosses in Dead Space kind of suck. Aside from the Regenerator (which is the only decent boss in the entire game), all the bosses are just variations of "shoot the glowing weak spot". Motive tried to put some of these boss fights in zero-G set pieces to make them feel more mechanically distinct, but as I mentioned before, the zero-G stuff doesn't feel like much more than a gimmick. In fact, one of those zero-G boss encounters plays almost exactly as if I were on the ground anyway. The zero-G serves as little more than a "jump" command, which is used to evade sweeping attacks.

Honestly, if you've already played the original Dead Space, then I'm tempted to say that I would recommend playing Callisto Protocol instead, since at least Callisto Protocol is a new game with some new ideas. They're mostly bad ideas though, while Dead Space is at least recycling largely good ideas.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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