Fifteen years ago I had the chance to get together with a friend and go to Supanova Sydney, Australia's closest attempt to big pop-culture expos like PAX or Comicon. As I was strolling through the floor there was a large room built into the center of the hall with no indication of what was inside but a bouncer at the door, with my interest piqued I entered. The room was dark with mannequin limbs hung from the ceiling, off the walls, and piled in the corner. What we got to see behind those doors was the first trailer for Dead Space ahead of its 2008 release, and I was hooked. Now that Isaac, the Ishimura, and the Necromorphs are back in the Dead Space remaster, how is this old outing with a fresh coat of paint?
The 2023 remake of Dead Space restarts Isaac's journey. Before he and the rest of the world were aware of the Necromorphs and the threat of the Markers, this game tells the story of the stranded USG Ishimura hovering silently above Aegis VII and the horrors that lie in wait. From the opening cutscene, the game gives players a visual feast as the Ishimura comes into view while crewmates discuss their plans for when they're onboard. While the player has full control of the camera the view from the front window of the landing pod does an incredible job establishing the setting that the game will take place in will immediately draw the player in. It's within this intro that you'll begin to experience one of the largest changes to the story of Dead Space, as Isaac joins in the conversation that the rest of the crew is having.
Dead Space Preview - Isaac As A Character
For those who might not have played Dead Space since its first release, aside from a few grunts and sighs Isaac was originally a silent protagonist. The kind of everyman that is designed to let a player slip into the persona with little effort. As the Dead Space franchise continued and Isaac became more and more central to the fate of the world he had found his voice and personality, but that left the original game somewhat lacking.
This paradigm shift from the first game allows Isaac to be more of a three-dimensional character with his own agency, and will hopefully offer players a larger narrative impact as the story continues and we see how Isaac deals with what's ahead. As Isaac speaks with the other members of the crew who are working to escape the Ishimura this rapport between them allows a more concise feeling of a 'team' which is a world of difference from being continually ordered around as Hammond hung out safely in the bridge for a large portion of the game.
The look of Dead Space takes everything you knew about the creepy interior of the Ishimura and dials it up to 11. Getting separated from the rest of your crew it's just Isaac and dark hallways until a Necromorph decides to jump out and attack you. Lighting creates safe spaces but also hides dark corners from you where some of the smaller Necromorph can emerge from. There are a number of times early in the game when you're forced to divert power from the lights to devices like doors or elevators and it has exactly the chilling effect the developers were hoping for. The game does a good job of lulling you into a false sense of security by loudly spawning a Necromorph in the distance for you to focus on while another creeps up at you from behind. It doesn't feel cheap like a jumpscare, but you'll be tricked a number of times by it.
The look of the Necromorphs has been enhanced in the remake helping to not just better define their contorted faces and figures, but also better define the remnants of the clothing that they're wearing. You'll be constantly reminded that each of these monsters used to be a human by recognizing the difference between torn casual wear or soldier uniforms. It's not that the Necromorphs were an enemy that arrived and killed those on board, you're killing those that ended up with a fate worse than death.
Each of the weapons handles extremely well, though much like on any of my previous playthroughs of the original game I'm finding it difficult to stop solely using the Plasma Cutter. Whether you're shooting off limbs to bring them to the ground or beating them with melee attacks there's a satisfying crunch with every hit. There's a certain morbid excitement you get after curb-stomping a Necromorph to death and the way it will coat Isaac with blood. These kinds of little interactions make Isaac feel like part of the world and not just a vehicle for the player to progress through the story. While only early into the game so far the majority of it is a one-to-one recreation of the original.
There might be some small differences to the layout of the Ishimura but it's not enough that you'd notice if you played the original game casually. You'll still be repairing the tram system, obtaining security credentials from the morgue, and going to repair the engine. A new addition to the game is the sidequests, these are storylines that seem to reach across multiple chapters. An example of one that you'll encounter early in the game is a hologram of Nicole performing an autopsy on a man killed by a Necromorph, as you follow this story through multiple chapters you get to follow what has been happening to Nicole closer than what was offered in the original game.
Funnily enough for even a game as advanced as this in my few hours I've already experienced a number of graphical bugs, mostly related to the physics system of the Necromorphs. Body parts will be left stuck in position defying gravity, or individual limbs will be left spinning rapidly in place. These kinds of glitches were extremely common in the original game so to see them return in such high fidelity does more to add to the charm of the game than come across as 'unpolished.'
Dead Space Preview - Final Thoughts
So far the Dead Space remaster does what you'd hope every remaster does by creating a version of the game that lives up to how good you remember the game looking after being away from it for a while. The game plays just like the original while leveraging the graphical power of current-gen systems to fine-tune the atmosphere for fear. Knowing just how close the remaster is sticking to the source material I don't expect anything in terms of surprises, but that's not going to stop me from enjoying the next 8 hours of gameplay as I jump at my own shadow turning a corner.
TechRaptor previewed Dead Space on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox Series X|S.