Like a necromorph reanimating the dead, Motive Studios has revived Dead Space and made it stronger and more terrifying than before. This renovation of the 2008 horror classic restores it beyond its original glory. The dismemberment-focused gunplay feels great, it looks even better, and while other noteworthy changes may not feel as substantial as some other remakes, they’re welcomed expansions to the existing template. The result is a remake that faithfully recaptures the magic of its predecessor while amplifying the elements that made it beloved in the first place.
Dead Space’s story centers on engineer Isaac Clarke joining a small team to answer a distress call from the USG Ishimura, a massive mining ship designed to “crack” planets and siphon their precious minerals. An outbreak of vicious aliens called necromorphs has ravaged the Ishimura thanks to their ability to transform corpses into members of its ranks. In addition to stopping this extraterrestrial menace and untangling a conspiracy centering on a theistic cult, Clarke must also uncover the fate of his girlfriend, Nicole, a doctor stationed on the ship.
The story from the original is largely intact, but with some key elements either remixed or expanded with greater context based on lore established later in the series. Outside of tightening continuity and adding welcomed background on side characters, these differences don’t dramatically alter the story’s flow or events. The exception is a surprising change to a memorable moment later in the game – a rework that makes more sense in context to the point that I now prefer it over its original incarnation.
Another prominent narrative difference is that Isaac now talks, voiced by the same performer who brought him to life in the Dead Space sequels. As in those games, the plot benefits from Isaac feeling more like a real person instead of a silent errand boy. Plot twists and revelations hit harder now that he can believably react to them. Motive also did a good job weaving his new dialogue into the existing script, which remains unchanged in most instances. A few performances, though, namely Hammond’s, fall flat in a way that feels preserved from the late 2000s.
The improved presentation turns Dead Space, already a looker in its day, into a gory feast for the eyes. The Ishimura and its mutated inhabitants look great, and traversing the blood-stained corridors is even more harrowing thanks to the show-stealing lighting. Whether you’re blanketed in pitch darkness with only your weapon’s flashlight for illumination or basking in the eerily warm glow of planet Aegis VII orbiting outside a window, the lighting serves as the presentational glue that makes this graphical facelift work. The sound design also deserves a shout-out, offering a fair share of devious audio tricks and new hair-raising necromorph groans and screams.
Combat feels familiar, though the reworked controls are more in line with modern third-person games. For example, Issac can run by clicking the analog stick rather than a shoulder button. The trusty plasma cutter and other weapons pack a satisfying punch, especially if you’re using the PlayStation 5’s DualSense features. Dismembering limbs is more satisfying and strategic thanks to the new necromorph damage system, in which layers of skin, muscle, and bone fall apart. This system better showcases the damage and exposes weak points. For example, I loved engulfing enemies using the flamethrower, then pinpointing charred, exposed bones to slice apart with my cutter.
The wide array of enemy types from the original return in full force, and they’re still fun and often challenging to take apart. Using the time-slowing stasis to stop an attack before it connects or using kinesis to pick up and impale necromorphs with stray objects, including their own amputated sharpened limbs, feels as awesome now as it did 14 years ago. It helps that rooms pack more props and environmental weapons to fling around, such as gasoline and stasis tanks.
Unless you finished the original game recently or replayed it enough to intimately know its map, the level design changes probably won’t leap out as suddenly as a necromorph ambush. The Ishimura‘s many rooms and layout remain generally the same, but have been expanded. Most notably, you can access certain areas without riding the tram car. This change helps make the ship feel more organically connected. The tram still exists for those who want to quickly travel between sections necromorph-free. I was lukewarm on some of the zero gravity sections in the original, where you use the suits rockets to propel yourself through weightless, sometimes oxygen-free zones. I can still do without them here, but at least now, those sections adopt the improved control scheme of the sequels to make them feel less like disorienting headaches.
You can now freely revisit areas anytime, but do so at your own peril because necromorphs can still reappear in previously cleared zones. These attacks can be the most startling. Sometimes, I revisited an area, and nothing happened. Other times, I was assaulted in surprisingly new, thoughtfully constructed ways. I love how this system perpetuates Dead Space’s tense and unpredictable design outside the main path, making me second-guess my surroundings no matter how many times I step into them.
The prize for revisiting areas is often money, weapon upgrade nodes, and precious ammo, all of which can be locked behind tiers of security doors. You’ll also be making these trips to complete the newly added sidequests. There aren’t many of these extra missions, but they generally serve to supplement the lore. One quest delves into the creation of the regenerating Hunter necromorph, for example. Though you’ll largely only find yourself running around the ship’s districts in search of specific audio logs or keys, sidequests add a small but tasty sidedish that extends your unfortunate visit.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Motive made Dead Space look nicer, play better, and preserved the core of the experience. Its new flourishes add to that enjoyment instead of subtracting. This remake respects and polishes up my memories of Isaac’s first encounter with the necromorphs without making me miss the original version. It also acts as the perfect entry point for newcomers since it feels on par with today’s titles. I hope this exceptional revision signals to EA that Dead Space has plenty of gas in the tank and becomes a harbinger for more horrifying stories in this universe.