Precision is the defining characteristic of Dead Space, a meticulously constructed thrill-ride about carving up alien mutants inside the universe’s most cursed spaceship. Visceral Games delivered a perfectly paced blend of action, sci-fi, and horror when it launched the game in 2008, and it’s a similarly surgical approach that justifies this year’s glossy remake. EA Motive‘s overhaul is a carefully considered retelling of the original story, keeping much of what worked, changing a little of what didn’t, and making a few additions that mostly benefit the experience.
Naturally, the most substantial changes are to how Dead Space looks, with Motive’s rebuild of the game in EA‘s Frostbite engine providing a massive jump in fidelity. The game’s grungy sci-fi style has been largely retained, which is to say the Ishimura’s many corridors are just as murky as they were in 2008, although much more detailed. Some of the more dramatic scenes are truly dazzling, such as when you step into the Ishimura’s bridge for the first time, or skulk beneath the searing gravity vortex housed in the mining deck.
More broadly, the new visuals contribute to the experience in two ways. The improved lighting and shadow compounds the oppressive atmosphere of the Ishimura – especially if your PC can handle the demands of ray-tracing. Watching the necromorphs loom out from real-time shadows is quite remarkable. Speaking of the necromorphs, the other notable improvement is how the infestation of the Ishimura is represented. The biomass that seeps from the Ishimura’s now glistens fleshy and translucent, while the tendrils that frequently obstruct your progress ripple and pulsate as you navigate around them.
All this added lustre comes at a cost. Dead Space requires a beefy PC to run on its higher settings. Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s FidelityFX mitigate some of the pain, although their performance can be inconsistent, with the game running smooth as a mill pond in some areas, and choppier than the North Sea in others. It isn’t clear whether this is an implementation issue or simply the consequence of the game’s technical demands, but unless you’re running Dead Space on a thermonuclear reactor, expect to do some tinkering to find the appropriate balance.
Motive’s Dead Space doesn’t merely offer a visual upgrade. Most aspects of the game have been tweaked in some way, while other areas have received major rethinks. One of the most significant changes is made to the zero gravity sections. In the original Dead Space, Isaac could walk on any surface in zero-G, but couldn’t float freely around environments. Now he can, using boosters built into his suit to move around, much in the style of Dead Space 2. It’s a sensible change, making these sections more entertaining to navigate, and fighting floating necromorphs less clunky. Some of the related environments and puzzles have been adjusted to allow for this locomotive change, but Motive has largely resisted the temptation to bulk out the zero-G sections, or say, add extended EVAs around the hull of the Ishimura.
Dead Space 2 is the proving ground for other changes too. Isaac Clarke was a silent protagonist in the 2008 game, but in 2023 he finds his voice on the Ishimura. Again, Dead Space 2 doing this first makes it a logical revision. But the effect is less impactful than the systemic changes to the zero G. This is largely because both Isaac and the broader plot are functional creations and not where the game personality resides, so Isaac speaking doesn’t make much difference to his character. His whole deal remains that he fixes things and that he’s the galaxy’s biggest wife guy. Beyond dialogue, the audio design wisely sticks close to the original game, using identical or similar sound effects for weapons, item pickups, save points, and so forth.
On the subject of weapons, combat feels much as it did in 2008, which is to say, phenomenal. Isaac’s Plasma Cutter remains a disconcertingly perfect tool for the job of anatomising necromorphs, while his trademark stomp is as bone-crushing as ever. There are a few changes. Certain weapons like the Line Gun and the Contact Beam have been given new alt-fires to make them more useful, and certainly, no weapon feels redundant. Hacking up necromorphs has been made extra grisly thanks to a splendidly named “peeling system”. Through this, your weapons strip the flesh off Necromorph bodies as you fight, or in the case of the Force Gun, blasts their entire skin off in one spectacularly gory go. On a completely unrelated note, the Force Gun is my new favourite weapon in Dead Space.
The boldest choices Motive makes are found in the story. These still aren’t vast alterations, but the central plot nonetheless plays out slightly differently, while “side-missions” have been added that expand upon certain characters or events. The mileage varies with each change, but overall they’re the least effective adjustments Motive makes. The end result is a slightly more convoluted plot that leaves you mildly more informed about its pantomime characters. But none of it is egregious, and most of the added side-content can be uncovered with only minor detours from the main path.
This latter point is crucial, because what makes Dead Space so entertaining is its propulsive forward momentum. From the moment you step off your shuttle into the Ishimura’s hangar bay, you’re on a runaway train of action and body horror and grungy industrial sci-fi. Every chapter has an exciting and immediately tangible objective that forces Isaac into increasingly perilous situations. Fixing anti-asteroid defences on the outside of the ship, dislodging a giant monster from hydroponics, flying across to a shuttle of space marines that has smashed into the Ishimura’s hull. Each problem is designed to take roughly an hour to solve, and in that hour you’re constantly moving, fighting and problem-solving, only stopping to pick up the ammo left behind by the shattered bodies of the necromorphs.
And what a glorious setting the Ishimura is. Spaceships and space stations are ideal video game environments, as they can be completely self-contained without requiring a suspension of disbelief. But the coherence of the layout, how it unfolds over time, the way it seamlessly melds worldbuilding with puzzles and objectives. It’s one of the great virtual spaces, up there with System Shock 2‘s von Braun, Resi 2‘s police station, Deus Ex‘s Liberty Island. It’s worth noting Motive has rejigged the layout of certain levels to help them flow better. It’s hard to judge the exact changes without playing both games through side-by-side, but either way, there’s no issue with how this game pulls you forward through its sci-fi nightmare.
Where The Callisto Protocol was a reminder of everything that sucked about mid-noughties games (poor checkpointing, annoying boss fights, endless snatching of control from your hands), Motive’s Dead Space highlights everything great about this era of game design. It’s twelve hours of urgent storytelling and ferocious combat with ideas by the bucket and minimal bloat. The remake is a fine conduit for revisiting the Ishimura, but one way or the other, play Dead Space.
Dead Space is available on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5 and PC. We played it on PC.
EA Motive’s remake of Dead Space does most of what you’d hope for, massively improving the game’s visual quality and improving certain mechanics like zero-g, while retaining the frantic combat and lightning-paced story of the original. Your mileage may vary on the changes to the story, but it feels for the most part like the Dead Space you remember.
- Visually stunning
- Improved zero g sections
- Retains the propulsive quality of the original
- Technically demanding
- Innocuous story revisions