As I step through darkened hallways and across piles of severed corpses, with rare bursts of neon signs illuminating the way while machinery grinds to break up the eerie silence, going back through the USG Ishimura feels familiar and unknown at the same time.
I recently got the chance to play almost four hours of the upcoming Dead Space remake at a preview event held by publisher Electronic Arts and developer Motive Studios. I also interviewed senior producer Philippe Ducharme and technical director David Robillard on how the Dead Space remake came together.
This play session provided access to the first three chapters of the game, and while I’ve played through the original Dead Space at least a half-dozen times, there were still a couple of moments the game took me off guard. If the rest of the game is as impressively redesigned as what I played, then this could be an early entry in the best horror games of 2023. Here's my impressions.
Disclaimer: Accommodations for this preview event were paid for by Electronic Arts. The company did not see the contents of this preview before publishing.
To start, it’s important to understand exactly what this remake is, as that term is used all across the industry and has been the subject of much debate. Some games, such as Bluepoint Games’ efforts with Shadow of the Colossus and Demon’s Souls, are one-to-one remakes in every way possible, with only the most minute non-graphical changes. By contrast, Capcom refers to Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 as remakes, but in practice both are closer to new games altogether, changing the way in which the titles play, having new conversations, sequences of events, and more.
As it stands, this remake of Dead Space falls somewhere at the halfway point of the two extremes. Motive Studio has painstakingly recreated locations and enemies, with many sections playing out near-identical to the original game. Others see significant changes, which works to make this feel like a fresh experience despite how familiar it is overall.
The Dead Space remake is being built using the Frostbite engine, and when looking at the detailed textures and lighting, the word that most often came to mind while playing is "lavish." There's some incredible graphics design work here, with special attention given to the lighting across different scenes, something the developers were keen to point out wouldn't have been possible if Dead Space was a cross-generation game.
Combat plays out similarly to the original, but is elevated by the new Peeling system, which tracks separate damage dealt to flesh and bone. Combined with the new and improved audio work, it's disgusting even if you've played tons of the best horror games and are jaded like I am. You'll hear bones snap when Necromorphs are shot, watch as chunks of flesh are torn off from Pulse Rifle fire, or limbs dangle and "drip" down as they are only connected by tendons. While it was always possible to throw random objects at Necromorphs using Kinesis, here, players can pin these creatures to walls with spikes or rip of limbs with hurled blades like in Dead Space 2.
Another fairly significant change is in the voice of protagonist Isaac Clarke. As the developers shared early on, Isaac talks now, with Gunner Wright — who voiced the character in Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3 — returns to voice Isaac in his first encounter with the horrifying Necromorphs.
Make no mistake, this is still a very lonely and quiet game. Isaac only speaks when it's appropriate, answering questions from fellow survivors Isaac and Hammond. Isaac also speaks up and offers an engineering solution he’ll use when confronted with a problem, instead of directly being told what to do and where to go. It makes Isaac feel like a character that’s part of the horror, instead of being merely a vehicle for the player’s terror. It could’ve easily thrown off how the game unfolded but instead, it felt completely natural across the three chapters I played.
When I interviewed some of the developers at Motive Studios on the Dead Space remake, they mentioned that this was one of the first big questions brought up, and it shows in how natural this new portrayal of Isaac feels within the game.
Isaac’s voice isn’t the only change here that works to the betterment of the game. Gone is the awkward zero-gravity jumping from point to point. Instead, this game will use the flight controls introduced in Dead Space 2. It feels so much better to use, and changes how players will approach puzzles and even some of the boss battles.
There's other choices that aid the overall design as well. Dead Space is being developed exclusively for current-generation consoles and PC, and one of the many benefits of that higher hardware target is in how the game is built around ultra-fast SSDs.
Instead of having to board a tram at the end of every single chapter in order to load the next area, it's a more natural part of the game. Just as one example, you fly through the expanded hangar bay of the Ishimura in order to reach the engineering hub for Chapter 3, and Motive Studio claims the entire ship is now fully explorable from beginning to end.
Making the ship fully explorable has also allowed for the introduction of side missions. These optional objectives provide bonus rewards, letting players backtrack and visit areas, opening lockers and doors that might've been unavailable at the time. This is in turn managed by the Intensity Director system, which adds a touch of randomness when players go off the beaten path. Lights in a room might change, or the enemy layout could shift, which means even experienced players will kept on alert. The developers even mentioned that before players finish the game, they should take some time to explore the ship carefully.
In tandem with allowing Isaac more expression, this remake is also adopting a ore “cinematic” presentation. A lot of the storytelling for the original Dead Space took place with Isaac standing around while someone behind a pane of glass talked at him, explaining things or being attacked by some new Necromorph. Here, it feels a bit more natural, like when Isaac finds the captain, only for the captain's corpse to be infected and transformed right on top of Isaac.
Not everything in the experience is where it needs to be yet however, with some stuttering issues that occurred shortly after whenever I'd reach a new chapter. The developers are aware of this problem and explained that it's due to the loading system not being fully optimized, but this still feels worth highlighting.
Outside of those technical hiccups, everything I played just felt right. A lot of my worries have been assuaged, and it seems like this remake is carefully threading the needle, making changes where appropriate while honoring what made the original Dead Space so special. Time will tell where the full thing lands but right now, I can't wait to get back to Isaac Clarke and the USG Ishimura.
The original Dead Space is being rebuilt, with new graphics, audio improvements, and changes such as the ability to fly and hear Isaac Clarke talk. Based on our time hands-on, this remake is being built to appeal to fans and newcomers alike.
Dead Space Digital Deluxe Edition
The Dead Space remake is inbound, and if you want a couple of extras, you can grab the Digital Deluxe Edition, which comes with three Unique Suits and two Suit Textures. Preorders also get a month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, if you aren't already subscribed.
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