Following its announcement in 2021 and a refreshingly open development period, EA’s remake of the horror classic Dead Space is out tomorrow, January 27 on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. And reviews from various sites around the net suggest the remake is something very special, elevating the original while remaining true to what made the creepy space game so beloved all those years ago.
The original Dead Space, released back in 2008, was a bit of an oddity. A survival horror game from EA developed by Visceral Games (then EA Redwood Shores) a studio that, up until Dead Space, had mostly worked on stuff like Tiger Woods, The Godfather, and The Sims. Yet, despite its strange origins, 2008’s Dead Space would go on to become a massive hit for EA and would become a favorite among survival horror fans due to its creepy, atmospheric horror and ammo-counting action. And this newest Dead Space is also likely to become a classic among fans of the genre, thanks to its impressive next-gen visuals, improved controls, expanded narrative, and the added attention to detail. Not only is Dead Space receiving rave reviews—it currently has an 89 on Metacritic—but it sounds like it might be the blueprint other massive remakes should follow moving forward.
Kotaku didn’t receive access to Dead Space’s new remake ahead of its release, but we expect to have our own coverage of the game at a later date. But, meanwhile, here’s what other reviews and critics are saying about the latest entry in the Dead Space series.
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.
Dead Space’s main man is humanized even further in the remake by his ability to talk, rather than merely accept his crewmates’ orders without so much as a silent nod of acknowledgment like he did in the original. Actor Gunner Wright, who voiced Isaac in the Dead Space sequels, delivers a suitably stoic performance, and it makes Isaac feel like a far more influential figure when he’s actively debating plans of attack with chief security officer Hammond, as opposed to just tackling each task like a deep space dogsbody. Thankfully, this is done sparingly: Isaac only speaks when spoken to, and doesn’t deliver Nathan Drake-style quips while he’s pruning limbs off space zombies like they’re the bloodiest kind of Bonsai tree. Instead, his moment-to-moment status is indicated by his heavy breathing and his hurried heartbeat heard in moments of eerie silence, exactly as it should be.
This remake brings the Ishimura back to life in visually stunning ways. Its decks, quarters, and airlocks have been rebuilt in painstaking detail. It is undoubtedly the star of developer Motive Studio’s remake, a more believable and varied ship than the one seen in the original game. But it is just a part of Motive’s re-engineering: Weapons, characters, and progression have all been rethought, resulting in the best possible version of Isaac Clarke’s trek through a veritable hell — and hopefully the revival of a horror game franchise that flamed out too soon.
The remake’s overhauled visuals are phenomenal across the board, bringing the Ishimura’s suffocatingly grim bowels to life with a disgusting sheen. It’s an iconic location for a reason, and the visual upgrade and sheer attention to detail contribute to it feeling more lived in than ever. That’s true whether it’s the abandoned suitcases strewn across the arrival lounge, the cramped crew quarters and the glimpse they offer into the dreary existence of those working aboard the ship, or the posters for a product described as a “carbonated hard bar” providing the only semblance of color amongst its metal-carved hallways. The peeling system is one facet of the remake’s improved graphical fidelity, and it has a delightful impact on each combat encounter. It ensures that skin, fat, and muscle layers are ripped off enemies with each successive wound, making the exposed bones vulnerable to snapping in half from a well-placed round or two. The green light running up the spine of Isaac’s suit is a visual indicator of his health, and this makes the Necromorph’s own bodies a reminder of theirs.
There are new rooms tucked in amongst the old layouts - add-on chambers for a handful of side missions that deepen the fates of certain characters, including Dr Mercer and his awful Hunter. Some areas and their tasks have been totally transformed: the original game’s mounted-gun asteroid blasting sequence now sees you zipping around in zero-G (the remaster borrows Dead Space 2's more user-friendly jetpack), synching the ship’s cannons to your weapons while boulders rain down on the hull. The annoying boss battles are back, yellow-painted weak points and all, but there’s a sprinkling of worthwhile new puzzle variables, such as circuit-breaker panels which invite you to choose between, say, switching off the oxygen or the lights in order to power another system.
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The combat is as great as ever, especially within the survival horror genre. Dead Space sort of carved out its own niche of limb-slashing action, which the original (and this remake) tries very hard to make clear to new players through a notoriously hilarious amount of environmental queues. Most guns are more than capable of shortening enemies by the approximate length of their shin bone, but some fill more niche roles, like the flamethrower. And in case you were wondering, the Pulse Rifle is still garbage.
The Dead Space remake also follows the likes of GTA 5's PS5 iteration by offering console players the choice of a ‘Quality’ or a ‘Performance’ mode. In essence, the former portrays the game at its best-looking, in 4K UHD resolution with ray-tracing, but with a 30fps capped framerate. The latter, on the other hand, maintains a steady 60fps framerate, but with 2K QHD resolution and no ray-tracing. How you play is up to you, of course, but I will say that if you can overlook the negligible difference between 30fps and 60fps, Dead Space looks gorgeous running on Quality mode.
Apparently, Dead Space has a reactive “AI director” of sorts that is tracking players, and it’s able to generate different kinds of enemy encounters. It puts an interesting wrinkle into how I typically play these games, where if I grossly misuse resources in combat, I might purposely die and streamline my process the next go around. Here, though, I can’t count on any of that, because the enemy layout, including the loot drops, aren’t static. This friggin’ rules, because it pushes back on the survival horror strategy of optimized survival. I’m only playing on normal, but I’ve been forced to use a lot more health than I normally would in a game like this, because there’s no guarantee that trying a room again will net a better outcome for me.
The improvements on offer here are substantial, but no remake could succeed to this extent without a rock-solid foundation. When it comes to the overall layout of the Ishimura, the story, art direction, and gameplay design, Motive doesn’t stray far from the 2008 version, and it doesn’t need to. Controls, visuals, performance, and the clunky 3D map have all been improved this time around.
The result is not just a standout survival-horror game — but one of the best games of all time. Even if you’ve played the original many times over, I cannot recommend the remake enough.
Sadly, I’m not sure what Motive’s success here means. I’ve seen the game compared to a director’s cut, but none of Dead Space’s original primary creators are involved, and the term suggests a level of deference toward designers that EA simply hasn’t shown. Dead Space remains a relic from an age of self-contained prestige shooters that almost certainly isn’t coming back; I’m not even sure Motive’s approach would work for remaking the series’ other games. But none of that diminishes the sheer ridiculous pleasure of ripping up a zombie with a sawblade and stomping it for loot.