The horror genre has been tied to video games since their early inception. With the unique ways games are able to immerse players with perspective and intimacy in both stories and actions that are hard to achieve in film, horror has found a lot of success in gaming over the past few decades.
As new technology and culture spawned new trends in horror for film, gaming followed suit. New concepts, technology and creativity allowed for new ways to scare audiences that simply weren’t possible in decades past.
Many horror games of the 1990s, such as 3D Monster Maze (1981), Alone in the Dark (1992), Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1998) are among some of the most influential to horror as a whole. Spawned from horror film influences, each of these games offered something new as interactive media that followed a filmlike narrative with the goal of attempting to scare players. All of these games were based around survival and attempting to get past scary environments and creatures for the first time.
Though many important horror games have followed this similar pattern throughout the early-to-mid 2000s, one smaller game would revolutionize the horror genre across all media in 2008: Dead Space.
Dead Space (2008) vs. Dead Space (2023)
Despite being an immediate hit among critics in 2008, Dead Space had slower sales, reaching over a million units sold just a year after release. However, it won countless awards for its game design, sound design and many nominations as a top action/adventure game in 2009. Many critics identified Dead Space as a revolution in the horror genre with its amazing technical elements and was an immediate classic that will live on forever. EA would release Dead Space 2 in 2011 and Dead Space 3 in 2013 to complete the trilogy.
Now, alongside EA’s newest entry into the sci-fi/horror genre, The Callisto Protocol, Dead Space returns almost 15 years later with a fresh remake of its classic that started it all.
As with any remake today, it’s always essential to ask: is it a strong remake, and is it worth revisiting this series?
I’m happy to report that Dead Space (2023) reminds us again that it stands tall as one of the greatest horror games ever made. Not only does its stunning new makeover look gorgeous and as real as ever, but through this, the game retains an even greater sense of fear and anxiety as the original did with a greater experience.
The first thing you’ll notice is just how detailed your surroundings are. The entire ship’s console in the introduction is full of individual buttons with differing lights and shapes, the texture of the actual ship is a more defined steel with darker rust and tangible shapes, and the darkness inside is terrifying. As you traverse through the ship, the flashlight becomes ever-important as the darkness is almost perfectly crafted to hide monsters and secrets in every corner. The rooms feel more claustrophobic, covered in darkness and lush with objects and items that actually exist in the environment. The new lighting and realistic darkness blew me away and created an even greater anxiety than the original. The fog around the ship and how your flashlight strikes it is incredibly realistic and makes exploring all the more intense.
The details also lie in the creatures. Fans of Dead Space are familiar with these creatures that will easily kill you if you’re not up to speed on combat. With looks straight out of a John Carpenter or David Cronenberg film, this remake makes them even more grotesque and terrifying than ever before. Their movements are much more fluid and suit them better in this environment and survival context where it feels like each move you make are truly important.
Much like the aforementioned elements of new details and sheen on familiar things, perhaps the best thing about Dead Space is jumping back into its razor-sharp combat and gameplay. The movement when controlling Isaac Clarke in a third-person perspective is smooth, but it has a good deal to weight and strategy to movement when engaging in combat. The array of weapons remains the same with a few new fire weapons to stop enemies, but the remake contains the same curve to learning how to kill enemies and which weapons work best. This remake makes the combat far less repetitive than many par-for-the-course AAA titles and requires a lot of attention when dealing with a dark environment.
I can happily report that this remake has even more of the gore and guts that the original is remembered for. Its' more detailed sheen has exactly what both horror and classic Dead Space fans are looking for.
To my surprise, there were some bold choices made with Dead Space (2023), mainly in regards to the narrative. While protagonist Isaac Clarke was originally a silent protagonist that was given dialogue and development in the following entries, Clarke was given new dialogue and backstory in this remake for a better developed story. There are new side missions that further explore the story that I really enjoyed, and I feel new players would get a lot from discovering this lore. In that vein, there’s some adjustments to the original that give supporting characters more development to create a more fleshed-out narrative piecing the series together. It may not have the exact same cold cadence as the first with more dialogue, but I feel that it adds nuance and immersion to the story, as it involves real people in a horrific context. Despite the difference, the narrative changes really pushed the experience over the top for me while still feeling familiar enough.
Overall, there are very few issues with the game. There are a few small plot elements I never loved about the remake and original alike, but it has a strong overarching story. Along with a few small bugs, one issue myself and others found when playing on PS5 was a problem with variable rate shading when running their ray tracing mode over performance mode. There were times where the image quality would drop in some darker areas with the camera on a close zoom or other spots, and higher brightness would make the issue a bit worse. Thankfully, Motive and EA's Patch 1.03 released on 1/31 has seemed to fix a vast majority of VRS issues by now.
Despite the small launch issues, the picture quality is fantastic with the right settings for your console or PC, and there are few bugs otherwise. I would argue that this is one of the more polished and well-running AAA titles that I’ve played at launch in some time. The VRS issue being fixed quickly gave me more interest in trying their ray tracing mode more.
Ultimately, I can wholeheartedly say that Dead Space (2023) is truly a new gold standard for what a remake should be. In an era of many remakes brought to the next generation of consoles, this is the perfect way to breathe new life into an older game while keeping its original charm that made it special in the first place. I look forward to the possibility of EA and Motive remastering the entire trilogy in time.