Dead Space (2023) is great but I still love the original

The (mostly) definitive version

If I had to put together a list of my favourite new IPs from the seventh console generation, the original Dead Space (2008) would share the top spot with 2012’s Dishonored. It arrived three years after Resident Evil 4 laid rock-solid foundations for the third-person survival-horror genre, giving Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood Shores) time to refine mechanics, add a dismemberment-based twist to combat, and wrap it all up in a terrifying audiovisual package. Despite the increasingly dated visuals, I’ve replayed it many times and it holds up so well my brain struggles to accept there’s been a 15-year gap between it and Dead Space (2023).

With that said, I’ll try to explain why I feel Motive has created the definitive version for new and returning players – even if I feel not all the changes are for the best.

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Some might have been looking for a more radical overhaul but I was pleased Dead Space (2023) only tweaks the plot and fleshes out the cast without changing major story beats or messing with character motivations. You still move through a dozen named chapters, fixing an absurd number of shipwide problems, while experiencing the same set-pieces and shoot-the-weak-spot boss battles. You encounter the same motley group of survivors, most of whom perish as expected. Even the alternate ending – unlocked by way of a new-game mode collectible hunt – is just a tweaked final cutscene that better sets up Dead Space 2. You could argue it never had a particularly novel plot by sci-fi standards, but the mix of body horror with hard sci-fi concepts, ruthless corporations, authoritarian governments, and sinister religious groups is still compelling.

That said, the most obvious and significant change to the storytelling is a fully-voiced Isaac Clarke, thanks to the return of Gunner Wright from the sequels. There’s a classic plot twist that might justify Isaac’s silence, but it was always weird to have the rest of the casting talking at him and issuing instructions without ever questioning his unwillingness or inability to respond. The mission logs were always written from his perspective and gave some insight into his character, yet the only words you’d hear was the odd curse if you repeatedly stomped a Necromorph to pieces (which is still a thing).

In Dead Space (2023), Isaac often engages with the rest of the cast, highlighting his engineering background or mental state. He actively proposes solutions, re-purposing lines that were originally given to the supporting cast despite their non-engineering backgrounds. The dialogue feels plausible enough given the circumstances but there are several cringe-worthy lines that veer a little too close to a cliched action-hero script. Thankfully, Dead Space (2023) avoids taking the modern “cinematic” approach of having a protagonist that undermines the atmosphere by never shutting up. The bulk of the experience is still just the sound of his thudding footfalls, heavy breathing, and beating heart.

Now while the overarching plot remains the same, Motive clearly wanted Dead Space (2023) to feel a little more coherent with the rest of the trilogy – or at least Dead Space 2 – while providing a better time frame for events on the Aegis VIII colony and the Ishimura. It pushes the Unitology elements to the forefront with new text- and audio-logs; expands upon dialogue or encounters with the supporting cast; ramps up the hallucination scenes toward the finale, and introduces side missions that have Isaac tracking hologram recordings to reveal the actions and fate of key crew members. Of course, secret recordings and text logs could be found in the original, but they’re expanded upon in the remake and the side mission structure strings them together in a coherent order.

Some examples include introducing the idea of a “convergence event” early on; making the influence of the Church of Unitology on corporate entities and individuals more obvious; and giving many crew members – notably Nicole – far more depth and agency during the unfolding disaster. Many of these expanded elements have been covered already by novels, comics, and animated shows, but as someone who hates cross-media storytelling, I’m glad to see them incorporated directly into the remake.

The new or updated logs even provide some narrative context for an otherwise bland side mission that has you hunt for the RIGs of senior crew members to create a master override key. You’ll discover more about the fate of the senior crew from their logs and their bodies are always found in a logical location that reflects their final moments. It enhances Dead Space’s legacy of incredible environmental storytelling and ensures the gameplay and narrative feel cohesive.

Dead Space (2023) Side Missions

So far, so good… but while Dead Space (2023) keeps the plot intact and smartly expands upon it, I have some issues.

The most obvious is the exposition-heavy opening and closing hours. I’m not against expanding upon the lore and character back-stories but there’s a multi-page text-log you can find right after the game starts that takes so long to read you’ll miss several important conversations as the rest of the crew walks towards the Ishimura flight lounge. Soon after, you’ll find equally lengthy documents covering the CEC Corporation, Church of Unitology, and EarthGov. Compulsive readers will find it immersion-breaking. Similarly, many expanded conversations clearly lay out the intentions of the different factions, removing much of the mystery and potential for speculation.

A more subjective issue is the use of cutscenes for several encounters. Where Dead Space (2008) rarely took control away from the player, Dead Space (2023) does it too often. An early example is the introduction of the infecter necromorphs when you explore the morgue. In the original, you watched helplessly as an infecter converted a corpse into a slasher necromorph, before they both burst through a glass window to attack Isaac and infect other bodies. In the remake, it’s a scripted sequence with a button-mashing QTE before control is returned to the player. The same issue crops up during several altered death scenes that both over-explain the narrative and don’t feel at impactful as the original. Leaving the player in control but helpless to act as events took place just out of reach felt like a more effective way of generating terror than scripted sequences.

Dead Space (2023) Text Logs

A little more action-horror, a little less survival-horror

If you want a one-sentence summary of what’s changed gameplay-wise: Dead Space (2023) is Dead Space (2008) with Dead Space 2’s gameplay.

That’s an oversimplification but it holds true for the “feel” of the movement and combat that dominates the experience. Isaac moves faster, shoots faster, and fights scrappier, while the zero-G sections feature free movement using suit thrusters rather than the clunky jump-to-surface mechanic of the original. Other elements brought in from the sequel include the weapon alt-fire modes – replacing several that felt pointless or impractical – and special upgrade nodes that make Isaac’s arsenal and RIG even more powerful by the endgame.

On balance, it was the right choice as it makes for a more modern and satisfying, dismemberment-focused third-person shooter – even if you exclude the other survival-horror elements. It’s as fun as it ever was to trap a charging necromorph in a stasis bubble, slice off a bladed limb with the Plasma Cutter, grab it with the Kinesis module, then fling it back to pin it – or another necromorph – to a wall.

There are additional quality-of-life changes also make for a more streamlined experience. There are typically autosaves before and after every major set-piece. The map, although still clunky, is at least usable this time. You start with more inventory slots and unlock even more with each RIG upgrade. Power nodes are now used exclusively for gear upgrades and you can spend credits to recover nodes if you want to invest them in another weapon instead. The batteries you still need to haul around with Kinesis area associated with circuit breakers that often give you a choice of what to deactivate, think lights or life support, in order to power doors and elevators. Several sections involving the exterior defence turrets, the regenerating Hunter necromorph, and environmental hazards have also been reworked to be less frustrating. It all adds up to create considerably less clunky Dead Space experience.

Dead Space (2023) Boss Fight

When it comes to the new content that encourages backtracking – think side missions, security level-restricted rooms, master override chests, and the “Intensity Director” – it’s handled smartly and doesn’t feel like excessive padding. The handful of multi-part side missions are clearly tracked and unlocked in a logical order, with many objectives placed in, or near locations the story will send you back to. The security level mechanic – which increases as you progress the plot – replaces the need to horde power nodes to open storerooms and ensures access to new supplies when backtracking in later chapters. The master override doors and containers you can only access in the final hours are placed close to the Ishimura’s tram stations so no excessive backtracking is needed.

The Intensity Director, designed to generate random audiovisual scares and necromorph attacks, does a great job, just so long as you don’t push it too far. Your first run through an area is full of scripted encounters but backtracking adds a degree of randomness that – if you go hunting for security doors every time your level increases – can lead to a DOOM 3-style situation where every detour off the beaten path might consume as many resources as you gain. What the Intensity Director truly excels at is highlighting the overhauled visuals and incredible soundscape, often leaving you frantically aiming at every vent and stomping on every corpse just in case an infecter appears.

Dead Space (2023) Weapon Upgrades

Now as much as I enjoyed the updated movement, combat, and new content, I found myself longing for the classic gameplay loop. Dead Space (2008) may have refined the Resident Evil 4 experience but it was still a game grounded in methodical, resource-centric gameplay. Cautious progression, retreating to defensible locations, preserving ammunition for your most powerful weapons, using necromorph limbs instead of ammunition, ensuring every shot counted – all these considerations felt essential, especially when playing on harder difficulties.

In contrast, Dead Space (2023) often feels like a scrappier action-oriented, shoot-first-think-later experience. Encounters ramp up in intensity sooner, tighter hitboxes mean more shots go wide, ammunition is doled out more readily, and it was only on the hardest difficulty – which makes Isaac incredibly fragile and the necromorphs bullet-spongy – that I found myself concerned about supplies. On that note, despite more frequent resource drops, the increased inventory space meant I never found myself having to make decisions about what to take and what to leave behind, or having to backtrack to restock. It’s a more approachable design by modern standards, but I miss that classic, more methodical balance.

Blood, guts, and too many tendrils

If there’s one consistently impressive element of Dead Space (2023) that I can only nitpick, it’s would be the updated environments and overhauled presentation. Motive have lovingly rebuilt the Ishimura in a way that feels respectful to the original, while also ensuring each deck is interconnected in a continuous, logical layout that requires only an initial load.

Rebuilt from scratch in the Frostbite Engine, Dead Space (2023) looks reasonably next-gen with stunning environments full of fine details, moving parts, and props galore. The new lighting, shadowing, and oppressive atmospheric effects add to the sense of dread, while the updated animations and character models retain the original designs but add new levels of detail like splattering gore or a layer of frost on surfaces when in cold environments or a vacuum. I didn’t find the layered gore and updated dismemberment system particularly impactful at first, until I picked up the Force Gun, blew a charging necromorph off its feet, and watched a bloodied skeleton with dangling limbs rise up from the ground for another round.

Dead Space (2008) still has an incredible soundscape but the remake still manages to improve upon it. In addition to higher bitrate audio and quality voice acting, anyone with the right software or hardware should immediately enable 3D Audio for unsettlingly accurate, directional, and densely-layered sound effects and ambience. Fighting through the Ishimura is an all-out assault on the ears, forcing you to cope with a cacophony of alien screeches, loud industrial hazards (which can mask approaching necromorphs), and a dynamic soundtrack with a fondness for tension-building string pieces.

that said, my favourite addition is the overhauled level layout that ramps up the immersion factor by making the Ishimura feel like less like a game-world. Almost all the important set-piece locations from the original return with an audiovisual overhaul, but I was most impressed by how they’ve been scaled up and connected. The tram system is now a central track with mining and engineering decks in the rear of the vessel, cargo handling and hydroponics towards the midship, and the crew quarters and bridge towards the bow. Every viewing port or spacewalk now reveals the vast silhouette of the ship stretching into the void, giving the planet-cracker an appropriate sense of scale.

Isaac’s initial route between locked-down decks now involves more service tunnels and the odd spacewalk, while many paths between important rooms have tweaked layouts or exist on separate levels. Despite the increased scale, intelligently-placed shortcuts and twinned tram platforms ensure it never feels like you’re wasting time getting about. When you throw in the side missions and Intensity Director, it makes simple exploration feel both satisfying and nerve-racking. I should note the slow door animations and elevator rides return – but they serve an important purpose in generating tension and ensuring you never have a quick exit from danger.

The only notable blemish I could think of is the somewhat last-gen-looking human character models. Subjectively, I’m also not a fan of how the entire Ishimura feels grungy from the start. There was something striking about the contrast of bright red gore with sterile, harshly-lit starship environments in the original. In the remake, everything blends together in the grittier and gloomier environments.

The (mostly) definitive version

So, despite alternating between praise and criticism, Dead Space (2023) is the definitive experience for new and returning players – especially those that enjoyed the more action-focused sequel or intend to move onto the sequels after playing this remake. It preserves and expands upon the original story, plays like a suitably modern third-person survival-horror game, while the overhauled environments, visuals, and, audio impress on new hardware. If you were after a modernised Dead Space experience and were let down by The Callisto Protocol‘s attempt to be yet another cinematic blockbuster game, this remake is what you’ve been waiting for.

On the other hand, if you have a love of older, more methodical survival-horror games, this remake doesn’t render the original entirely obsolete. It doesn’t dramatically change the characters or narrative trajectory, so if you don’t have access to a next-gen console or high-end PC, you can still consider this release a good excuse to pick up a dirt-cheap copy of Dead Space (2008) as a) it holds up in many ways, and b) it might encourage you to try the sequels as well.

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