In the split second before a necromorph slides its arm blades into Isaac Clarke’s stomach, it looks like the massive monster is giving him a bloody, snarling, over-excited hug. This precise moment, frozen between horrific brutality and a comforting embrace, captures the essence of the Dead Space remake. As a fan of the 2008 game, playing the new Dead Space is a cozy experience, even amid all the terror, death and gore. Hell, because of these factors. The Dead Space remake is big, beautiful and better than the original, while maintaining the magic that made the first game an instant classic. Turns out, great game design is timeless.
Man, EA used to make some good games. Dead Space came out at the height of EA’s golden era, a year after the first Mass Effect and a month before Mirror’s Edge, and it defined the sci-fi horror genre in a way that persists today. Dead Space was the game that introduced HUD-less horror environments, incorporating health and ability meters into Isaac’s suit, rather than displaying static indicators over every scene. The remake uses the same immersion system, alongside a pop-up inventory that doesn’t interrupt gameplay. Stores and upgrade benches are scattered around the USG Ishimura, the main ship where the nightmare unfolds, powered by credits and nodes that players find while slicing their way through the monsters onboard.
In the remake, the Ishimura is a maze of twisting metal corridors and locked rooms, and it’s bursting with secrets. I found myself checking every corner for glowing boxes to stomp on or shiny bits of ammo and credits, and my exploration was often richly rewarded. Never too rich, though — asset management underscores the game’s tension, and Isaac is constantly at risk of running out of ammo, stasis energy, oxygen or health. He’s always vulnerable in some way. In an action-horror game, this feeling is paramount.
Isaac has his classic arsenal of improvised and scavenged weapons, including the plasma cutter, disc ripper and flamethrower, but with some modern updates. The secondary mechanism on the flamethrower, for instance, deploys a wall of fire rather than an explosive orb, and it’s an ultra-satisfying way to cut off encroaching hordes. Shooting the necromorphs’ long limbs will always be more powerful than a headshot; stomping on mutant corpses still releases goodies (and any lingering player frustration), and the stasis ability remains a critical tool in managing enemies, temporarily freezing them in place. Kinesis is incredibly useful as well, allowing Isaac to pick up and hurl objects at any time, with unlimited duration.
Isaac gains new weapons and abilities at a rapid pace, and these tools flow into each other smoothly during locked-room combat scenes. Players are able to approach fights in a variety of ways and swap strategies on the fly — though stasis, shoot, stomp is always a valid approach. Save and refill stations are positioned generously throughout the environments, while ammo and health drops tend to appear right when they’re needed. In general, it doesn’t feel like the game mechanics are working against you — that’s only the murderous mutant space monsters.
Aside from significant graphical improvements, the single biggest enhancement in the Dead Space remake is the addition of zero-gravity flight. This mechanic opens up the game in a way that feels authentic to the source material — as if this is what developers wanted to do back in 2008, but hardware limitations made it impossible. In the original, Isaac leapt from surface to surface in zero-gravity, but now he floats and soars freely through these scenes with boosters on the soles of his boots. While flying, he can shoot, freeze and fling objects at enemies in any direction.
Boss fights and large-scale puzzles are dynamic in zero-G, and flying changes some sections of the game drastically. Isaac’s final fight against the Leviathan (a big tentacle blob) is now a fast-paced, no-oxygen, in-literal-space event with three turrets, requiring a combination of kinesis, mid-flight strafing and shooting skills. In the original Dead Space, this fight has Isaac firing on the tentacles from a gunner seat inside the Ishimura. There’s no denying, the remake does it better.