As I load up the original version of Dead Space on my decade-old console, I am immediately struck by the game’s sluggishness. The player-character, Isaac Clarke, feels heavy and moves as if over-encumbered, as if the dense celestial pressure of space is buckling his knees. This creates a sense of weight and tension that makes navigating the faceless hallways of the USG Ishimura all the more terrifying.
As I delve deeper into the game, the sense of volatility in unravelling the horrors of the Ishimura is amplified by my aging console struggling to keep up with the demands of the game. The fan ramps up to the next speed, fighting its own impending doom as it tries to keep the on-screen action running as smoothly as possible, even if that means playing at sub-30fps. This adds to the overall sense of unease and dread, making the experience even more immersive and unsettling.
Amidst this experience, the player texts a friend, half-kidding, that the scariest thing about the game is the frame rate. The comment highlights how technical limitations and performance issues can detract from the overall gaming experience and affect the game’s overall impact.
The popularity of video game remakes has surged in 2023. One of the most successful models for a remake was demonstrated by Capcom’s modernized version of Resident Evil 2 in 2019. This remake has set a precedent and serves as a reference point for horror remakes that followed it. Even the developers of the upcoming Silent Hill 2 remake have acknowledged RE2 as a source of inspiration.
These remakes are not just high-definition ‘remasters’, but instead, they take the core concepts of the original game and bring them to the contemporary Triple-A tradition. The unique features of the original game, which might now be seen as outdated or hindrances, are altered to fit a modern third-person action game. This adaptation makes the game much more appealing to a contemporary audience.
By engaging with the original material, developers have reconstructed and reworked it into a different product that works in dialogue with its predecessor. These remakes update the gameplay mechanics, the graphics, the sound effects, and even the story, all while still keeping the fundamental principles of the original game intact. This balance is essential as it allows a new audience to experience the classic gameplay loop while still feeling like they are playing something fresh and new.
Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 in 2019 set a new standard for video game remakes, receiving critical acclaim for its faithful yet fresh take on the original game. The following year, they released Resident Evil 3 remake, which was less well-received, but still continued the trend of updating classic games for modern audiences. This was followed by Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, which took a more self-conscious approach to the idea of a remake.
These releases established a template for future remakes, which varied in their approaches. Demon’s Souls remake, for example, opted for a cleaned-up visual style, while Metroid Prime Remastered took a similar approach in updating the game’s graphics for a modern audience.
Nü Dead Space
Released in January, the remake of Dead Space, developed by Motive and published by EA, has received critical acclaim, much like the RE2 remake did in 2019. However, the updates made to the original game are not as drastic, due in part to the fact that Dead Space is a remake of a PlayStation 3 game, which is relatively newer than the original RE2. Additionally, the foundation of the game is strong, having been built by the original Visceral Games team 15 years ago.
The comparisons to RE2 remake are inevitable and intentional, but Dead Space remake’s updates are more focused on enhancing the original experience rather than radically changing it. The game’s relative youth compared to RE2 means that the changes made to it are more subtle, and its foundation is strong enough to withstand the test of time. Overall, Dead Space remake is a successful effort to revitalize a beloved horror classic for a new generation of gamers.
The Dead Space remake, developed on EA’s Frostbite Engine, offers impressive high-quality textures, immersive 3D audio, and moody lighting. The game retains its core gameplay loop, and the single-location setting remains a strong feature. However, there have been some minor changes to enhance the game’s quality of life, such as the “Intensity Director” and circuit breaker puzzles. These features aim to increase the game’s dynamic elements, but their effects are overhyped and largely underwhelming.
The “Intensity Director” controls the spawning and pacing of enemies to keep the tension high, but it does not differentiate itself from other horror games’ enemy spawn systems. Circuit breaker puzzles, on the other hand, offer a slight challenge, but they do not impact the game experience enough to make a significant difference. The most significant change in the game is the restructured USG Ishimura, which has become an entirely explorable and seamless ship design. In the original game, traversal between different parts of the ship was done through the internal tram system. In the remake, the tram is still functional but is used as a fast travel point to go back for missed collectibles. However, the new seamless Ishimura has made the ship’s many corridors and dark rooms blend together, leading to laborious backtracking that diminishes the immediacy of the game’s horror. The new security clearance system is a feature that feels added to justify an otherwise uninteresting seamless Ishimura and seems out of place with the game’s naturalized HUD and progressive waypoint system.
The new “seamlessness” of the Ishimura in the remake is an important aspect of the game’s effort to feel more expansive than the original. This is not only expected in contemporary remakes, but also necessary to balance repetition and innovation. However, despite the added polish and seamlessness, the many corridors, elevators, and dark rooms of the Ishimura tend to blend into a single, monotonous experience. Backtracking is also more laborious and takes away from the immediacy of the game’s horror. To address this, a new security clearance system has been implemented, which forces players to backtrack to find missing weapon upgrades when their clearance level is eventually high enough. This feature, while functional, feels like it was added to justify the otherwise uninteresting “seamless” Ishimura and bring it more in line with post-Dead Space game design functions, such as a naturalized HUD and progressive waypoint system.
More Context! More!
The objective of the Dead Space remake was to add more context and polish to the game, according to John Linneman of Digital Foundry. The game’s new technology has been enthusiastically fleshed out in his technical analysis. The remake is driven by the twin forces of ‘extra context’ and ‘polish’. The game has a sense that elements from Dead Space 2 are being retrofitted to the original game, as Matt Purslow from IGN has suggested. For example, the remake’s zero-gravity rooms are now fully traversable spaces, which is similar to the experience in the sequel. In the original game, players had to do a funny point-to-point space jump.
One of the most noticeable changes in the Dead Space remake is the inclusion of a fully-voiced Isaac, a departure from the silent protagonist of the original game. Gunner Wright returns to voice the character, giving him the ability to converse with his crewmates and adding a layer of interactivity to the game that was not present in the original. While this change adds a degree of immersion to the game, it also detracts from the sense of isolation and vulnerability that was a hallmark of the original game’s horror.
The unspeakable horrors are no longer unspeakable.
In the remake, Isaac is given a full voice, which is a departure from the original game’s silent protagonist. Gunner Wright, who voiced Isaac in later games, reprises the role here. While his performance is good, the added dialogue and banter with crewmates serves to spell things out further and remove some of the original game’s ambiguity. One of the new side missions involves tracking hologram recordings of Isaac’s wife, Nicole, which adds emotional context to their relationship and the events taking place on the Ishimura. While the added context and explanations can make the narrative easier to follow, it takes away some of the original game’s mysterious and opaque quality, where the player had to figure things out for themselves.
The author notes that the remake of Dead Space covers well-trodden ground, with the core horrors being familiar to players from previous playthroughs or guides. The new abilities given to Isaac seem to come with a sense of hindsight, with the characters in the game seemingly aware that they are in a remake and what they are up against. The author compares this approach to that of Final Fantasy VII Remake, where the meta-awareness is more explicitly built into the game’s narrative.
remake of Dead Space lacks the ambiguity, dread, and helplessness that were present in the original game. Instead, it presents clear directives and a friendly atmosphere, betraying the organic sense of discovery that was so integral to the original. The dialogue spells out every action, justifying and motivating each decision, taking away from the immersive experience.
original game, on the other hand, with its sluggish movement, coarse animations, and crippling framerate, perfectly captured the feeling of being out of your depth. You were made to feel like Isaac, a space engineer unprepared for the horrors that awaited him on the Ishimura. The original game’s technical instability added to the game’s overall atmosphere, creating a sense of vulnerability and fragility that complemented the narrative and gameplay. The environments felt hazardous and dangerous in a way that is sanitized in the remake. The original game’s roughness made it a challenge to carve your way through, adding to the sense of accomplishment and immersion in the game.
The experience of playing the Dead Space remake at 60 frames-per-second is described as feeling unnaturally smooth, while the 4K resolution provides a level of clarity that seems almost too much. The haptic feedback provided by the PlayStation 5’s controller is deemed adequate but not quite right, as shooting the Plasma Cutter no longer has the same weighty kick when the framerate remains stable.
The writer discusses how the new remake of “Dead Space” offers a different experience compared to the original game, with the focus being on more gore and less loneliness. The article then touches upon how remakes like these, including “The Last of Us Part I,” aim not only to honor but to eclipse their original versions. The writer draws a comparison to Disney’s live-action remakes, where technical achievement is prioritized over artistry and photorealism is the ultimate goal. The comparison to “The Last of Us Part I” is also made, with both games being remastered for a new console generation and seeking to replace or render the original obsolete. The writer also comments on the mercenary capitalist drive behind these decisions and questions the appropriateness of this approach.
The developers of Naughty Dog argue in their ‘Honoring the Original’ featurette for The Last of Us Part I that the limitations of hardware hindered the original game from reaching its full potential. The focus is now on remedying these technical restrictions and achieving things that were previously impossible. The underlying logic is that with everything that couldn’t be done now achieved, why would anyone want to go back to the original version?
However, the decision to remake a game is often driven by mercenary capitalist motives rather than genuine preservation interests. As old hardware becomes obsolete, big studios aim not only to honor but to surpass their original versions, leaving the question of whether it is appropriate to compare EA, Visceral Games, Motive to the reanimated corpses wandering aboard the Ishimura. The remake’s underlying drive can be unsettling.
I agree with horror master John Carpenter that the remastered version of Dead Space by E.A. is a great game. In fact, I’m planning to play through it at least two more times to earn the New Game Plus and Impossible difficulty trophies. However, I can’t help but feel that the new Dead Space offers a different experience from the original, one that downplays some of the unique qualities of the original in favor of a more gory and less lonely mode of horror. The updated graphics and polished hallways make it feel more like a new, streamlined product designed for easy consumption. While I still think it’s a great game, it doesn’t quite capture the same essence as the original. I’m among those who hope that EA follows in Capcom’s footsteps and continues to remake the entire trilogy.