In the 15 years since Dead Space was released, it has cemented in my brain as a masterpiece of science-fiction horror. Its unmatched atmosphere, its visceral, lead-footed combat, and its cosmic terrors still hold up, through rose-tinted memories.
The new Dead Space is faithful to those memories. Its world, the space-zombie-infested, planet-harvesting vessel named the USG Ishimura, is a cold, industrial maze lit by flickering halogen lamps, where every machine is broken down or on the verge of flying apart. Metal clangs, steam hisses, and morbid screams bounce through its hallways. The Ishimura is a terrifying, immersive graveyard of a ship.
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 story of Dead Space, heavily inspired by sci-fi horror films Alien, Event Horizon, and Sunshine, is mostly unchanged. A small crew employed by the Concordance Extraction Corporation is sent to investigate why the Ishimura has gone dark, only to find it in great distress. The ship has been overtaken by terrifying creatures called Necromorphs, and the rescue team is promptly separated from one another. As engineer Isaac Clarke, you fight to survive the Necromorph infestation as you search for an escape — and for Dr. Nicole Brennan, Isaac’s estranged romantic interest and the real reason he signed on for the Ishimura mission.
Despite its general adherence to the original plot, Motive has updated major aspects of Dead Space’s structure. For one, Isaac speaks. A silent protagonist in the original game, he now converses with his shipmates and the few survivors aboard the Ishimura. His more prominent role in dialogue, combined with updated text logs and audio recordings, makes for a more elegant story overall; it introduces the trilogy’s theme of religious fanaticism, and the role of alien artifacts, much earlier, and in a less jarring fashion. The impact of that alien technology on Isaac and his allies’ psyche plays out in refreshing new ways, lending new weight to the characters’ relationships and their inevitable deaths.
Gunnar Wright, the voice of Isaac Clarke in the Dead Space sequels, returns to voice him here. His brand-new voiceover makes Isaac sound not like a put-upon errand boy, but a capable engineer unperturbed by shit going sideways every 15 minutes. The rest of the cast comprises new actors who bring solid performances: Brigitte Kali Canales in particular brings more nuance to computer specialist (and frequent task-giver) Kendra Daniels, and Faran Tahir (Iron Man, Star Trek) drips pure evil as Dr. Challus Mercer.
Isaac plays much like he did in the original game: He’s a systems engineer, not a hardened soldier, and he relies on what are ostensibly construction tools — laser cutters, sawblades, torches, and force fields designed for work in zero-gravity environments — to fight the Necromorphs. Dead Space’s combat garnered acclaim for flipping video game conceits by prioritizing limb removal, not headshots or body shots, as the best way to fight enemies. Chop off an enemy’s legs, and you’ll slow it down. Amputate its arms and it has no way to fight. Slice off its head? That will only make it angrier.
Far from feeling like a dated gimmick, limb removal is still grisly, satisfying, and tactical. If two or more Necromorphs are bearing down on you, what’s your plan? Hit one with a movement-slowing stasis field, cripple the other so it has to crawl its way toward you, then shoot out a saw blade to slice ’em both up? That’ll work. Or should you lay down a proximity mine and just lead them into a death trap? Like the original game, the remake demands constant reconsideration of your approach, with continual shifts in the Ishimura’s environment and variations in Necromorph mobs.
Isaac’s everyman arsenal provides plenty of options, especially with new features that make each tool more useful. For example, the flamethrower, which serves Isaac well in more panicked moments, originally had an alternative-fire mode that launched an explosive fireball. In the remake, it instead builds a two-meter-wide wall of fire — anything that walks through it is burned to a crisp. The reliable rapid-fire pulse rifle also has a new alt-fire mode: a proximity mine that’s instrumental when Necromorphs surround Isaac.
Weapon upgrades like these are scattered throughout the game, both as collectible items and purchases from shop stations. Some are tucked away behind locked doors, and a new tiered security clearance system gives the Dead Space remake a more Metroid-like feel; there’s some backtracking to be done through the Ishimura, and a sense of risk versus reward for doing so. Is it worthwhile to double back to a previously inaccessible area, when Necromorphs have a habit of bursting forth from hatches? Maybe!
Motive has also retrofitted Dead Space with quality-of-life changes its sequels introduced. In the 2008 game, Isaac hopped from point to magnetized point in zero-gravity environments. However, he can now float and fly freely. Zero-G encounters have been summarily reworked, turning boss battles and minigame-like puzzles into tense, topsy-turvy situations. Appropriately, these spectacle-filled moments can be quite disorienting, even confusing, in keeping with the survival-horror uneasiness elsewhere.
Motive’s Dead Space remake also lives up to the impressive audio work of its source material. The sounds of the Ishimura are richly layered — the din of machinery and otherworldly screams are a constant amplifier of fear. There are also frequent audio feints and genuine shocks; I’m not afraid to admit I was jump-scared a handful of times by the developer’s tricks, despite being vigilant throughout.
Beyond the audiovisual upgrades, Dead Space shows that its developer is acutely aware of its impact on modern games, particularly in the horror genre. The remake captures the soul of its subject in the vein of Capcom’s Resident Evil remakes, delivering a meaty, memorable single-player horror game unmarred by tacked-on multiplayer or microtransactions.
Dead Space is also replete with accessibility features, including multiple colorblind modes, input options, and even content warnings and an option to hide disturbing scenes. Yes, this is a game slathered in gore and visceral body horror, but moments of self-harm and extreme violence can be bypassed, if that is your preference. The work that Motive has done in bringing Dead Space back to life is exciting not just for the ability to play an idealized version of a classic game on new platforms, but also in the promising groundwork it lays for the franchise’s potential future.
Dead Space will be released on Jan. 27 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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