Remakes can be somewhat of a touchy subject nowadays. While many are welcomed with open arms, others can have their very existence called into question. There isn't too much of a middle ground between the two extremes, so EA must have been elated to see Dead Space fans jumping for joy when it announced the 2008 survival horror classic is coming back on PS5. Fast forward roughly 18 months and EA Motive is ready to release what has been pitched as a faithful retelling of Isaac Clarke's nightmare aboard the USG Ishimura. The final game proves that to be true.
Dead Space in 2023 is almost exactly the same as you remember it from 15 years ago; the story of the Marker remains, every classic weapon is back — some better than ever — and the haunting atmosphere that made the spaceship one of gaming's most memorable settings hasn't gone anywhere. The developer has remained incredibly loyal to the source text, instead choosing to expand on what was already there rather than take anything away.
As you explore the ship's dark, blood-soaked hallways, you'll start to notice new mechanics here and there, like side quests and a simple security clearance system that introduces some light Metroidvania elements. Incorporating the fact the tram system now allows you to return to previous areas instead of locking places off after chapter completion, you're given a lot more freedom to explore the USG Ishimura.
This opens up the possibility for those optional missions to be far less restricted to your general vicinity. While some are tied to plot progression, the game can now be more open-ended than the marker you put down to guide you to the next objective. These voluntary assignments are more than worth doing, providing fans of the original game with new content and context as well as the chance to grab some sweet loot.
Other obvious changes that enthusiasts will notice include free movement during Zero-G, ported back into the first title from Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3. Some of the more notable sequences in the original title, like the infamous asteroid blasting turret section, have then been replaced with entirely new set pieces. Be thankful of the fact your blood won't have to boil anymore over keeping your shields above 50 per cent for a Trophy.
Changes aren't always for the better, but what EA Motive has done with Dead Space feels additive instead of reductive. Virtually everything you remember from the survival horror classic remains intact, only it's been enhanced with new content and other ways to interact with it. If you're looking to plough through the campaign with only the trusty Plasma Cutter by your side, you can. If you're looking to take part in a bit of Zero-G basketball, you still can. This is definitively the best version of the game there's ever been.
What's especially pleasing is how the graphical upgrade going from PS3 to PS5 hasn't taken anything away from the blood-curdling tension of Dead Space. It knows when to throw a Necromorph at you; it knows when to trick you into thinking an enemy is crawling around in the vents, only for nothing to ever appear. It still gradually begins to play with your mind, incorporating hallucinations and speech without an obvious source.
The biggest difference between the PS3 and PS5 versions, though, is, of course, the visuals. Dead Space now looks leagues ahead of what EA achieved on Sony's third home console, but that's not to say it impresses for today's standards. In fact, it's graphically where the remake disappoints the most. Compared to The Last of Us: Part I — another PS3 to PS5 remake — Dead Space looks notably average. It could probably pass as a late-gen PS4 title, and that's even on the 30fps Quality Mode. It's quite surprising EA didn't bother with versions for the previous generation of systems because, on a purely visual level, it wouldn't look out of place.
Wandering the USG Ishimura and going about our business, rarely were we taken aback by impressive spectacles or detailed scenery. We'd recognise the locations from our playthroughs on PS3 and reminisce through nostalgia-tinted glasses. However, there's just not enough visual splendour to where Dead Space justifies itself as a current-gen only game. That's disappointing.
What's worse is the Quality Mode doesn't offer a locked 30fps. Frame rate drops are quite common — especially when there are multiple enemies on screen — so the action can become a little hard to follow at times. The Performance Mode offers 60fps, but the graphics take a significant hit as compensation. It's an upsetting situation to be in because as a remake, you want the game you remember so fondly to shine at the best resolution possible. No matter which mode you pick in Dead Space, you'll always be compensating for something.
It comes as a letdown because the game itself is still great. While the environments are rather small compared to today's standards, the general gameplay loop still more than holds up 15 years later. Scavenging for ammo and resources from lockers, finding the right weapon to kill each Necromorph, learning what went down on the USG Ishimura through audio and text logs. For as much as we're disappointed by the look when stacked against modern titles, it's still a thoroughly enjoyable and intense game to play. Long-time fans will love revisiting the series' origins and newcomers get to experience a fantastic take on the survival horror genre for the first time.
The remake actually helps the original game better realise its one-shot camera approach — something it did long before God of War. There's not a single load screen in the title (unless you die), and with every single aspect of the HUD built into Isaac's suit, it feels really immersive to never have the camera cut or leave the action behind to load in assets. With the updated tram system, you'll now actually travel long distances inside its brown shell should you need to venture from one end of the ship to the other. It's a cool feature that, if anything, does it better than God of War Ragnarok.
If only the support for the PS5 DualSense controller was anywhere near as good. EA Motive has claimed every one of the mining tools turned weapons feels distinct through the use of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, but that just isn't the case. Despite their different firing options, there's very little variety in the feel of the L2 and R2 buttons.
Haptic feedback does make the sequences when you're outside the USG Ishimura more immersive, as Isaac's thumping heartbeat dominates the soundscape, but these sections are few and far between. We were excited to feel the weight of Isaac's big stomping boot through the PS5 pad. What's there is the most tepid vibration imaginable. What a letdown.
Dead Space has been brought back in the most faithful manner possible. With the fantastic base experience still very much intact, EA Motive has expanded on it with new content, expanded areas, and more mechanics to help deliver on the vision the game's original creators had 15 years ago. Compared to more modern titles — and other remakes from a similar period — Dead Space disappoints with visuals that fail to justify why it's a current-gen only release. However, it's still a great game to play in 2023, and new quests and mechanics provide more than enough reason to go back to a survival horror classic.