A Wishlist For The ‘Dead Space’ Remake

The original Dead Space launched in 2008, a few years after Resident Evil 4 changed the landscape for big-budget action horror games forever. Not only would developer Visceral Games meet the high bar set by Capcom in the genre they had a closed fist of dominance over, but they would also raise it substantially, becoming the premier example of how to create thrills and terror for the next decade. Under a new studio and with over 15 years of advancements in game design to play with, the series has returned — remade and reimagined for a whole new audience, right as the horror game renaissance reaches a fever pitch.

There have been many certified horror bangers since we last saw Issac crawling through the decrepit air vents of the deteriorating space freighter. A frame-by-frame remake would be a fun trip down memory lane, but it wouldn’t be enough to live up to the experience we remember, or to the many new classic moments we’ve had over the years. Motive Studio agrees, and has committed to not just making a shinier version of the scary sci-fi hit, but shaking up the formula to expand on the core concept, and make an experience capable of putting the industry on notice yet again. For my money, there are a few places that could use the benefit of review, as the things they got away with years ago may need revamping if they’re going to pull it off again.

The Story

The tale of ship systems engineer Issac Clarke’s very bad day on the USG Ishimura is straightforward and effective. It leads with blood, guts, and chaos and through memos and voice notes reveals a struggle against the dark seduction of a psychic alien race. You don’t need to change too much about this formula, though in an interview with IGN, senior writer Jo Berry revealed that adding a few more points of conflict early, as well as re-touching the pace at which the story’s layers reveal themselves, is certainly on the agenda. This has to include undoing the old silent protagonist trope Issac was cursed with in the original game (and freed of in the subsequent sequels). A main character speaking doesn’t have the adverse effect on “immersion” we once thought it did, especially now that video games are, on the whole, far better written than they used to be. And a late-game twist that felt out of nowhere previously might land far better if we get to know and like Issac as his own person and not just an avatar for corpse stomping.

The Gameplay

Maybe the part of the original Dead Space that most staunchly stands the test of time is its combat. Gangly, twisted monstrosities had to be delimbed after being incapacitated or they could spring back to life, but it got pretty routine hours into the process since many enemy types were shaped similarly and moved predictably. What if that wasn’t the case? What if the common Slasher could appear with more or less than two-bladed arms, or they had multiple or uneven sets of shootable limbs? The new peeling system — where enemies’ flesh actually flays and tears as you damage it — is supposed to be a sort of version of this in that it can reveal how much damage a creature has taken and how close it is to falling, but this seems more cosmetic than anything. Knowing you have to treat a Slasher a particular waywhile always being aware of new variables can make a difference, engagement-wise.

Many of the other changes on this wishlist have already been hinted at or explicitly revealed to be happening in some form. Weapons are getting new and adjusted alternate fire options, as well as new modding mechanics from the Dead Space sequels. The old 3D map was hard to read and largely unreliable and will be replaced by a simpler 2D version, as well as an updated objective locator. The menu, which opens as a projected AR user interface projected from Issac’s helmet, will remain untouched, meaning that stopping to sort through your gear doesn’t pause the action.

The Tech

Part of the obvious value of remaking an old game is using modern technology to do things you previously couldn’t. We tend to consider this idea in a strictly visual sense, but there’s way more that can be gained with the help of processing power, coding techniques, and AI tools that were unheard of in 2008. Two new systems in particular seem to be the fruits of this sort of labor — the ALIVE System and the Intensity Director. The former adjusts Issac’s audio cues based on his physical and mental state. When he’s injured or gets jump scared or is tired from a recent stint of running for his life, his heart rate and breathing may spike or struggle, which in turn informs his dialogue and other audible efforts. The latter watches your progress, adjusting the atmosphere of locations in the ship based on how you’re doing. This could mean that the rooms you’re revising may be completely dark now, or filled with monsters that weren’t there before.

These both work to provide what I hope to be the largest focus of this remake: endless suspense. The original Dead Space knew exactly how to keep you under pressure, but it did so largely by clever jump scare placement and crafting clever encounters by hand. This remake though seems to be ensuring that a game like this could stress you out in new and interesting ways even across multiple playthroughs. The Frostbite engine allows for some impressive lighting and visual fidelity as well. Walls with messages written in blood or covered in alien flesh can now deliver some terrible vibes to players in 4K.

Motive Studio has a big opportunity to re-introduce one of the most potent and memorable horror games to a new generation that has had their interest piqued by modern games like Resident Evil: Village or SIGNALIS. Now that it’s here, we can only hope that their vision for the Dead Space Remake aligns with our modest expectations.