This year’s Dead Space Remake sets a bold new precedent for the future of my favourite sci-fi horror series

Personal Pick

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2023, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We’ll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

I’m not a big fan of scary stuff, but weirdly enough, that often makes playing horror games a far more memorable experience. Being a big ol’ scaredy cat, I have to psych myself up before delving into a game that I know is going to terrify me, but I feel all the more triumphant for managing to make it through. 

Games like Resident Evil, Alien Isolation, and Dead Space have always been my favourites, because they balance their horror with other mechanics, which function as a distraction. In Resident Evil, you get that ultimate catharsis of blasting the shit out of the thing that’s scaring you, whereas Alien Isolation provides nice little engineering puzzles to occupy yourself with while trying not to think about the xenomorph breathing down your neck.

My favourite, however, was always Dead Space as a kind of combination of the previous two. You travel through the planet-cracking spaceship, USG Ishimura, dispatching horrifying necromorphs by slicing away their limbs with surgical precision—a minigame in itself. At the same time, playing as engineer Isaac Clarke, you use your mechanical smarts to solve puzzles and progress through a ship that’s falling apart around you. Dead Space never lets you forget that Isaac is an engineer first and foremost, it just turns out that, well… industrial equipment is real good at murdering aliens.

This variety of gameplay elements is what makes Dead Space so distinct as a horror game, even now, 15 years after the original release *crumbles to dust*. And it’s one of the reasons that this year’s Dead Space Remake is truly exceptional. Motive never oversteps the bounds in terms of making significant changes to the game, as so often occurs with even the best remakes. Instead, it focuses on re-establishing the Ishimura’s memorable atmosphere while building on the game’s fundamentals, primarily; killing necromorphs and solving puzzles.

One of my favourite additions is the “necromorph peeling” system—you know an enemy dismemberment mechanic is good when it gets its own name. Using the newly introduced selection of guns, you strip away necromorphs layer by layer. As I mentioned in my Dead Space review, the best is blasting them point blank with the Force Gun and watching as all their flesh rips away like a chicken carcass in one of those industrial blow dryers. Both the boss fights and puzzles also received significant reworks, bolstered by the introduction of full Dead Space 2-style Zero-G sequences.

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Dismembering necromorphs has never been more fun (Image credit: Motive)

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New Dead Space 2 style Zero-G improves both boss fights and puzzles (Image credit: Motive)

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New characters, cutscenes, and video logs further flesh out the Ishimura’s story (Image credit: Motive)

That’s not to say the remake doesn’t also bolster the narrative. Dead Space is already a pretty intense horror game, offering only brief respites in what is otherwise pure escalation. You fight through the nightmarish ship in hopes of escape, but whereas this was a mostly solitary experience in the original, there are now new sidequests, characters, and video logs. Pursuing these sidequests also grants you the perspective of Isaac’s girlfriend, Nicole.

Perhaps the most controversial change in the entire remake is that Isaac now talks. Some may argue this has a negative impact on the atmosphere, but I think even more is gained in allowing Isaac to actually communicate with the other characters and still-living crew of the Ishimura. You never would’ve known in the original, but Isaac’s story is a deeply personal one, as he tries to establish the fate of his partner. Collecting special Marker Fragments hidden in the added new game+ mode will even unlock a brand new ending, and that’s perhaps what excites me most about this remake: it provides the perfect opportunity to make changes, namely, reworking Dead Space 3 and changing the fortunes of the previously stagnant series.

Dead Space 2 would have to come first, certainly, but I’m sure it would make for an excellent remake if it received the same treatment as the original. EA already teased the idea of remaking the other games shortly after the Dead Space Remake’s release—understandable, considering how successful it was. If we managed to get to a point where a Dead Space 3 Remake was on the cards, it would be the ideal opportunity to improve the least popular entry in the series.

Who knows, maybe the success would even lead to entirely new Dead Space games—we can only hope. For now, though, it’s enough that there’s new Dead Space to play, even if it is technically old Dead Space.

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