a new voice for a recurring nightmare: NPR
Imagine a haunted house attraction that you first visited fifteen years ago. The wallpaper peels off, the paint cracks, the animatronic ghosts jerk and fade.
Then imagine someone taking it apart and rebuilding it brick by brick. They plaster the walls, carry scarier ghouls, add new spooky pictures to the frames.
You approach the house with trepidation – how could it replicate the scares and thrills you remember so fondly? But the moment you leave, you can’t stop smiling.
This is exactly what makes this year dead space remake so exciting. It proves that a timeless game built on a solid foundation can look as fresh in 2023 as it did in 2008 – for newcomers and aficionados alike.
shock to the system
Your journey begins and ends in outer space – humans have exhausted their resources on Earth and are now scouring the stars in search of more. You play as Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer tracking a distress beacon sent by the USG Ishimura, a massive ship equipped with mining capabilities that crack open planets to extract their minerals and ores.
Of course, things go wrong immediately. Your ship crashes on the Ishimura, your crew members are separated or die, and you will soon have to fight for your life against untold horrors. Bodies litter the floors, cryptic warnings written in blood cover the walls, and the few survivors have completely lost their minds.
So it’s up to Isaac to find his girlfriend – who was trapped on the Ishimura – and escape. Add in a mad scientist and hostile alien life, and you’ve ticked off some of sci-fi horror’s most common tropes. But even if it’s not entirely new, dead space still feels like a fitting homage to the stories that came before it, from Event horizon to Extraterrestrial.
But there’s one big change to the classic game, one that fans of the original might struggle with:
Isaac speaks now.
find a new voice
2008’s Isaac Clarke was as mute as he was fearless as he battled monsters and maniacs, his face still obscured by his helmet. Of course it opened in Dead space 2 and 3but Clarke’s initial silence contributed to the first game’s sense of mystery and isolation.
This time, developer Motive Studio tapped Gunner Wright, the same actor who portrayed Clarke in the old sequels, to reprise the role. His dialogue fleshes out some of the story and characters, but it doesn’t feel overdone – and he’s certainly not as chatty as many contemporary heroes.
Other adjustments are measured in a comparable manner. Apart from a few script changes, this dead space plays almost identically to the first, with updated visuals and sound that amp up its engaging and terrifying vibe. The game also swaps out the original’s frustrating 3D map for a 2D map, making it much easier to see where you’re going.
Tear and Tear
The fights are still as brutal as ever. dead space pits Isaac against hordes of Necromorphs: the mutated remnants of the Ishimura’s crew.
Over time, the game will teach you how to use your growing arsenal to counter different types of Necromorphs. Each of the cannons has a primary and secondary attack to give you the flexibility you’ll need to take down each wave of terrifying creatures.
Isaac also gets nifty powers. Her stasis ability slows down enemies, and her kinesis mod lets you throw items like explosive rounds for massive AOE damage. Both are essential for survival, and switching between guns, stasis, and kinesis is – quite literally – a blast.
The controls are also all smooth, but the Zero-G sections can get confusing when trying to tell floor from ceiling with Necromorphs flying towards you from all angles. While this disorientation must be intentional, the polished combat mechanics far outweigh any resulting irritation.
If it’s not broken…
Even though the graphics and audio benefited from the remake treatment, much of the user interface and environment design needed no improvement.
Directly inspired by Resident Evil 4, dead space extended over the shoulder camera and minimalist HUD. Isaac’s health bar and stasis meter literally glow on his costume; they are not abstractions that only the player can see. It can even light a path to the next goal to make any backtracking less confusing.
But it’s USG Ishimura’s implicit storytelling that really makes it a legendary horror setting, on par with Resident Evil 2′police station or Resident Evil 1 Spencer House. You don’t need to be told what happened, you can see for yourself just how chaotic and bloody the Necromorph takeover went by walking through the halls.
The ship rarely provides true sanctuary either. Even in what appear to be “safe” rooms where loot abounds, you’re still vulnerable to ambushes. You will be kept on your toes throughout the journey of approximately twelve to fifteen hours.
As game remasters and remakes continue to flood the market, developer Motive Studio sets itself apart by preserving an original masterpiece in all its dignity, while enhancing it with modern tweaks. This haunted house is well worth another visit.
James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this story.