The eeriness of the near-derelict planet-cracking vessel USG Ishimura lingers as the main character, Isaac, paces forward through a tight industrial hallway. Sounds echo from the walls ahead as you can't help but grip your controller tighter as you hear the shrill screams of the necromorph monster coming around the bend. If you're playing Dead Space on the PS5 as I did, you're getting haptic vibrations as smoke spurts from a pipe running along the hall as you aim your plasma cutter forward. Every hair on your body is standing as you frantically fire forward, the haptic triggers giving some resistance as you fire your weapon widely toward the threat. You watch as each blast takes off a pound of flesh, tendons, or even bone. Just when you think you're about to be in the clear, you hear the shriek behind you as you realize you're flanked from both ends. Even though you cleared the area behind you, you never know when a monster might strike. Intense horror scenes like this make Dead Space an incredible example of next-generation horror video gaming, unlike its predecessors.
Each piece of that scene is something that the 2023 remake of Dead Space offers to take horror to the next level. With major technological improvements since the original game was released, the remake uses the tools available to create incredible environments and dynamic encounters with truly terrifying enemies. It is the perfect example of what horror games can strive to be with modern gaming.
The USG Ishimura is the ship you'll spend the entire game on, as you did in the first game. But now, using EA's Frostbite engine, the developers were able to make the ship's entire layout faithful to the original but redesign it in a way that allows for seamless navigation. In the original game, moving between large chunks of the ship would call for the use of a tram system. But now, players can move between while staying fully immersed in the ship around them.
The ship itself is beautifully rendered and textured, so each area brings ambiance that enhances the feeling of being trapped in this massive spaceship. Using sparks and other particle effects brings a level of detail that draws players further into the world. Even the remake's ability to demonstrate darkness has improved, making your flashlight much more of a companion rather than just a feature. The environment delivers huge moments of fear with jump scares stemming from something as simple as showers going off in a bathroom to catching a glimpse of a necromorph running by a window between rooms. The graphics capacity of next-generation consoles allows the ship's ambiance to feel like a real living thing.
Something truly special about the original Dead Space was taking the classic over-the-shoulder combat formula from the Resident Evil franchise and making it more action-oriented. The remake plays so smoothly when confronted with groups of multiple necromorphs that players have to jump between to escape. The thing about the necromorphs is that they go against everything we are taught as horror fans and as gamers. The faster guns like the Pulse Rifle shoot much faster but aren't the most useful tools here, like they would be against something like zombies. The reason being is that necromorphs aren't taken down by headshots or too many hits. They have to be dismembered and destroyed.
The remake has introduced a new mechanic into Dead Space which the developers call the 'Peeling System,' which is as gnarly as it sounds. As players shoot at the necromorphs legs or arms to dismember and finish them off, each shot can peel away a layer of their body. Using a Plasma Cutter to shoot off their leg will result in chunks of flesh peeling away to reveal tendons that will need to be blasted through before getting to the bone. After blasting through the bone, that necromorph is going to have to crawl after you. It's a gory, bloody system that is perfect for any fan of B-movie-level guts and gore. It makes each fight with a monster feel truly one of a kind because they can be hit somewhere new, like their face, and reveal a part of their skull that you've never seen. It's as messy as it sounds.
Plus, Isaac has an entire arsenal of weapons at his disposal throughout the game. Each has its own reaction from the peeling system. There are totally different results when using the flamethrower against an enemy versus the Ripper, which essentially shoots saw blades. With the flamethrower, the flesh visibly burns off the necromorph instead of a buzz saw chopping off its legs from under it. Each weapon changes what kind of carnage you'll be gifted with. Isaac comes out of every battle covered in blood and guts reflecting a true splatter direction from wherever the necromorph was killed.
As cool as that Peeling System is, the game's team has fixed perhaps the biggest problem with horror gaming. After finishing a game, you typically know where all the jump scares are, which can take some of the fun out of replaying. That isn't true with Dead Space, thanks to the game's 'Intensity Director,' which makes each experience completely unique. Without getting into the technical details, when passing through an area that has been previously cleared, the game can create new situations for players. Let's say you cleared out the medical bay and went back to grab an item you missed. This time, a new pipe could spurt out steam and make you jump out of your skin. Even scarier, though, is that the game can spin up enemies to toss at you from the air shafts or corners at random. The game has this Intensity Director built in specifically to keep that terror alive each time players make their way through the ship.
Dead Space hasn't made any major changes to the overall story, but the new technology has allowed it to do something special. It showcases many fear-inducing elements and puts gamers in the space suit to fight against it. Each playthrough is unique in some of the most impressive environments, with incredible sound and lighting. Dead Space peels back the layers of what modern horror gaming can be and makes a truly horrifying experience for anyone brave enough to pick up the controller.