Visceral Games’ Dead Space felt like a shot in the arm for survival horror games when it was originally released in 2008. The franchise has always been fondly remembered, so when EA revealed that Motive was working on a remake of the first game, it felt exciting to hear after the series stumbled into retirement with Dead Space 3 in 2013.
As you’ve no doubt heard, the remake of the first Dead Space is very good, and manages to feel like its own distinct thing while building upon the original game. One area in which the remake excels at this is in its immersion: thanks to the sound of Necromorphs skittering around in the vents, hushed whispers echoing throughout the walls and dim lighting, the USG Ishimura is just constantly menacing. Even floating around in zero gravity carries its own sense of terror, whether it’s because something is gunning for Isaac Clarke without him realizing it, or because the moments when he’s in space hovering amidst floating debris allows Isaac to take in the gravity of the situation and how doomed he truly is.
It helps that much like its predecessors, the remake allows for unease to persist even when nothing’s around thanks to its presentation. The original trilogy was famously diegetic with its game elements; HUD elements were displayed via the back of Isaac’s RIG armor—like meters for his health and Stasis power—and conversations or inventory sifting were done as holographic screens. In the moments when actual cutscenes took place, they occurred in real-time, with the camera positioned behind the point-of-view character. And famously, those menus or conversations couldn’t be paused, meaning switching out empty weapons were done in the moment as a Necromorph could chow down on Isaac. The diegetic presentation remains a pretty cool trick that allowed the game to feel a little more absorbing.
Dead Space 2023 also employs the one-shot camera technique that was famously used in the recent Norse duology for God of War. Sony Santa Monica went out of its way to make this one of the big selling points God of War 2018and it made a return for the 2022 sequel, God of War Ragnarok. That technique was treated like a big deal at the time for the larger PlayStation franchise, and it was, but there was so much emphasis placed on its importance—the novelty goes away as you remember it was made to be noticed in the first place. And with how cinematic the Greek series of games were, it’s not like the Norse saga fully needed to be one continuous take to begin with.
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Visceral’s Dead Space trilogy never really drew attention to its attempted one-shot style (or didn’t really have an opportunity to), and that also goes for the remake. While Motive had a blog announcing its adoption of the continuous take, its existence in the game doesn’t feel like a big deal; like 2021’s Halo Infinite, it’s just is. It works much more effectively here because Motive’s take on the ruined Ishimura feels more atmospheric and lived in, and is allowed to be so thanks to those diegetic elements. The remake knows how to let the player-controlled camera do the talking, as best shown in a transition from gameplay to cutscene, then gameplay again without breaking flow. With how close the camera is to Isaac’s back, things constantly feel tense as he takes in the bloodshed or decayed machinery around him while stuck with his own silence or the sound of something echoing from all around.
That one-shot method also helps the remake excel in how it chooses to convey Isaac’s growing expertise against the Necromorph infestation. Each new addition to Isaac’s arsenal feels like it has its own significance, however briefly. Whenever he picks up a new weapon (usually near a dead body), he gives it a once-over as a short musical sting plays, in a way that just feels satisfying to hear. Likewise, swapping out or buying armor at a store has its own air of importance. Watching Isaac lumber into the armor chamber then come out in a new RIG as the music rises before he presents his back to the camera once again means something, small as it is.
Again, this series of games have always had this baked in from the start, but Motive has successfully built upon what was already there and enhanced it with the remake. Part of what’s made the Dead Space games so beloved is how they worked to immerse players, and it’s something Dead Space 2023 nails quite well. The franchise wouldn’t be what it is without its unobtrusive presentation, and it’ll be interesting to see what Motive does in the future to further draw players in—either by remaking the sequels or a completely new entry to the franchise.
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