While Dead Space is still intense and scary as hell, there's a lot a remake could add to the game that would revitalize a phenomenal franchise.
Few games hold up as well as Dead Space. Despite releasing 13 years ago, Visceral Games' space horror shooter is still as intense and scary today as it was then. In fact, it's shockingly good--you can get it on PC right now, and it still controls exceedingly well, features some great shooting mechanics, and looks pretty great.
But most importantly, Dead Space can still scare the hell out of you, with a combination of great sound design, excellent jump scares, ridiculously gross monsters, and awesome set-piece moments.
So that's what makes the announcement of a Dead Space remake from EA Motive kind of...weird. According to leaks ahead of EA Play 2021, Electronic Arts looked at the massive success of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 remake and thought that Dead Space was ripe for a similar treatment. But Resident Evil 2 on the original PlayStation is today, realistically, kind of ugly and clunky. It's a tough game to go back to in its original form despite being full of great ideas and frightening moments. It's the kind of game where a visual and mechanical overhaul helps bring its best ideas forward into a modern setting.
Meanwhile, Dead Space might be getting on in years, but the technical leaps from the seventh generation of consoles to now aren't nearly as drastic as those from the PlayStation 1 era. Games from 12 years ago play pretty much the same way as they did then, and they still look pretty damn good. As a huge Dead Space fan, I've been itching for that franchise to be reinvigorated in some way (although without Visceral behind it [RIP], will it even be the same?), but a remake seems like an unnecessary expenditure of resources for an already great game.
The more I think about it, though, the more I think it's possible for a remake of Dead Space to do wonders for the phenomenal and distinct franchise. There are a ton of great ideas that don't need changing in Dead Space, and while a graphical overhaul would be nice, it's definitely not essential. But there's a whole lot of room for a remade Dead Space to expand itself and revive the whole franchise like yet another unkillable necromorph: through story.
When it was released, Dead Space came at a time when games were starting to really lean into doing some smart things with narrative but didn't quite have the resources or graphical power to put that narrative on screen. The result was (and is) a heavy reliance on audio logs. Dead Space has characters who show up in certain places to talk with the player character, Isaac Clark, and they'll call out on the radio to discuss objectives or pressing situations. But really, like BioShock and countless others from the era, Dead Space is a game when you arrive after the disaster--and the only way to learn about it is by finding tidbits left behind by the people who are already dead.
That setup is kind of fundamental to Dead Space, and I'm not advocating for a change to it (although, as Dead Space 2 showed, being caught in the middle of a disastrous outbreak of undead monsters is just as frightening as arriving in its aftermath). But there's a lot that could be done to tweak Dead Space's story and worldbuilding to make them more clear and immediate, to pull players in deeper, and ultimately make future Dead Space titles more viable.
The story of the USG Ishimura, where Dead Space takes place, is one tied to the planet Aegis VII. A mining colony, the people on the planet discovered an alien artifact called a Marker, which first started working on the colonists' minds to make them hallucinate and go mad, eventually turning them into a bunch of mutated undead necromorph monsters.
You learn tidbits of this story from audio logs all over the Ishimura--how it arrived at Aegis VII just before the disaster, how it brought the Marker on board, and how it ultimately succumbed to madness and monsters of its own. But most of that story has to be imagined and parsed by the player, and we never see it play out during the game.
But Dead Space has a bunch of additional materials that fill in the gaps in what happened during that first game and could absolutely expand on what's in a Dead Space remake. There's a motion comic that was released beside the game that tells the tale of the outbreak on Aegis VII, and an animated movie, Dead Space: Downfall, that shows what happened aboard the Ishimura before your arrival. If you were a Dead Space player but not a die-hard fan, you've probably never seen all this extra material--to say nothing of the other comics and novels that tie into the universe.
It sounds like EA Motive is already thinking in this direction, which is great news. In an interview with IGN, senior producer Philippe Ducharme and creative director Roman Campos-Oriola mentioned they're looking at the rest of the Dead Space universe to add more to the story of the remake.
“For us, the foundation is the Dead Space 1 story. So, by default, that's what is canon. But then there are some improvements that we want to make to that story,” Campos-Oriola said in the interview. “And not necessarily improvements because those things were not really working in the original, more improvements because of what came after, and we're like, ‘Aw man, that's interesting if we could reference that, or if we could make a link to that.” Campos-Oriola also said he and the team "were looking at everything from what immediately happened in Dead Space 2 to ancillary media like animated films and more," IGN reported.
“We're doing it from a narrative standpoint, but we're also looking at it from a feature standpoint in the improvements and some of the content that evolved throughout the franchise,” Ducharme told IGN. "So we're looking at what can be taken and reinjected within the first game from a future standpoint."
So with advances in gaming tech over the last decade, plus a whole lot of ancillary story material that already exists, there's no reason Dead Space has to relegate itself to being a story mostly told in audio logs and text messages. In fact, there's no reason Dead Space has to stick with only the story of what happens in the existing game at all. Dead Space is actually a huge, interesting world, with a lot of moving political parts as relates to corporations, governments, militaries, and religions. They're all essential to the story Visceral tells in this first game and in the subsequent games. Dead Space is already a really rich world with a lot of extra story material. And this is a perfect opportunity to get that stuff shown on screen rather than just piped through speakers or headphones.
I still love Dead Space as it was released in 2008, but if Electronic Arts wants a horror remake on par with Resident Evil 2, it has to take some serious notes from that game as well. RE2 isn't just a spiffed-up version of an old game--it's a reimagined version, with changes both subtle and expansive, to make it a better game in many respects. A lot less work needs to be done on Dead Space's mechanics and visuals than was necessary for RE2. But when it comes to story, there's a vast amount of interesting, disgusting, frightening stuff into which a new Dead Space could tap. EA can learn something from the haunting demands of the Marker: unify the story, expand the world, and make Dead Space whole.