Dead Space Remake is stompy, quiet, and faithful to the original – here’s how EA Motive made it so good
You'll always have Peng, now and forever.
With the Dead Space Remake, Motive Studio is forced to strike a balance between keeping the game authentic to the original, and improving on the source material technically, narratively, and strategically to enhance the nostalgia.
Speaking to Phil Ducharme (Senior Producer) and Roman Campos-Oriola (Creative Director), ahead of the launch of the game, I wanted to dig into some of the biggest changes the team has made, and why it's made them. Is the talk of 'honouring the original' all lip service? Or has a genuine effort been made to freshen up Issac’s trip on the Ishimura?
If there’s one paramount Dead Space feature that fans hold near and dear to their hearts, it’s the stomp. First established in the original Dead Space and later juiced up in sequels, the stomp is to Dead Space what the bass guitar is to a band; you’d lose the soul without it. In the Dead Space remake, a lot of work went into getting the stomp just right.
“I think in Phil’s point of view, we spent too much time,” states Campos-Oriola as the pair laugh.
“We knew it was important, we wanted it to feel right,” follows Ducharme. “In one of the first iterations we had, when you were chain stomping you weren’t able to aim in between stomps. So if you stomped in a direction, you would keep going in that direction until you stopped altogether. You’d be advancing a bit but unable to course correct.
“We worked on the capsules in a dead body so it was a little bit more generous on hitting limbs and dismembering the creatures to lessen the number of times you’d miss. Then there was the gruesomeness of it, the sound, the squishiness. It’s a layered approach: initially, it’s just the mechanics, but then comes the blood and the animation of it, how much the ragdoll reacts when stomped, stuff like that.” All those layers paired with haptic feedback on the PS5 resulted in a stomp that the pair feel is crunchier – and a blast to use.
The stomp wasn’t the only aspect of Issac’s kit that got a major touch-up either. While the original Dead Space nailed certain weapons like the iconic Plasma Cutter and the Ripper, certain guns didn’t quite reach that bar. The peeling system, combined with weapon rebalancing and upgrade overalls, aimed to level the playing field across the arsenal.
Campos-Oriola jumped in and explained why a hands-on approach was taken here: “For me, it's playstyle. If you want to just play with the Plasma Cutter, you can still do it. It’s still satisfying, and it still feels like the original. That was very important to us. We didn’t want to nerf the Plasma Cutter to make other weapons more interesting.
“That’s why we improved the dismemberment with the peeling system. In the original, it was pretty good to shoot at weapons that could cut limbs, but with weapons like the Pulse Rifle or Force Gun, it could be hard to know what kind of damage you were really doing. Now in the remake, you shoot at a slasher, and like in the original, he’ll fall on his ass. But now when he stands up, you’re going to see all the flesh, all the skin, all the muscle is gone and it's just bare bones dripping with blood. That probably did some damage! Now that you’ve removed those layers, with just one shot of the Plasma Cutter you can [take them out].”
Fans of the approach to weapon upgrade in the series’ second instalment will also be happy, as the node-based work bench system has gotten a familiar overhaul. Campos-Oriola continues:
“We still use nodes, but there are no empty nodes anymore. We also took the concept from Dead Space 2 of special upgrades that you can apply to some weapons and applied it to all the weapons in the remake. Each weapon has three special upgrades, with each having a dramatic impact on the performance of the weapon.”
Then there’s obviously the fully-voiced Issac Clarke. With Gunner Right returning as both the voice and face of the engineer, many fans (including myself) were worried that the silence and spookiness spread across the original game would be lost: replaced with monologues and additional calls. This is not the case. And while Issac will be piping up now and then when spoken to, the pair made it especially clear that his input was kept to a minimum. This is not God of War: Ragnarok.
“It was a funny conversation with the localisation teams! They were like ‘Oh! You’re localising Dead Space! How many new lines are you going to create?’” Ducharme recounts fondly. “Then we looked at the total and it was like, ‘Oh only that?’
“We don’t want to have filler lines for nothing. There was quite a substantial amount added, because before there was zero. But it’s definitely not a chatterbox; Issac isn’t the one that’s always talking and filling in the blanks.”
That means very, very, little puzzle assistance or sudden interruption to take you away from the horror of the Ishimura. In fact, it only happens, once according to Campos-Oriola.
“We had some issues in the playtest with it, so what happens is Kendra actually calls you to check on how you’re doing if you’re spending a bit too much time in that situation. And all Issac will do is answer, and in that answer there’s a hint on what you have to do. It only happens once in the game!”
The reason why is clear to the developers: maintaining the isolation at the core of the Dead Space experience. “When you’re afraid, you talk to yourself and it reassures you. If there’s a room and the light is out, people talk to themselves like ‘where the fuck’s the switch’ or whatever. So we did not want that! We wanted you to still feel that isolation, that you’re still alone on that spaceship.”
However, if there is one perfect example of Motive Studio's hands-on approach to reforging the original Dead Space in my mind, it’s Peng. This primordial meme in the original game was a fan favourite back in the day. A small statue hidden away at the start of Issac’s adventure, an achievement waiting for those who collect it, as well as a recurring bit of world-building in the form of colourful ads spread across the Ishimura, Peng was something of a bright light in a world of horror.
And it's back in the Dead Space remake. But the statue hasn’t been thrown down in the same location as before. She has been moved as to “not make it too easy for us”. However, once you do find Peng, you'll be able to carry her all the way to Aegis VII: a dream in the minds of many players of the original. A small but lovingly remembered part of the original picked up, dusted off, brought back to life and placed back down for fans and newcomers to enjoy.
With all this in mind, I asked about their aspirations for this game, and whether they saw it as a natural follow up to the rest of the series of a straight up replacement for the original. Both Ducharme and Campos-Oriola rejected the idea that the old game could be replaced. Instead, they harkened back to an anecdote from one of the game’s earliest players:
“It feels like playing my favourite game again for the first time. That’s what we hope people who played the original will feel playing the Dead Space Remake.”
Dead Space Remake is out now. You can read our review here.