Dead Space remake’s secret weapon is its intensity director

Whether it’s coincidence or some sort of telepathic developer wavelength, the rebirth of Dead Space is here. Several sci-fi horror games are in development, some of which are directly inspired by EA’s 2008 classic. Leading this load is… well, dead space himself.

Developer EA Motive is rebooting the series with a full remake of its first installment slated to launch in January. Although the studio was transparent about the development process, we had yet to get a meaningful preview of the project. EA finally lifted that lid in September with a press event that allowed journalists to play through the game’s first three chapters (spanning around four hours).

just played dead space for the first time in December, I entered my remake demo with the original very fresh in my mind. The chapters I played are incredibly faithful, preserving the more claustrophobic horror of the original while doubling down on its hyper-violence. Its main differences come from significant technological improvements – some of which are entirely invisible to players – that make it a more immersive and less predictable return to USG Ishimura.

Video impressions


If you’ve played Dead Space before, the remake will feel instantly familiar. From the moment Isaac Clarke took his fateful walk to the dock of Ishimura’s ship, I could tell EA Motive was sticking to the script rather than going after a drastic reboot. During my demo, I saw a scientist get mauled by a walker, get dragged down a hallway by a giant tentacle, and find myself locked in that damn decontamination chamber (you know that one). Even the moments that aren’t one-on-one recreations are still the same.

Creative director Roman Campos-Oriola notes that EA Motive has a lot of respect for the original, which is why he jumped at the chance to tackle the project. In that regard, the team wanted to make sure they were using technology to improve on the original, not remake it.

“It’s been about 15 years since this game was made, and there’s been a lot of things that have changed in terms of engines, rendering, technology,” Roman told Digital Trends. “It’s not like changing it or remaking it to make it, but it feels like there are elements that we can take from the original and push them even further while still keeping the essence and the philosophy of the original.”

Isaac Clarke stands at the end of a bright hallway in Dead Space.

From an immediate technical point of view, the difference is clear. This version of dead space undoubtedly looks better with more dynamic lighting, awesome particle effects and detailed textures – 2008 Clarke looks like a rubbery Stretch Armstrong figure next to the new model. After a too close encounter with a Necromorph, I noticed Clarke’s suit was soaked in blood with detailed splatter and glistening dribbling on the metal and darkly covered in mesh fabric.

I especially noticed a difference looking at my pictures and comparing specific parts of the Ishimura to the original. Take the medical bay, for example. In the 2008 version, it’s a large square room filled with bloodstained beds in a well-lit room with a few extra highlights created by a few lamps. The new version is definitely more atmospheric. A layer of mist hovers above the ground, some lights twinkle eerily, and sparks rain down from a frayed wire on a wall.

Director of Intensity

The tech boost isn’t just about visual fidelity – in fact, it’s the part of the demo that intrigued me the least. The biggest change is that chapters are no longer interrupted by tram rides and lengthy loading screens. There is no loading period according to EA. The Ishimura is now walkable from end to end, as the game takes place in a single continuous shot like God of the war (2018).

There are also many small details that caught my attention. For example, the team went to a lot more trouble to make the Ishimura look like an inhabited space rather than a series of hallways. The rooms have a lot more scenery, with some aspects even adding environmental storytelling which gave me flashbacks to Prey (2017).

A necromorph attacks Isaac Clarke in Dead Space.

“You look at the ship and you go there, it’s a place where people live, they work, they’re there for long periods of time. And yet, in the game, it was a bit stripped down,” Mike Yazijian told Digital Trends. “We actually imagined, as if we were living there? How about we work there? How would it feel? Not a very happy place! We wanted to capture that feeling… You’re going to see all these posters that talk about the culture, the way they live, their values, etc. There is a kind of propaganda, the atmosphere of the 1960s.

What’s most impressive, however, is something that’s completely invisible to the player: the Intensity Director. The tool is a behind-the-scenes conductor that can dynamically change multiple game elements, potentially making a room feel completely different the second time you walk through it. This can change what enemies spawn, where they spawn, how much fog is present, how lights work, and much more. This adds a new layer of unpredictability to the experience that will keep players on their toes both during their initial playthrough and on repeat visits.

“Take Chapter 2 as an example,” says Campos-Oriola. “When you kill the captain and come back on the elevator, now you have to reach the hangar to go to chapter 3. This walk from the elevator from the morgue to the tram… the intensity director plays 100% Sometimes there will be fights, sometimes it will be dark with whispers, sometimes all the lights will come on and a walker will appear, and sometimes nothing will happen.

Isaac Clarke stands in a dark room in Dead Space.

This complex system could solve one of the biggest challenges facing horror games. Once you understand the script, it stops being scary. It’s like walking through a haunted house with a map that shows exactly where each actor will hang out. The Intensity Director completely changes that, even between individual deaths. The first time I noticed it working I died in a room where I had to fend off necromorphs. When I respawned I positioned myself close to where I saw the first spawn and waited to jump on it…but got jumped from behind instead because that first enemy spawned from a different vent. Considering the remake seeks to take the series back to its horror roots, that feel could be key to ensuring that even fans familiar with the original front and back will be scared.

member of member

Technological advancements also have a strong impact on combat, namely the series’ signature dismemberment mechanic. Like in the original game, players can use their weapons to sever enemy limbs one by one. If you can believe it, EA Motive has found a way to make this body horror even more grotesque this time around.

When you shoot a limb in dead space, you won’t cut it clean the first time. This is because enemies now have extra layers of flesh and bone that you can peel off when shooting at them (much like the Coming dead island 2). When a necromorph approaches me in a tight room, I pull his leg, exposing the bone before finishing the cut with a second blow. As he crawls forward on his scythe-like arms, I land another blow to his forearm, leaving him barely clinging to flesh. A second shot not only cuts through this, but seems to shave the side of the head a bit in the process. Of course, I follow that up with a stomp to send all the attached limbs flying.

Isaac Clarke takes aim at a necromorph in Dead Space.

The macabre spectacle isn’t just EA Motive showing off (Campos-Oriola points out that the team wasn’t trying to top the original game). The revamped Flesh system better encourages players to use weapons that originally seemed a little useless next to the versatile Plasma Cutter.

“It allows us to add the same kind of fun gameplay experience that you had in the original with the plasma cutter and line gun,” says Campos-Oriola. “But you have it a little less in the original with the pulse rifle. All the weapons that don’t sever limbs on their own in the original… that’s still cool, but like, the plasma cutter man! But now with the diapers, the pulse rifle, or the force pistol – even the flamethrower when you see the flesh charring – it’s kind of awful! It’s as good as the plasma cutter!

Speaking of all those technical bumps, Campos-Oriola points out that it’s not that the team felt the original needed a remake. On the contrary, they felt it deserved one with modern advancements that would do it justice. This same thought dictated what ideas of Dead space 2 and 3 would be carried over to the remake. Notable changes include Isaac Clarke being fully voiced by Gunner Wright (who acted as his voice from 2) and weightlessness sequences now allowing Isaac to fly freely rather than jumping between surfaces. These changes are so naturally implemented that I forgot they weren’t in the original to begin with.

Isaac Clarke flies in zero gravity in Dead Space.

There’s still a bit of work to do before the game releases in January, as all those technical boosts certainly don’t seem easy to juggle. The build press saw still had noticeable framerate issues and I caught enemies cutting through walls and floors during my session. This isn’t a cause for concern for me, as these are standard issues for a build in progress, but clearly some of these small details can push rigs to their limits.

dead space seems to be hitting all the right notes so far. It doesn’t fundamentally change the original, staying true to its settings and story beats, but it does make some high-level improvements that enhance horror and immersion. Although I’m not sure how its 2008 DNA will ultimately look next to more modern versions of the formula (like The Callisto Protocol), it will be a strong reminder of why the developers are so keen to replicate its success 15 years later.

dead space will launch on January 27 on Xbox Series X, PS5 and PC.

Disclosure: Digital Trends flew to Redmond, Calif. to preview Dead Space, with travel accommodation covered by PR agency Fortyseven Communications. It didn’t influence our coverage of the match.

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