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Dead Space’s remake misses a major storytelling opportunity

Isaac’s gang are much improved, but the Ishimura’s crew isn’t so lucky

Dead Space (2023) - Isaac Clarke and Zach Hammond inspect a screen together. Clarke is not wearing his helmet, showing a white man with auburn hair. Hammond is a Black man in a security officer uniform. Image: Motive Studios/Electronic Arts
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Dead Space is a terrifying game about venturing through an abandoned industrial space ship, all to the tune of suffocating isolation. Isaac Clarke isn’t entirely alone, however — his ship, the USG Kellion, arrived with a small crew of support staff. The Dead Space remake characterizes Isaac and his allies much more deeply than the original did — but the same can’t be said for the other poor souls on the USG Ishimura.

The two most prominent characters accompanying Isaac are Zach Hammond and Kendra Daniels, a security officer and a computer specialist. Isaac is separated from his team almost immediately, and forced to communicate with them through space Skype calls.

In the original game, Daniels and Hammond are at each other’s throats before the Kellion even arrives at its destination. Daniels comes off as aggressive, questioning Hammond’s every decision, without any context or clues as to why. It’s an awkward set up, especially because Isaac is a silent protagonist, and unable to interject. From the player’s perspective, it’s like watching mom and dad fight.

Dead Space (2023) - Isaac Clarke fights off a Necromorph. He is on his back in a defensive position, while the Necromorph is poised to strike from above him. Image: Motive Studios/Electronic Arts

The remake addresses this discomfort in two elegant ways. First, Isaac is now a voiced protagonist, and he regularly chips in on the team’s plans. He’s cool, confident, and competent, like the trained engineer he’s supposed to be. He saves his teammates’ lives early on with a clever suggestion, and he can tell what the next quest objective is by glancing at some schematics or a damage report. Instead of following orders from the other two, he feels like a crucial part of the team.

Secondly, Hammond and Daniels also feel like a rare safe reprieve from the horror. Isaac finds only a few scant souls left alive on the Ishimura, and most of them exist only to die and ramp up the tension. I grew to appreciate my calls with my Kellion shipmates. And when the plot escalates and everyone’s at each other’s throats, it’s all the more delicious after the friendly beginnings and slow burn to hostility.

It’s a shame that everyone else on the USG Ishimura is a cardboard cutout, existing only to go mad and/or die. The notes and audio logs that Isaac finds around the ship may mention things like a regular poker night or uncomfortable relations with a coworker, but it’s all just window dressing, a stark contrast from the warm fuzzies I get from a compliment from Hammond.

A guy might write a diary about the ship’s weekly poker game: “Went to poker night. Played bad… because of all the ominous visions I’ve been having!” Meanwhile, I’m over here feeling like a sucker because I was hoping for a detailed account of pre-outbreak poker.

One bit of graffiti was so absurd it made me laugh (seemingly unintentionally). Someone had scrawled on a bathroom wall: “I can’t die here. Not here. Not like this.” It seems a second writer replied with: “EAT ME” to which the original author wrote: “They ate my boy.” The absurdity temporarily broke my immersion. It’s like the Left 4 Dead graffiti argument, but much smaller and sillier.

Dead Space - Isaac looks at graffiti written on the walls of the USG Ishimura, which reads: “I can’t die. Not here. Not like this.” someone has replied “EAT ME” in larger, sloppier font, to which the original writer replies “They ate my boy.” Image: Motive Studios / Electronic Arts via Polygon

There are very few hints as to who the people on the Ishimura actually were, you know, as people before the crisis, and the clues that do exist are a little ham-handed. One worker scrawled “Fuck this ship, it’s a shitty capitalist organization,” near a cheerful poster, which is a little on the nose. It’s a missed opportunity, especially when compared to a game like Prey (2017), where the player can find little glue snowmen and corporate whiteboards abandoned mid-meeting.

While the Ishimura is still a terrifying, rusted labyrinth to navigate, it does feel a little like everyone aboard was born to sign up for this gig and subsequently die. It’s not so much a failure as a missed opportunity. The game is, however, much improved when it comes to the interactions between its main cast. A few pieces of graffiti are goofy, and I’d love to learn more about the Ishimura’s days before everything went to shit — but none of this is enough to spoil Isaac’s terrifying journey through a very scary ship.

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