2023 gave us two exceptionally good remakes of classic horror games with Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 and EA Motive’s Dead Space, but the approach to each was different. Both approaches were right for the game involved.
Dead to Rights
Dead Space as a series is a fascinatingly frustrating and tragic tale—a franchise slaughtered in the space of half a decade at the altar of consumerism. What began as a promising new sci-fi survival horror series in 2008 had become a dread-inducing benchmark for the general attitude towards horror games and big-budget gaming at companies like EA.
Dead Space 3 is notorious for how far removed it was from the vision of the original. Bloated by microtransactions, a heavier action emphasis and crafting mechanics detracted from the genuinely good ideas in there (the co-op perspective shift, wintry Necromorph action).
Visceral Games would end up suffering hat most undignified of studio deaths as it was folded into EA’s other projects and eventually dissolved.
2022 held the promise of two exciting alternatives to that horrible end for Dead Space. Former Visceal Developers were bringing us a spiritual successor with The Callisto protocol, while EA Motive were tackling a shiny remake of the original Dead Space. Before The Callisto Protocol’s release, you’d be forgiven for thinking the spiritual successor had a better shot at taking the sci-fi horror crown. Still, despite releasing ahead of the Dead Space remake, The Callisto Protocol flopped critically and commercially. The,n of course, Dead Space remake was released at the beginning of this year and proved to be an accomplished reinterpretation of the original.
Its secret? It knew what the original had going for it and made sure to keep that in. But EA Motive also realized there were great moves forward in the sequels, both mechanically and in world-building. So using the skeleton of what came before, EA Motive fleshed out the experience with more intuitive controls, greater freedom, and crucially, made the Ishimura feel a lot less like a set of interconnected levels and more like a massive explorable ship.
Taking God of War’s real-time schtick was a massive benefit in that regard. Dead Space remake moves seamlessly from one horrifying situation to the next and, in doing so, draws you in deeper into Isaac Clarke’s terrible time aboard the Ishimura.
It helped that EA Motive make the game look like a beautiful nightmare. The detail of the environments, the disgusting viscera splattering the walls, the Necromorph’s horrifying human body distortion, and the ship’s greasy industrial thrum. Dead Space is an audiovisual treat.
A Familiar Resident Reemerges
Meanwhile, Capcom was faced with its own tough task, albeit one it had tackled successfully before. How do you remake a beloved survival horror classic?
Resident Evil 4 has aged far better than its predecessors, so there was a lot more opportunity for griping if things about it were changed too much for the remake. But there was no point in slapping a new layer of makeup on the 2005 game’s face beyond the more cynical and obvious ones. So Capcom did not budge from the reimagining vision it had for Resident Evil 2 and 3, but clearly looked at what had been done with the best remake of a Resident Evil game (2002’s Resident Evil) and brought that level of faithful overhauling into the mix.
Resident Evil 4 remake finds the balance between faithful remake and revitalizing reimagining. The knife parry seemed like an odd idea before the game was released, but not only did it get integrated beautifully into the rejigged combat. it fed into the signature mix of the horrifying and the absurd that makes Resident Evil such a magical series.
Where improvements were needed, Capcom addressed them, and inarguably made the overall game stronger for it. While the Ashley sections were never as terrible as some made them out to be in the original, they feel so much more natural in the remake, and giving the character herself more personality and engaging moments in the story ensured this wasn’t just Leon saving the damsel in distress.
With more remakes and remasters in the genre on the way in 2024 with the likes of other classic series returning such as Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark, and Clock Tower, it will be interesting to see what approach they take in balancing fan expectations and appealing to a modern audience.