In this culture of remakes, remasters and reissues, it was great to see this announced after so long, with the latest main-line entry, Dead Space 3 releasing in 2013.
In the 15 years since the franchise began, accessibility has become far more prominent, with titles beginning to be designed to be played start to finish without sighted assistance.
Now though, in 2023, when accessibility and inclusivity are both justifiably huge talking points, does the Dead Space Remake live up to what is now less of a pipe dream and more of an expectation or hope for new titles? The question really is, how playable is Dead Space Remake as a gamer without sight?
This warning is followed by logos and the initial settings screen, with the cursor sadly seemingly being placed on continue rather than menu narration.
Going down once and pressing right will turn menu narration on, though nothing speaks when doing so. If you move down from there, you will then hear content spoken in a voice that will be familiar to those who have played EA titles like Madden amongst others over the past few years.
When moving through the menus and adjusting settings, the narration only reads the main menu entry (i.e. story, easy, medium, hard, impossible etc when selecting a difficulty) instead of reading the important tooltip information that would be featured alongside it which includes the effect those difficulty levels have on the game, in this specific example.
Alas, this particular implementation does not allow you to adjust the speech rate and there appear to be some pronunciation issues, as well (with the word "gameplay" sounding closer to "gumplaay",) but those are usually down to the engine and voice being used. Overall, other than the caveats above, this is a solid first impression for a franchise just starting out with including gamers without sight or those that require menu narration in general directly.
Dead Space Remake (DSR hereafter) is no exception, though this brightness screen doesn't read after clicking continue in the initial settings menu, with OCR working well with this to let you know what you're supposed to be doing instead.
From here, starting a new game, viewing the full suite of options and the like is all perfectly doable, though of course lacking in speed, fluidity and conveyance of at times potentially crucial tooltip text.
Speaking of dialogue?
As much as I enjoyed the on-edge nature of the originals mute character allowing me to inhabit his body, for lack of a better description of the experience for the uninitiated, I also appreciate the uniting of all of the main-line games under a fully voiced lead and the fact that Isaac was not recast is appreciated as Right's performance is well-delivered and merges seamlessly with the rest of the cast (even at the comparatively early point of the game I've seen up to as of the time of writing this sentence).
What I was impressed to find narrates is the inventory and, as much as some elements of the interface lack information, even being able to see your items in the first place is a useful addition.
Stores work pretty much the same way the inventory does, but you don't know how much items will cost or give you in terms of credits to buy or sell, thus making the management portion trickier than it otherwise might be without a workaround of some kind.
Benches, though also narrated, have a similar issue in that they are confusing to work with, but that is mainly down to their tree-style structure and the elements sharing the same labels (capacity, damage, reload, capacity) etc if you were moving through them, instead of, for instance capacity I, damage, reload, capacity II which could make things a little less convoluted. At least you know how many nodes you have when you go into the interface, which is useful.
When walking through the corridors and slaying necromorphs, all you want to hear is the abruptly spoken words "save station", as I'm pleased to report that interactive elements like "tram repair", "open" or "call" are spoken for various interaction prompts that require pressing A to engage. Speaking of save stations, those interfaces are narrated too, though the saves aren't numbered, so having multiple playthroughs going might get complicated in short order. That being said, I believe I discovered a rather interesting bug, which was that on launching the game, I'd occasionally hear the words save station, meaning the narrator cash may not have been cleared correctly.
This feature returns in DSR, though it is unfortunately not the upgraded version from Dead Space 2 that let you directly select whether you wanted to go to save stations, stores, benches, the objective etc.
The main problem with any navigation system like this is how they handle geometry or, more specifically, when they don't know how to. If geometry or enemies get in the way of the player, they can cause you to get stuck for potentially significant periods of time. Also, if said systems aren't targeting the correct objective (say a puzzle piece that needs to be moved before a door is opened), you may often be stuck wondering what to do, even if the path to progression is reasonably simple.
Such was the case when I tried to run away from enemies at a point in the opening sequence, with their bodies blocking my path. Thankfully I was on story difficulty so did not need to worry as much, but were on anything higher than that I could've been very much stuck here, particularly as the system would try and turn me back on myself thus hindering me further.
A latter puzzle also sees you finding items in the environment to move and manipulate using your stasis ability. The interesting thing here, given that up to this point you've been pretty much unimpeded by navigational issues other than the previous running segment is that the objective tracker seems to lose all sense of direction and essentially just says "your objective is this entire room", not giving you a direct pathway for anything.
Even once you complete parts of the puzzle this is not rectified, meaning that without sighted assistance, you won't be able to get through this, which is such a shame given what I'm about to go into, the arguably fun (if scary) part of this game, the combat.
It turned out, even on stream, that I was able to line enemies up to a degree without being able to see them in the first instance just through their audio and related accessibility options. At least on the easy and story difficulties, I was able to kill them with relatively little damage being sustained. This stands in stark contrast to the original, which required input from my CoPilot via Titan 2, footage of which you can see in this Twitch clip.
The combat audio has had a new coat of auditory paint, as you might expect, with hits on enemies sounding visceral and crunchy, including with the characteristic stomp mechanic. All the weapons sound impactful, so you'll almost certainly know when your plasma cutter or other improvised severance device connects with your foes as well, something that I did feel was missing from the original
It turned out that other than some strange orientation issues, the navigation assist worked as intended, allowing me to manoeuvre my way through with relatively little frustration. The only annoyance was a lack of a cue when it was safe to land or you'd got to the needed location, which would've been useful during combat sequences as well when trying to run rather than fight.
Why am I talking about a section that was in this game from over a decade ago? Because it's been re-imagined in the remake.
I am, of course, talking about the ADS (Asteroid Defense System) section, where you fired cannons at incoming asteroids like it was an 80s arcade game.
Once we got to this area of the game, however, things went from bad to worse from an accessibility standpoint:
First off, the scenario plays out in a vacuum and in 0-g, neither of which happened in the original version of this sequence (though getting to the cannons in the original did require a 0-g and vacuum walk).
Secondly though, the aim assist did not function as expected when calibrating the guidance laser, thus meaning that in a sequence where I could've previously had at least a sense of being involved, it was in fact easier for DB to take over and aim and fire the laser at the various required points.
I would love to see this section and others updated so that any targets that need to be aimed at can work well with the aim assist targeting, but this section does go to show that puzzles (or in this case, story progression sequences) are just as important in accessibility terms as combat, menus or anything else in terms of the whole experience.
In recent gaming history, as gamers without sight, we've seen a number of titles not being fully accessible, but being so close, seeing the things that could be improved or are missing entirely allowing potentially huge success stories to be just another footnote in the path towards full agency for players who currently require sighted assistance. Dead Space remake is just one more to add to the list, but I hope the feedback from my reviews, live streams and other content as well as those of other creators can assist EA and Motive in meeting the now expected and hoped for standards that could see future projects become meteoric successes like The Last Of Us Part I.