Fans of the original Dead Space have a lot to be excited about right now. The release of a full remake of the iconic horror game was rumored for a while before being officially revealed recently. Many elements of the original game are being tweaked to fit both the updated mechanics of its sequels and the modern gaming landscape. One major change from the first Dead Space to the sequel is the decision to give main character Isaac Clarke a voice. This is a big shift for the remake and could help improve the overall narrative experience.
In the original game Isaac was a silent "everyman" protagonist, and this approach was effective for the most part. Creating a character that wasn't already a military specialist or otherwise powerful was a big foil to where other horror genres like Resident Evil had gone at the time. This helped ground players in the game's world, and not having a combat option for every scenario helped drive the dreadful atmosphere while exploring the Ishimura. The silence sometimes led to awkward moments, though, so it makes sense that EA Motive is changing this element along with the graphics in Dead Space Remake.
Using Isaac's Voice in Dead Space to Better Build His Character
Silent protagonists aren't anything new in video games, and the concept certainly has its strengths. Many older RPGs used this as a way for players to feel more attached to the character and to allow for the player to inhabit the person they were playing as. This approach worked well when games weren't often fully voice-acted more so than it does now. Dead Space was a prime example of when it can be kind of off-putting. With a fairly small cast of characters already, it often felt odd when Isaac wasn't part of any conversations with his crewmates. Giving Isaac a voice in Dead Space Remake could do a lot to rectify those odd moments, and improve the story in other ways as well.
Allowing Isaac to respond to the other characters in Dead Space alone was a good change in the sequel. With so much of the story being grounded in his search for his missing girlfriend and trying to save his crewmates, it initially felt weird that Isaac wasn't engaging with the characters. Another thing that Dead Space 2 improved by giving Isaac a voice was allowing him to react verbally to the horrific situations he was in. Dead Space Remake will be full of horrifying elements that any normal person would react to out loud, so it simply makes sense for Isaac to speak.
Isaac being silent during big set-pieces sometimes felt at odds with the idea that Isaac was a normal person. A good example is the very first moment the necromorphs engage with the crew. The other two characters are reacting out loud in fright to the reveal of such horrible creatures, but Isaac was silent. It's much more likely that someone grounded in reality would at least let out an expletive or two in such a harrowing situation. This is especially true since Isaac was equipped with the bare-bones weapons in Dead Space, leading to some online jokes about the engineer secretly being a psychopath.
Using Isaac's Voice as a Narrative Tool in Dead Space Remake
From a narrative perspective, giving Isaac a voice made Dead Space 2 feel more in line with the classic horror movies like Event Horizon and Alien that so heavily influenced it. Playing into Isaac as a normal man and part of the crew allowed for him to play off of the other characters that felt more like a film story than just a game. Letting Isaac actually converse with the others at key moments could help cement his role as a grounding force against the cosmic horrors of Dead Space. It also goes a long way in humanizing him, again aiming to hit the "everyman" aspect of his character.
Isaac's silence also amplified one of the small issues some players had with the original game. A lot of the gameplay in between the larger set-piece moments boiled down to fairly simple "go here, fix this" missions. While this is the most Isaac truly feels like an engineer, it was off-putting to some that orders would be barked at Isaac from the captain with no retort before the protagonist set off to repair whatever issue there was. Dead Space Remake has a lot of potential to improve on these moments by virtue of Isaac actually responding.
That seems like a really small change, but letting Isaac respond to the plethora of orders he receives could be if nothing else cathartic. Many fans of the game would joke about how the captain hangs out on the bridge throughout the entire game while barking orders to Isaac. While it's unlikely that actual mission structures will change, just a quick retort or quip from Isaac could be useful as a narrative device. Changing up Isaac's attitude in Dead Space Remake by letting him respond could be an effective way to break the tension after key moments. It's a key element in long-from horror to provide some kind of release valve after big scares, and even just a little joke after receiving an order could work well.
It's important to note that Isaac likely won't have a huge voice role in Dead Space Remake. The game is being remade, but it's largely adding new features to the existing Dead Space and not re-imagining the entire story. Isaac will respond when spoken to more often, and likely react to the world around him more. Beyond that and adding other small moments to lay out his mindset in key moments, there's likely not going to be any huge rewrites to the game's original story. This doesn't mean the changes won't have a big impact, though.
Dead Space Remake seems to be learning a lot from its past. So many of its horror influences like Alien are better exemplified in the sequel, and Isaac actually being a character with a voice was a part of that. Being able to identify with the protagonist is still key to the experience, but letting him speak didn't really damage that aspiration. It also adds other important aspects, and hopefully it will be put to good use in Dead Space Remake.
Dead Space Remake releases late 2022 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.