Even after big fixes, the Dead Space remake can stumble on Steam Deck
Engineering its limits
I spent the past weekend flicking between the Dead Space remake on my PC, and the Dead Space remake on my Steam Deck. It’s a belter of a refurb, and for me personally, has been like getting dessert after being forced to finish my Forspoken vegetables. Still, some lingering performance woes on the Deck mean I’m probably going to continue Isaac Clarke’s first and worst job on desktop alone.
To be fair, the remake is playable on Valve’s handheld. It’s not outright broken, despite having been so on launch day, with problems ranging from drastic FPS dips to outright hard crashes. Following some impressively fast work from Valve themselves, focusing on hotfixes for SteamOS’ Proton compatibility software, Dead Space’s Deck performance has become more or less manageable. But worthy of the best Steam Deck games? Nope, nein and non.
From what I’ve played so far, post-fix, general performance drops remain the most common annoyance. Dead Space isn’t nearly as bad an offender as the GTA Trilogy - Definitive Edition for this, but there is a lot of peaking and troughing, depending on where you are, what you’re looking at, and what’s happening in a scene. For a game that trades in screeching jump scares, these technical difficulties can even get in the way of the horror – the impact of all the windows in a quiet corridor suddenly shattering, for instance, is somewhat dampened when it’s accompanied by an ugly FPS hiccup.
Lowering settings doesn’t help much either. I initially played on Medium quality with FSR upscaling set to Performance mode, before switching to Low quality with FSR on Balanced to better preserve sharpness on the 800p display. But even the latter combination can’t always stay above 30fps, despite exceeding 50fps in some of the Ishimura’s less distressing corners. Again, peaks and troughs. And dropping FSR further down to Performance mode might produce a few extra frames here and there, but it too can suffer drops into the twenties, while making some of the dinky text on Dead Space’s purely diegetic interface less than comfortable to read.
Worse, while the game hasn’t crashed on me yet, it has felt like it was coming close at times, with numerous abrupt hangs that lasted for several full seconds before service resumed. I’m not sure if this is a surviving shader cache issue, shader performance being a target of Valve’s Proton fixes, but there’s no clear rhyme or reason as to when/why these mini-freezes occur. Sometimes they’ll happen during a transitional moment, like stepping out of a lift, and sometimes they’ll just pop up while exploring a room you were already in. Not ideal, either way.
I wasn’t expecting nu-Dead Space to float along on the Steam Deck’s humble APU: its system requirements list the GeForce GTX 1070 and Radeon RX 5700 as minimum recommendations, so the fact that it’s not constantly chugging is actually a nice surprise. Making do with Low settings is also standard practice for recent blockbusters on the Deck anyway, and you could argue that the Dead Space remake is still in better technical shape than the original, which needs an entire Alice0 article's worth of manual fixes just to make it behave on modern PC hardware.
There’s nothing out-and-out stopping you from playing Dead Space on the Deck, in other words. Just know that it won’t be a particularly smooth ride, and not just because of the hundreds of vent-dwelling, scimitar-handed fleshboys with an interest in wearing your skin.