Step one: crawl inside
Step two: the screws go tight all around
Cross my heart and hope to die
Stick a needle in your eye.
You knew what was going to happen when you crawled into the med-unit towards the end of Dead Space 2, but it didn’t soften the blow any. The harness clamped around the top of your head, your eyelids were yanked open, and the needle lowered down. And then you were ‘gifted’ control: you had to keep pulling that needle down – millimetre by millimetre – as Isaac’s eyeball flicked around in a panic. Blue lights flashed for good, you are on target, red light for bad. Lower it a little further and then… nope, the red light flicks on, and you’ve plunged an industrial needle into Isaac’s lobes, and his head pops like a balloon.
I’d managed to save just before the eye-drilling sequence, but – stupidly – had done so with virtually no health. So, having overcome the most horrific QTE I’ve ever played in my life, I died at the hands(?) of a necromorph. So, I returned to the eye-drilling, and died again. Over and over, like the worst Groundhog Day you would ever encounter, occasionally getting impatient and failing on the drilling sequence, occasionally falling to a necromorph. I replayed it, and those four lines at the top of the article, more times than you can know. Eventually, I had to truck back an hour to an older save, so that I didn’t make the mistake again. It’s testament to the quality of Dead Space 2 that I thought it was worth it. Regardless, it’s a hell of a gaming memory, in more ways than one.
Sitting down to write this article, I thought I’d write down all the moments that I remembered, and the list was pretty long. But then I panicked and wondered: how many of these memories were from the original Dead Space or the maligned sequel, Dead Space 3? Had I blurred them all together like dead bodies around a Marker?
As it turned out, every single memory that I had of the Dead Space franchise had come from Dead Space 2. The opening, which starts literally with an opening. The creepy elementary school. The vast shopping mall and fight in the food court. The creepy retread through the Ishimura. Siccing an army of necromorphs on a platoon of soldiers. Zero-G in space. And yeah, the eye bit. It’s testament to Dead Space 2 and its designers that all these moments have stuck with me for ten years. That’s no mean feat: I could barely tell you anything that happened in Resident Evil 6 or the Revelations games, any Silent Hill post 2, or Dead Space 3. To have a game that generates a sheet of A4 full of memories, well, that is a minor miracle.
There’s that opening. Before you’ve even realised where you are, you’re shaken awake by a character named Franco. He’s been looking for you, and you’re groggy for unknown reasons. There’s screams and scuttling sounds from behind him and he’s clearly panicked, but – surely not – Visceral Games wouldn’t throw you straight into a massacre. Of course, that’s exactly what they do: Franco is punctured through the skull and then blossoms out like a fleshy lotus flower. You shove him out of the way, and then you’re off. You’re desperately searching for the next escape, as necromorphs slice through patients and dump alien babies into noggins.
What happened to tutorials and hand-holding? Dead Space 2 tried to bite the hand off instead, and it was incredible. It’s probably not wise for a games journalist to admit, but I remember dying in that opening sequence, and I honestly can’t remember when I last died in the opening 30 seconds of a game – at least, not an adventure game. The industry has gotten so frightened of ‘lowering reach’ or ‘churning players’ that the opening of Dead Space 2 becomes so brave… and so unfriendly.
Then there was the Elementary School. At the time, it wasn’t a well-worn trope – turning kids’ schools, play areas and nurseries into a horror sequence – but now everyone is doing it; Five Nights at Freddy’s has based a whole franchise on twisting children entertainment into something horrific. But at the time, it felt fresh. I remember turning the corner to find a viewing window, and through it I could see a survivor. Finally, someone to talk to! She kneeled down to call out to someone offscreen, and then in waddled a necromorph that had taken over a baby’s body. She encouraged it on, picked it up, and then – BOOM – blood splattered the window.
There you go, you’ve now been taught about what the baby necromorphs do. What a way to tutorialise a new enemy!
When Dead Space came out, it blew me away. The intensity of the survival horror was crazy, and on 360 hardware it looked gruesomely beautiful. It didn’t do anything particularly new – outside of the wonderfully phrased “strategic dismemberment” – but it made me realise that masterpieces don’t have to be innovative to strike gold. It aimed for atmosphere, and skewered that aim with a slicer’s arm.
When Dead Space 2 came out, I was wary. The pre-release game content – Dead Space Ignition, I think it was called – was some ropey text adventure thing with terrible hacking minigames, and it worried me that something had been lost. Dead Space 2 aimed to be more sprawling and action-oriented, which could have missed the point as much as Resident Evil 5 misunderstood the joys of Resident Evil 4. It allowed Isaac to talk where he was mute before, which could have felt as unwise as giving Link a speaking part. And early word implied that it leaned into the mythos – the deep lore of the original – which was never what I found particularly interesting about the first.
But then I was straight into that opening, and all the worries rotted away. In hindsight, Dead Space 2 was the Aliens to Dead Space 1’s Alien. The action-orientation was well-paced, and only cropped up in certain instances, when you were on the brink of being overwhelmed. The sprawling nature allowed for greater variety, including elementary schools, which helped overcome Dead Space 1’s over-reliance on corridors. And the mythos, the expansion of necromorph lore, was huge in scope, and played as a backdrop to some very internal struggles that Isaac was facing. In short, Dead Space 2 did a James Cameron and managed to make a sequel that was very much of the same universe, but embraced overblown action carefully, but bombastically when it did. Dead Space 2 had the capacity to absolutely blow you away.
I’m not sure I want to wish it on future me, but I’m still eager for a Dead Space remaster collection. EA could, theoretically, be testing the water with the Mass Effect Legendary Edition: if it does well, then maybe we will all be returning to the Ishimura for one more dismemberment. Perhaps I’ll get my eyes drilled a few more times.
Do you have other memories of Dead Space 2? Is it the best in the series? Would you like to see a Dead Space remaster? Let us know in the comments. And grab it from the Xbox Store if you haven’t yet played it.