How Dead Space 2’s Most Horrifying Level Relies on the Original’s Legacy
Dead Space 2 followed up one of the scariest games in the 7th console generation and delivered a lot in the horror department. However, as scary as Dead Space 2 could be, there is one chapter in particular that stands out as the scariest, especially for people who are familiar with Isaac’s original confrontation with the necromorphs. Chapter 10 relies heavily on players’ preconceived notions and memories of the first game in conjunction with the escalating mental strain Isaac is under to deliver the most chilling level in Dead Space 2.
Visceral Games decided to make the player return to the USG Ishimura and face down the familiar sights and sounds that have haunted their nightmares since 2008. A risky move that could have felt cheap, but Visceral managed to create a balance and set the Ishimura in a way that makes it feel like the government wasn’t simply keeping a necromorph cage hanging in their docking bay for plot convenience. For new players, this might just be like any other level, but for returning players, the Ishimura is a recurring nightmare they can’t seem to escape.
Dead Space 2 Remembers Its Origins
For the most part, there is a larger focus on action in Dead Space 2, and this can cause a few of the areas to stand out less for their scary elements and more for the action that takes place in those spaces.
And Visceral is often able to jump from Isaac making his way through a Unitology church where logs are found that detail just how far the Marker fascination goes to Isaac using jets to fly through the air to reach a disconnected tram car at break-neck speeds. This can often feel like the game is always one second away from another moment straight out of Fast and Furious.
However, there’s a section of the game that feels different from the rest of the events on the Sprawl and slows down the big action set-pieces for a while. Chapter 10 sees Isaac making a reluctant return to the USG Ishimura, which is the setting of the original Dead Space and where all of Isaac’s trauma stems from. It’s a cursed location that comes with plenty of preconceived notions, despite it being under control of the Earth military at the Sprawl. How can this ship that was completely overrun by the necromorphs be safe?
Dead Space 2 is forcing the player to return to a place that holds plenty of scary moments in their mind. All the gruesome deaths, enemies, and jump scares of the first game flash through the player’s mind at the sight of the ship docked and waiting to be experienced once again. It’s these memories that help to make the level one of the scariest in Dead Space 2, relying on these elements to heighten the tension of the player as they slowly make their way through the familiar hallways.
At the beginning of the mission, Isaac steps out onto the same part of the flight deck that he landed on in the last game. The sign for the Ishimura seems to say that the return was inevitable.
The flight lounge door opens once again, showing the scene’s been covered in plastic with tubing and work lights scattered everywhere. It feels sterile, but that doesn’t put the player much at ease. There can be no peace on this ship.
A Scenic Detour Through a Cemetery
Based on the locations that are included in this little walk down memory lane, it seems like the developers chose the most memorable parts of the first game to return to. The player will have to relive their greatest nightmares, from the flight lounge to the medical wing to the bridge.
These places have very distinct moments in the original Dead Space that help to not only make them an interesting revisit, but also give them the power of the nightmares that have already transpired there.
The first objective when Isaac is back on the Ishimura is to check the computer in the flight lounge. The last time Isaac used this terminal, a necromorph popped out of the ceiling and went berserk in the lounge. The screams of those fallen allies only echo in the player’s memories.
But here, nothing happens. It’s quiet other than the update the computer gives as to the ship’s status. Then you simply proceed down the maintenance hallway toward the elevator that saved your life once before. All the vents that had been destroyed by necromorphs popping out of them are completely taped and covered over, the wounds just out of view.
Isaac’s hallucination of Nicole comments on these changes to the ship’s interior, saying, “All the plastic and tape covering the scars. But you remember what happened — no matter how hard you try to bury it.” Nicole is commenting on Isaac’s own PTSD from the episode on the Ishimura, but she could just as well be speaking directly to the player as they too return to a place of nightmares they thought they’d left behind.
This nightmare return trip continues as Isaac makes another repair in the gravity centrifuge room, where things look a lot cleaner than they once did. The necromorph goop that covered the walls is completely gone, but the room somehow remains just as menacing. Again, no necromorphs glide through the zero-g at Isaac. It’s quiet where it was once a chaotic free-for-all.
After the repairs to the gravity centrifuge, all Isaac needs to do is go to the bridge and activate the gravity tethers. Sounds simple enough. Once on the tram and on the way to the bridge, Ellie makes the astute remark that necromorphs are swarming the medical wing.
Then she goes as far as to say, “at least you don’t have to go there,” before the intercom turns on and announces that an “unexpected obstruction is ahead. Welcome to the medical wing.” Just hearing those words is enough to scare plenty of players who played the original Dead Space, as it is often cited as the most terrifying level in the original game. This, coupled with Ellie’s words that necromorphs are all over the place, only helps to send the player’s heartbeat into a frenzy.
Finally, the player manages to get to the bridge, activate the gravity tethers, and make their escape in one of the escape pods that looked so alluring in Isaac’s previous adventure. Except Nicole’s apparition stands in its entrance: A final guilt trip to tell Isaac he will never escape what happened on this ship and he will never be rid of her.
The ship itself almost speaks through Nicole as if it, too, is just as engrained in Isaac’s psyche as Nicole or the necromorphs. Even after he leaves the haunted ship, he will still be as tormented by the memories as he always has, and just as the player has. There is no escaping the events that once transpired on the USG Ishimura.
How the Developers Jump Off of These Classic Moments
Using these iconic moments and Isaac’s mental struggles together helps Dead Space 2 make the Ishimura remain just as scary as the first time. As the player makes their way through this initial welcome home section, they will stumble upon one of the sanitation rooms where the player was once swarmed by enemies while orange lights flickered and a loud mist spit into their eardrums.
Up until this point, the player hasn’t had to deal with any enemies in the same way as in Dead Space. Necromorphs have appeared in patterns that weren’t seen before, and areas like the flight lounge were safe and quiet. This has potentially lulled them into a false sense of security in regard to experiencing the exact same scares twice in a row.
Which is why when the sirens begin to blare in the sanitation room, the player may have been organizing their menu slots as the first few necromorphs start to bust through the repaired vents. The sanitation room proves to the player that all bets are off, and you can expect the Ishimura to be a grab bag of new and old surprises.
Often, the old surprises can be as simple as a hallucination, like when Isaac is walking back from the hallway that he was once dragged down by the giant tentacle. On-screen, Isaac is thrown back down as if the drag tentacle had survived this entire time, but in reality, Isaac is simply having a rough flashback that probably made the player nearly throw their controller across the room.
This happens again on the way to the bridge when the brute forces his way through the atrium glass, causing Isaac to stagger back a bit. However, it’s all just in Isaac’s head again. This is a brilliant way to reuse and reference scares, while at the same time staying consistent with the lore of Isaac’s failing grip on reality and the passage of time. Not only is the player now terrified of the Ishimura and what it might throw at them, but they’re beginning to trust less what they actually see.
While many of the areas on the Ishimura do have the tape and plastic from the government workers, there is plenty of evidence left over to show that it’s still not a safe place. The developers left obvious things, like the hole the brute made in the atrium, but they also included things like the black lights in the medical wing entrance.
What was once a hallway covered in blood and piled up with body bags is now aglow with the fluorescent blood that hasn’t yet been wiped away. It’s a clear sign of the murders that happened here and how much work it’s taking to clean the ship up. It’s a disturbing scene and one that reminds the player of the bloodbath that was the medical wing during the Ishimura’s downfall. The fluorescent blood coats almost every hallway here and gives it an extra grotesque look that hasn’t really been seen in Dead Space before or since.
Handprints and writing about the Marker can be seen once again. It’s almost like it’s becoming more and more alive — trying to reach him from the past and remind him of everything that has happened. This isn’t helped by the increased interruptions of Nicole as she constantly whispers Isaac’s name in different rooms, or when she makes him feel guilty about never finding her body. Her soul seems to be intertwined with the ship.
Dead Space 2’s Chapter 10 feels like a level that can’t simply stand on its own with its elements of body and psychological horror. The developers included several of the most memorable early sections from the original Dead Space while making them feel interesting to return to, but they required a familiarity with the original game’s events. From the flight deck to the medical wing, these moments are only escalated if the player knows about them. Otherwise, it would be more akin to visiting a legend that you had heard so much about, which can be frightening but not as much if you hadn’t experienced the original horrors for yourself.
The events of Dead Space 2 are an action-packed horror ride that keeps you on the edge of your couch through the entire night. But it’s the moment where it slows down and reminds you why the necromorphs are so feared in the first place that will leave you with a perpetual fear of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’
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