In an age where horror games were all but dead, Dead Space wasn an anomaly that should not have existed. Published by EA and developed by Visceral Games (Rest well, sweet prince), here was an entry in a genre that was impossibly good at the time. The budget was hefty enough to throw in some delightful visuals, the art design was a grim cross between The Thing and Event Horizon, and the atmosphere alone was a masterclass in perfectly timed terror.
A classic by any measure of the word, Dead Space helped bring a genre back from the grave. And then its sequels happened.
Here’s the thing: Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3 aren’t bad games, but they’re not exactly horror heavyweights as they chose to focus more on action than straight-up chills. There’s a day and night difference in comparison between the original games and its sequels, but you didn’t have too look too hard to at least find some of its DNA lurking in the darkest corner of Dead Space 2. Because nothing will ever be more unnerving, than Isaac’s self-surgery on his favourite ocular cavity.
Let me paint a picture for you: It’s late in the game, Isaac needs to access the NoonTech Diagnostic Machine and use it to access information that can help save the day. Only problem? Accessing that information required him jamming a massive needle into his ocular cavity, with no anaesthetic or help. Just imagine that.
Imagine strapping yourself to a table, watching as you slowly lowered a hunk of sharpened steel into your eyeball and doing your hardest to keep still. In a time where I can barely keep my eyes from darting across various social media feeds, it’s an impossible task that’s made even more terrifying by Isaac’s visible panic.
You can feel his dread, you can hear his heavy breathing and your own heart is beating like a death metal drum solo that’s in sync with Isaac. Even worse? Cocking up gets you this delightful and grim game over scenario (WARNING: SUPER GRIM EYE POKEY STUFF AHEAD!):
I’ve got my own reasons for sharing that horror with Isaac, after sitting through lasek surgery to fix my eyes many years back. I won’t get into the details, but seeing that scene reminded me of what it was like to literally have a blade plunged into my eye and rearranged with cutting edge tech. I’ve been there and I’m fortunately still alive to look at life with pristine vision. But I also don’t think anyone needs personal experience of my level to get why that one piece of gameplay can make you break out into a cold sweat.
Our eyes are our most important tools, our primary way of navigating through the world and absorbing everything we encounter. Instinctually, we’re built to protect them, we’re designed to do whatever it takes to keep them safe and Dead Space 2’s eye surgery scene is an assault on that flight or fight response. It’ll leave your body soaked with sweat, your hands shaking and a queasy feeling in your stomach once you finally get through it.
Which is a mark of pure brilliance, in a series that deserved better than what it got. Forget about killer space monsters, rabid legions of homicidal humans driven mad by exotic science and the pure terror of survivor’s guilt running rampant across your psyche. Nothing creeps me out more than the old song of “cross my heart, hope to die and stick a needle in my eye” coming true.
Last Updated: October 11, 2019