They say in space, no one can hear you scream.
This isn’t entirely true as you most certainly hear yourself scream moments before whatever Lovecraftian horror makes you its lunch. We’ve been obsessed with the terrifying potential of space for decades. Long before Ridley Scott modernized the genre with Alien there were countless drive-in schlockfests with titles like It! The Terror From Beyond Space. Few things are scarier than the unknown and we barely know how much unknown is out there in the seemingly endless vacuum of space.
So it should come as no surprise that this fantastic horror film setting lends itself perfectly to video games. Gamers love to go to space for all sorts of things ranging from the early days of Space Invaders to the procedurally-generated sandboxes of No Man’s Sky to the anthropomorphized heroes of Star Fox. But sci-fi+horror+survival is the recipe that’s found the most success in gaming. And one franchise combines the cinema’s thematic weight with gaming’s active immersion better than any other.
We’re talking about Dead Space, the vaunted franchise from Visceral that’s available now on Xbox Game Pass. Of course, not all games in a franchise are created equal and while newcomers may be tempted to start at the beginning, it’s actually Dead Space 2 that is THE game to play. Odds are if you’re a returning fan, that’s the game you’re diving into, too.
Dead Space 2 is a pitch-perfect sequel. What makes it a great entry point is that it gives you just enough of a recap to let new players get a bit of who’s who, but within minutes Necromorphs start bursting out of people's heads and you have to make a mad dash (straight out of a coma!) to get to “safety,” which, like the time space continuum, is relative in Dead Space 2.
In Dead Space 2 you’re back as Isaac Clarke, fresh out of a three-year coma and running headlong into a space station infested by Necromorphs. BONUS! Isaac also suffers from debilitating hallucinations based on the gargantuan amounts of visceral psychic trauma he endured in the first game. Of course, there is salvation from these afflictions in the form of Daina Le Guin, a near-angelic presence on your comms who promises a cure for your hallucinations provided you can help with the whole pack of marauding Necromorphs thing.
The first Dead Space was riveting, but Dead Space 2 is thrilling. It amps up the action in a big way, and has all the bloody bells and grotesque whistles you’d expect from a team of talented devs who got the bankroll they deserved after their first brilliant idea proved to be a success. The development has a lore all its own. You’ll notice plenty of nods to sci-fi legends and one famous story explains the team at Visceral spent hours studying car crash crime scene photos to make sure that their bursting eyeballs and ruptured spinal cords looked juuuuust right.
If jump scares, over-the-top gore (including babies and children) and psychological headfucks aren’t your thing, then stay far away from Dead Space 2. But if you’re the type of gamer who likes the tension, action and blood pressure spikes of a good horror show, then you’ve found your wheelhouse.
Just remember that while the game is in space, you are not, and everyone can hear you scream.