This is a description of some time spent playing Dead Space 2, so be forewarned that it’s all spoilers.
When I last left Isaac Clarke, aka Space McClane, he’d been brutally killed by a gymnasium full of feral zombie children. With my nerves sufficiently recovered, it’s now time for a second go at the big School Fight.
This battle is kind of a motherfucker, and I felt a lot better about the trouble I had with it when the game gave me an achievement for finishing it. My mistake the first time around was in trying to precisely and quickly shoot all of the little kids swarming the auditorium stage in some sort of tactical order. For my second go around I try just punching my way out of things, as Isaac’s haymakers can kill multiple little leapy Pack toddlers in one go. This would work OK if it weren’t for the little suicide bomber infants that are crawling around among the toddlers, and Isaac is exploded limb from limb in my second go.
Yes, this is a real thing.
There’s no store in the school. This makes sense – who would sell mining equipment to little kids? – but it’s a pain in the ass for someone who realizes that he just hasn’t got enough damned plasma bullets and needs to buy more. The trip all the way back out of the school to the store and back to the auditorium is fantastically quiet, like the rest of the game has been shut down to save up juice for the fight that’s queued up and ready to go.
Third time’s the charm. I telekinesis a nearby stasis bomb lamp thingy into the mob of angry little runners – it would do me more good to shoot it off later in the fight, but I still don’t have the hang of telekinesis in hectic situations like fights, so I use it first. After that it’s a half-blind mix of plasma shots and roundhouse punches. Hardly the graceful, leet way out, but Isaac survives with one health bar left and limps off through the door that opens up once the last enemy dies. How do the doors always know the bad guys are dead?
Honestly, I probably could have saved myself a lot of trouble in this fight by using my 3 precious line gun shots to lay mines on the floor, but I panicked and used the primary fire shots instead. This was also pretty handy – line gun shots chop up the swarming kid enemies particularly well – but I really have to get used to using secondary fire modes as appropriate.
Aside from the inherent awfulness of entering a you-or-them fight to the death with a bunch of tiny children, the worst thing about fighting through the school is realizing that since necromorphs are only made out of corpses, this entire school full of kids and teachers was slaughtered by screaming zombies sometime in the last couple of hours.
The whole school angle seems calculated mostly to fuck with the player with its gruesomeness and inherent perverse creepiness. Kid stuff is always creepy anyhow, and adult-oriented stuff that centers on kid stuff – Stephen King’s It, Children of the Corn, Gumby – only makes it worse. Isaac seems to actually have it easier than the player, since, as we’ve long since learned, he has no sense of irony. I suppose if there were something in his backstory that made childhood stuff more resonant with Isaac, like like if his kid had died or he had an abusive mom, they would bring that up and it would come into play more in this section. As it is, we get a startling dementia moment with some lockers and another accusatory monologue from Nicole Is Dead to remind Isaac that he’s still got PTSD and that’s pretty much it. The whole vibe of creeping out the player more than the character kind of reminds me of the end of Assassin’s Creed II, when Minerva is talking to Desmond by talking to Ezio 600 years earlier.
In a text log left in a teacher’s office, or perhaps a school nurse’s station, a teacher complains that huge numbers of kids are suddenly acting out and many more than normal are talking about imaginary friends or seeing dead relatives. This is obvious Marker shenanigans, but I wonder if it’s supposed to be significant, or just part of the usual Dead Space “everyone is going insane all the time” vibe. Right now I’m leaning towards the latter, as there’s nothing in the log we haven’t heard before. Also in the office: a schematic for having the store sell you a flamethrower. This is what happens in charter schools, people.
After the big school fight Isaac takes a relaxing stroll through the rest of the nightmare school – more cribbing from Silent Hill, Dead Space 2, I’ve got my eye on you – culminating in a Mass Effect-style 90-second elevator-ride/ loading screen. This is punctuated by a hilariously nervy phone call from Ellie and Stross. Stross, as always, is certifiably schizophrenic. I’m assuming that the Marker will eventually drive him sane, as it doesn’t seem likely that he could get any nuttier. Ellie is nice. She doesn’t seem the type to callously betray Isaac at the worst possible moment, so I guess I’m going to feel bad when she dies a tragic needless death.
The elevator rides ends with a save point (huzzah), Stross And Ellie showing up to hang out on a nearby balcony (hello), and a circular arena full of stasis lamps and power-up crates (oh dear). After some back and forth between our heroes, necromorphs begin streaming onto the balcony to hassle the NPCs. This would be a bigger concern to me if a bull cobbled together from like 10 corpses didn’t then smash through the wall and start chasing Isaac around the room. Happily, I remember fighting Brutes in the first game, and it’s easy as long as you’ve upgraded your stasis power so that it freezes them in place for 15 seconds while Isaac runs round behind them and pumps plasma into their fleshy back bits.
I haven’t upgraded stasis at all in Dead Space 2, and my stasis holds the Brute for about 1 picosecond before it recovers and promptly smears Isaac across the floor like so much engineer-scented Mop-N-Glo.