There have been several locations in recent years that are worthy of mentioning. There are for example batshit crazy Hell in Shadows of the Damned and Borderland's Pandora. Of course Rapture comes to mind, as well. And not to forget the Minecraft world. Further there are AC Brotherhood's Roma and most recent Skyrim but the one location in the last few years that had the most impact on me was the USG Ishimura in Deadspace 2.
It's been three years since shit hit the fan on the Ishimura and protagonist Isaac Clarke found himself in Deadspace 1 battling the Necromorphs. Now he finds himself on the gigantic space station The Sprawl (Revuhlooshun wrote something about it, go read it) in a fight for survival. When you get to Chapter 10 – the Ishimura – , he has already been betrayed, shot at, pursued by gigantic alien monstrosities, met the annoyingly well-crafted Stalkers and frickin' exploding babies. Also, he found companions and is on his way out with some kind of tram. Of course there happens stuff and the way gets blocked. Fortunately the needed gravity tether is near, unfortunately it is on board of docked Planet Cracker USG Ishimura.
As many of you will be very aware, the Ishimura is the location where most of Deadspace 1 took place and it is not a nice place. Whole crew got crazy, slaughtered, turned into Necromorphs, that stuff, and Isaac – the player – right in the middle.
My initial reaction upon hearing of going back to that place was this. Followed by "Fuck, they can't do that to me. I don't want to go there, I don't want to be there." Further followed by crying like a little girl (exaggerated for dramatic purposes). At this point the game gets extraordinarily quiet, almost contemplative. There is a longer wagon ride before you enter the ship and you are still only digesting the fact that you are on your way to the ship where everything began and I for one started to feel very uneasy.
This is also mirrored by Isaac whose nervousness and worry become apparent in a short dialogue he has with his companion, Ellie.
At this point, my expectations were running wild. Upon opening the door I expected to be greeted by a clusterfuck of dead bodies, alien masses, a general USG Horrorzone...
but none of that happened.
Instead, white plastic sheets covering walls and furniture, flickering lights and tools lying around like on a construction site. Mildly said, I was perplexed. This totally took me by surprise. You might find this harmless now but I was the exact opposite of becalmed.
Once I entered the ship I immediately fell into some sort of shell shock. This was very deviously and crafty reinforced by the fact that you re-enter the Ishimura the exact same way you used in Deadspace 1.
Of course, I had to head deeper into the ship, another dialogue mirroring my feelings:
Ellie: "Is it safe?"
Isaac: "I don't know how it could be."
What followed were the same corridors I traversed in Deadspace 1, difference being that not everything is covered in fleshy alien goo but in white plastic. The atmosphere is not really sterile, more like eerie. Too quiet to be good. I was in the belly of the best, expecting the worst around every corner but the game didn't do me that favor. I was being boiled in my own fear of the place.
I mentioned above that I went into a kind of shell shock and I want to explain what I mean by that. I actually sprinted in DS2. The game is a bit more fast-paced and actiony than the first one, so it struck me not as really fatal to use it (and I started the game on Hard). In DS1 I never sprinted, except when I had to run away from something. The game had a pretty looming and oppressive atmosphere which caused me to round corners slowly in aim mode, nearly all the time.
So, when I entered the Ishimura again in DS2 it all came back to me and I immediately ceased every possible sprinty action and again started to tread carefully through the corridors in fear of encountering something and...
I didn't. Well, at least not for some time. My mind was totally fucking me over. Wild expectations made me proceed cowardly slow through the ship, just because the setting alone had become so "good" food for fantasy.
Another thing that connected this place to the horror from DS1 were some hallucinations Isaac – and the player – had. A tentacle that seemed to grab him, or a Brute that punched a bypassed window happened before. These were effective additions for the atmosphere along with creepy whispering, disturbing audiologs and the occasional Nicole tidbit, making the place only more menacing and unpredictable.
On my way through the ship something went wrong and I had to go through the Medical Deck.
"At, least you don't have to go through the Medical deck." – "Welcome to the Medical Deck."
There another nice surprise was waiting for me. The whole place was only dimly lit by UV light which revealed – finally – blood everywhere. Messages written in blood and general bloodiness were glowing on walls and floors.
Though graphically and atmospherically impressive and "pleasing" at this point the chapter got more like a normal Deadspace 2 level. The first half or so was what made this chapter so great, though.
The Ishimura was just a place, a level in a videogame but the notion of it sufficed to put horrible thoughts and expectations in my head which were perfectly reinforced by the opposite nature that greeted me when venturing into the ship. Only because I experienced constant dread in this location before in another game. The mere mention of entering the Planet Cracker again was enough to make me feel unwell, in a good way ultimately.
For me it was the most clever designed location in the last few years, dickmove and masterstroke in one.