Dead Space 2 Multiplayer
Part of the dreadful joy of Dead Space was the constant sense of vulnerable solitude. Wandering the organic metal halls of the USG Ishimura, much of the atmosphere was built around shadows, metallic groans and the things you didn't see. You never knew where the next twisted abomination was going to spring from.
Forgive me then for going into my hands-on with Dead Space 2's multiplayer a little sceptical. Up close and personal four versus four running battles just don't seem in keeping with the original's particular charms.
But that's exactly what Dead Space 2's multiplayer offers. Most lazily described as lurking in Left 4 Dead's shadow, it tasks four humans with completing an objective, while four Necromorphs scramble to stop them, using every monstrous tactic at their disposal.
Like Left 4 Dead's zombies, each Necromorph has its own grizzly skills. The Lurker is a wall-scuttling critter with three spindly, acid-shooting tendrils that thrust and quiver menacingly in the air. You'll remember it from the first game. The Pack member is one of those malevolent, waxy-skinned toddlers able to leap, cling, bite and claw victims in the face. The Spitter is a tall, raw, sinewy beast coupling long-distance acid-spitting with a whirling, arm-thrashing melee attack. And the Puker chucks up nasty stuff all over your face.
Playing as a Necromorph you can see through the walls, the throbbing nervous systems of your human enemies visible at all times. You can also swap between classes while waiting to respawn, before crawling, scurrying and lumbering out of a choice of vents across the map for wave after wave of attacks. What the multiplayer lacks in isolated terror it attempts to supplant with sheer intensity.
Fighting them off are the humans. Technically members of the Sprawl's security force, they are Isaac Clarke clones in all but name. As such they have access, eventually, to all the familiar plasma-cutter weaponry, as well as ammo and health pack drops from fallen Necromorphs, making survival a little easier.
But it's still tough. In all the rounds that I played and watched, the security rarely completed their objective. All the while a developer paced up and down along the demo pods, repeating a weary mantra of "humans have to work together". Indeed they do.
There were a couple of maps playable from the four promised for release, Titan Mines from the game's closed beta and new area, Solar Array.
In Titan Mines the security team's objective is to collect, transport and detonate three components of a bomb, against the clock. The map isn't as claustrophobic as its name may suggest, offering open spaces and raised platforms to aid longer-ranged Necromorphs like The Spitter, along with some hectic choke points for the likes of the nightmarish Puker to go about his business.
Solar Array, meanwhile, lacked the open spaces, instead offering a web of sparse industrial tunnels. Aside from some gloomy lighting it lacks the sense of place provided by the Ishimura and The Sprawl, exposing the fact that DS2's multiplayer is being worked on by a completely different team than the rest of the game.
Laced throughout multiplayer is an XP progression system. The Sprawl Security pick up points for kills and assists, as well as healing and rescuing teamates from the barbed clutches of the Necromrphs. Doing so will unlock a choice of new weapons for their two-gun load-out, as well as secondary attacks such as Stasis, the Dead Space series' take on bullet-time.
Similarly, the Necromorphs are able to upgrade their melee and ranged attacks. But at this stage it feels as if they are the more disposable of the two. With no form of health regeneration and short respawn times, there seem to be few tactical necessities as a Necromorph beyond picking the right class and spamming the security with bodies.
Ultimately, there's a sense of workmanlike box-ticking to Dead Space 2's multiplayer, that right now looks as if it has been created with one eye on sales rather than craft. The truth is, single-player games with online modes sell better than those that don't. But creatively, it's an odd addition to a game that doesn't really require it. While the single-player aspect of DS2 remains a massively enticing prospect, come January Visceral may have their work cut out convincing fans this is any more than an unnecessarily tacked-on addition.