First impressions / Dead Space 2 multiplayer

By many accounts, Dead Space was a success of glorious proportions. Visceral Games developed a single-player experience that brought immense enjoyment, innovation and frankly, scared the living crap out of many a tough-guy gamer. We were introduced to space-engineer, Isaac Clarke, a new breed of survival hero living out the worst day of his life aboard a ship infested with limb-tearing Necromorphs. What made Isaac such a memorable character wasn’t merely his arsenal of laser surgery tools. It was a non-heroic, quiet-man persona that evoked a sense of empathy not often seen in this genre. It helped build a real sense that this was a man really shaking in his space boots, and you should be too.

When Dead Space 2 multiplayer was announced, fans of the first franchise were fearful of whether it would take away from a single-player experience and whether it was just merely a tack-on tactic. Admittedly, I was also one of those fans. So when I had the chance to test out two of the Dead Space 2 multiplayer maps  – ‘Titan Mines’ and ‘Escape’ – during a media-only reveal last week, I was skeptical.

In DS2 multi, Visceral went the route of co-op objective-based game play vs. simple deathmatch mode. There are five objective-based maps each with a different look and objective set.

Players must “choose a side” in a 4 vs. 4 objective battle royale: Sprawl Security Team or the Necromorphs. When selecting the security detail, you take the role of your standard security “suit” equipped with the default weapon of a pulse rifle at the start. Picking a Necromorph allows for a little more creativity. Each Necromorph has a unique method of killing / attacking – from afar and up close. You’re able to select from one of four “Necro-classes”:

  • Slasher: the upright walking, hunched back Necro with melee-wielding arm blades for close range and targeted firing mechanism from afar; an enhanced classic breed of Necro from DS1
  • Lurker: that lovable, little, wall-climbing Necro ball is back, sporting its back-deploying tentacles that shoot barbs at long distance
  • Pack: The new, child-like Necros in DS2 that attack in…wait for it…packs with melee scratches and jump onto the faces and backs of the unassuming
  • Puker: the ground-dwelling, caustic vomit spewing Necro from DS2

If you’re on the Security side, your goal is to work together to complete objectives while fending off waves of the Necromorph scourge. But if you’re a Necromorph, guess what? You’re there to play a co-op deathmatch, trying to stop, trap, and devour the Security detail.

In “Titan Mines,” the objective of the Sprawl Security Team is to find 3 different bomb components and bring those bomb components back to a shock mine that will destroy the Necromorph forces, blow an escape hatch and allow the humans to get out. Success is ultimately determined by completing or thwarting objectives, but leaderboards track score, kills, deaths, streaks, dismantles (for Necros) and Executions (for soldiers).

Titan Mines’ is an open space map with few corridors. This lends for a fast and furious pace where lessons are learned the hard way. “Escape,” the second map demoed, requires soldiers to breach access to new areas, prime escape pods and eventually escape. Unlike Titan Mines, this setting is more linear, with more corridors and more hiding spots if you’re a Necro.

Amidst a sincere intent, as many an EA rep reminded me to “not be another Call of Duty”; when you first set foot in the DS2 multiplayer universe, it’s easy to let objectives and teamwork go out the window.

During my first run on Security Team detail, I chose to go all Rambo. I separated from the team to hunt down any Necromorph foolish enough to challenge the fury of my pulse rifle. After taking a few long distance hits, and disposing of a Slasher, I encountered a new form of Necro-foe not seen from the DS1 days: a teeny-tiny Pack, running straight at me from afar. I smiled, set my sites, fired and managed to get off a few shots before a headless Pack (yes, headless) launched itself onto my back. Just like the Necro-Isaac battle sequences from DS1, when Necros get close, they can latch on and trigger a unique melee sequence in which a button tap race between Necro and Soldier ensues. Security has the edge in a one vs. one battle. But once another Necro enters the picture, the scale can quickly shift. Once the sprinting Pack joined its headless brother, I was disposed of in splattering fashion. It was at that moment where the need for teamwork really shone through. As a Necro, teamwork means picking fights where you have the best chance to succeed as a group. For soldiers, it’s about applying teamwork to complete missions and not stray too far from backup.

Soldiers have a clear edge when it comes to firepower, control and speed, but Visceral made a conscious effort to help level the playing field. In order to activate a bomb, component soldiers must wait a few (excruciating) seconds with their backs turned while not being able to see what’s coming. Once a bomb is constructed, the soldier carrying the bomb to a shock mine moves slower, leaving him open to attack and requiring more teamwork/communication to provide cover. Mini-maps aren’t provided within battles, allowing Necros to execute surprise attacks and lurk around corners undetected. This also provides a nice element of fright.

After going a few rounds as a good guy, I couldn’t wait to turn to the dark side. The differences are immediately apparent. Just before a round starts, you can select between the aforementioned Necros before entering the field. I chose to go with a Pack in my first try.

While soldiers start off first at pre-determined map locations, Necromorph follow by scrolling over an aerial view of the live battle map and select which wall or floor vent to spawn from. Wait for a soldier to pass, or jump out of a vent just as a soldier approaches to scare the bejesus out of him. A cleverly timed spawn and location gives the Necs a refreshing and entertaining edge.

Slowly panning over the battle scene, I picked a wall vent where a soldier had just past. Quietly, I crept, trailing my prey as he approached a bomb component. Upon initializing the download, I jumped, and executed a (beginners luck) perfect landing. Scratching and clawing, I awaited backup but none showed. After draining some power, I was quickly disposed of via another awesome kill scene – pulse rifle smash to the skull. The pace as a Necromorph is even faster than the soldiers. As a Pack, straying from your brethren and failing to execute a long-range jump spells certain doom. Up close, small stature plays in your favor as it’s harder to see and shoot something that’s about 3 feet tall and crawling at your legs.

The most fun for me came as playing as a Necromorph. The collective chaos created from pack attacks, and the rare instances where I finished off a soldier on my own, brought great satisfaction. Necromorph gameplay also provides a nice break from the objective-driven soldiers. Life means less as a Necromorph, and if you’re killed while latching on to a soldier it’s almost certain that the Lurker, Slasher or Puker that follows will finish the job.

The different strengths of each Necro are most clearly defined when playing as a Lurker. Out in the open, this little guy is just a plump target, but his ability to scale walls, stick to ceilings and spit barbs at long range make him a real powerhouse for those that master the controls.

As a single-player devotee, one of the most refreshing elements of DS2 multiplayer is the effort Visceral has made to tie the single-player storyline to multiplayer. The skirmishes between the Sprawl Security Team and the Necromorphs are occurring simultaneously as Isaac battles his way about. An EA rep informed that during the single-player campaign, reminders come in the form of audio logs of soldiers battling Necromorph forces and seeing remnants of where skirmishes took place.

While mainstream reactions will be tested when Dead Space 2 makes its debut, Visceral has taken some steps to make Dead Space 2‘s multiplayer a unique experience that fans should enjoy after getting their heart-pounding fill from Dead Space 2 single-player.

Steve Papoutsis, Executive Producer of the franchise, welcomes the input. He told us, “We’re going to see where players net out and we may find that we need to improve on some things. If there are different opinions, that’s great. All we ask is that gamers give it a chance.”