One thing that hurt sales of the first Dead Space was its lack of multiplayer. EA had to add something to Dead Space 2, and last week I got at taste of that multiplayer. It's a 4-on-4 objective-based mode where four engineers team up to locate pieces of a bomb and bring it back to a central location. Once the bomb is detonated, a door out of the level is revealed and the human players can escape. The other side is the Necromorphs, whose only goal is to kill the humans.
Dead Space 2's multiplayer component will span five maps, all objective-based. I was able to play one map: Titan Mines, an arena-style level with several small tunnels winding out from the central area. It was highly reminiscent of the Resident Evil 5 Mercenaries mode map, The Mines -- multiple pathways, some vertical vantage points and really tight corridors.
First, I stepped into the metallic boots of a human engineer. Each starts out with one Stasis use, a Plasma Cutter and a rifle with a few clips of ammo. The humans play just like Isaac in the campaign, so it was immediately easy to pick up a controller and excel. The real key here is teamwork -- if your three partners are lone wolf types, they're going to get you killed. And considering the enemy Necromorphs can spawn almost immediately after dying (they emerge through special designated vents littered about the map), it's paramount that the human team acts like a team.
After a round as the humans, I played as a Necromorph. There's plenty more variety on this side, with three of the four classes available in the preview build: the Pack, Spitter and Lurker. The Pack is the general purpose unit (those creepy-looking kid Necros), able to run around pretty quickly and pounce on its victims, stunning them so that another Necromorph can come in and initiate pairing damage. That's the co-operative aspect of the Necromorph team -- one unit distracts or engages, while the others come in from the blind spot and deal heavy damage. When isolated, an individual Necromorph can't do much, not even to an isolated human player.
Then there's the Spitter, the taller Necromorph-type with large pincers jutting out of its back. It's able to run at humans and lock them up with its pincers, opening up the poor schmucks to pairing damage.
Visceral needs to think about how its multuiplayer can stand up to the competition.
There's also, of course, the spitting ability, which players can charge up to deal quite a bit of damage. One fully-charged shot will drop a human's health near the point of death.
I had the most fun with the Lurker. It's the small, pod-like creature that exposes three large tendrils, which fire projectiles. It does the least amount of damage, but is able to run along walls and ceilings. Because of this, I was able to find some pretty great hiding spots from which to attack the humans. Believe me, when those engineers are running around, worrying about the Necromorphs in front of them and behind them, you can dole out a lot of damage, unchecked -- they're almost always pre-occupied. Given how nimble and small the Lurker is, it's tough to locate and able to get out of danger when spotted.
At the end of each match (two rounds), you'll see a progress screen and subsequent level-up screen. Multiplayer will feature a progression system, an EA rep assured me, which will unlock new weapons and "suit items" as you play. On the Necromorph side, players will unlock stronger abilities for each of the units.
I heard other people at the preview event comparing the multiplayer to Versus mode in Left 4 Dead. I could see the similarity when playing as the Necromorphs, but the humans' objective makes Dead Space 2's mode different. As a Necromorph, you know exactly which terminal the humans need to be at, so it's easy to coordinate an attack, let alone isolate the human who's actually carrying the bomb. Not that you need much coordination when you respawn so quickly as a Necromorph.
This issue really kills the tension on the Necromorph side. When you know you're going to respawn immediately, you're almost encouraged to make a suicide run at the humans, just to get some points. There's no strategy to the attack and no incentive to work together, outside of pairing points which are nowhere near as abundant as the points you get for killing a human on your own. And when you're the human side, it only takes about 5–10 seconds to respawn, which means that losing one of your three teammates isn't that big of a deal. An engineer can regroup with the team in less than 30 seconds after dying. Also, no matter which team wins, there's no apparent incentive for striving to win. You don't get any special rewards for winning -- just the points you've earned either way.
The respawn times highlight some balance issues that need to be addressed before Dead Space 2 launches in January. The basic mode is a good start, but I'd like to see Visceral Games take a step back and really consider what it wants to achieve with multiplayer. Just consider the caliber of competition that will get a head start over Dead Space 2:Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Visceral needs to think about how its multuiplayer can stand up to these games and offer an experience that we'll want to keep coming back to.