Dead Space 2 multiplayer hands-on

The original Dead Space was a harrowing solitary experience, as the silent Isaac Clarke searched a derelict spaceship for his fiancé while fighting off hideous creatures. In early 2011 the sequel will be out, with improvements players had been asking for, but the rumored multiplayer wasn’t on the minds of some. Many, including me, thought that any possible multiplayer would ruin the haunting, lonely feel of the Dead Space universe, so when I was invited to the unveiling of the online multiplayer I was a little skeptical. Three hours later and I’d be singing a different tune.

First off, here’s what Dead Space 2’s multiplayer isn’t: it isn’t deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, none of those standard modes I was expecting/partially dreading. Instead, the mode is built entirely around four vs four player, one side a collection of humans, the other the horrid Necromorphs. But this isn’t the normal team deathmatch, as each battle takes place in one of five objective-based maps, where the humans need to focus more on completing a task than slaughtering enemies, while the Necromorphs are out to stop them.

The human side is easier to grasp at first, as each man basically plays like Isaac. The human team each started with a standard loadout of a plasma cutter and the assault rifle. All four of us started in the same area and were tasked with collecting four items throughout the level to build a bomb. It seemed easy enough, and there were helpful markers on the screen to guide us to where each new objective was, but once the team went for it and the Necros hit us, it was a different story.

As my team got surrounded, those of us that recalled the “cut off their limbs” note from the first game did well, while others foolishly aimed for the head. It did help that as we battled with them that each of us started with one stasis attack to freeze a monster in his place, and one healing item that, if used in close proximity to a teammate, heals the both of you. Still, fighting off our enemies was a harrowing/fun experience, so much so that some forgot our actual purpose on this map and thought they just had to kill monsters, which is exactly what the enemy wanted. As the clock ticked down to zero, which would mean our defeat, a team member finally got a piece of the bomb to where it needed to be, refilling the counter and taking us to the next item. Sadly, in that first playthrough, we wouldn’t make it much farther.

The next round came and the roles were reversed, as the four of us became the Necromorphs and we got to see just how different that world was. First off, unlike the humans, we got to choose between one of four different types of Necros: the Spitter, the Pack, and the Lurker (by the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if a fourth type is in the retail game, as three types for four players doesn’t add up). The goal of each Necromorph was much easier: simply kill all the humans and prevent them from completing their task, a much more straightforward task.

Each of theNecromorphs had a unique way of playing. The Spitters were the strongest, with their giant blade arms, and the strongest charging blast, but they were also the easiest to see, making them the biggest targets. The Pack were the creepy, new, child-sized Necros, whose sharp claws can hack up a man, and their short stature makes them harder to spot, but they aren’t too tough. And the Lurker is the smallest and technically weakest of the three, but is great at hiding and with its ability to climb up the walls and ceilings, it's the hardest to find and was the toughest to battle when it was controlled by a skilled player.

As I began seeing how the other side kills, I started to notice all the differences between both sides. First of all, the Necros play through the level with a red sheen over the screen, mostly to imply the bloodlust their transformation caused. The humans, on the other hand, have a drier, sci-fi blue tone to the screen. And while the humans are tougher and have more fire power, their tasks are much harder, and the Necros can easily overwhelm if you aren’t careful. Plus the Necros can respawn at several different places on the map, and there’s some real strategy in choosing where you’re reborn, while humans only reappear in one area, which is usually a bit of a walk from where your teammates are dying. Differences like that really heighten the fear for the human team, which is exactly what the developer hoped for.

Later in the night we saw a second of the five maps, with a very different objective put before us. Instead of fetching items together, the human team needed to (ideally) pair off and open the doors to a dying spacecraft in hopes of at least one of them getting to an escape hatch. Obviously, the Necros were still just out to kill the guys. The fact that the two maps we saw played so very differently gives me lots of hope for a real varied experience in multiplayer, even if from the outside it may sound limiting as “only” five different, four-on-four maps.

Talking with the game’s producers, they spoke of wanting Dead Space 2’s multiplayer to keep the feel of the single player and not look tacked on. And while they didn’t go into detail about it, they did mention that each map tells a story that is somehow connected to Isaac’s new adventure. Plus I only saw the slightest hint of the online leveling system and customization, which I would love to see more details on. After my time with it, I found myself pleasantly surprised, and very ready to play more. Even if Dead Space fans see the campaign as the main event, when the game hits stores in late January next year, those players might also find themselves just as happy and scared when they dive in online.

Sep 13, 2010

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.