One of Dead Space's defining characteristics always seemed to be the sense of isolation and the fear that came from wandering through a derelict ship infested with horrible creatures. Naturally, Dead Space 2 carries this theme into its single-player campaign, but a different sense of fear permeates its new multiplayer mode, which features two teams of four pitted against each other over five objective-based maps. But these aren't just ordinary teams--Dead Space 2's multiplayer specifically pits four members of the Sprawl security team (guys who look like Isaac on the space station built above the Saturn moon of Titan) against four vile necromorphs, and that new sense of fear stems directly from knowing that if you don't really work as a team on either side, you're dead.
We found this out for ourselves at a recent event that gave us an opportunity to get some hands-on time with Dead Space 2's multiplayer mode. But before we get into any of the action, we'll talk about the two teams. As you might imagine, playing on the Sprawl security team isn't all that different from playing as Isaac in Dead Space's single-player campaign. These members have similar weapons and can still use stasis to freeze necromorphs in their tracks for some precise dismembering action. They can also pick up and use health packs, as well as additional ammo dropped by fallen necromorphs. On top of that, having a persistent multiplayer profile means that you can earn points (and eventually gain a level) by killing enemies and completing objectives. Once you've earned enough points, you can unlock additional weapons, as well as new skins, for your member of the security team.
As you can imagine, the freaky necromorphs play quite a bit differently from each other because individual members of the team are highly specialized. The four different necromorphs at your disposal include a member of the pack, a spitter, a lurker, and finally a puker (which wasn't playable at the event). You might remember the lurker from the original Dead Space. This creepy-baby-octopus-tarantula-thing is capable of climbing walls and can fire a projectile. The pack is a similarly creepy-looking baby thing with horrid claws, and its jumping attack makes it particularly fun to play because it lets you latch onto members of the security team and mash the button as you claw at their flesh. The spitter is pretty much what it sounds like--a lanky beast that can spit some sort of horrible fluid from a great distance. It also has a melee attack (as do the other necromorphs), but its best strategy is to stay back and spit away.
The first multiplayer map we jumped into was called Titan Mines where the main objective for the Sprawl security team was to find three components of a bomb, bring them back to a central point, and then detonate the whole thing to escape the area. Of course, that was all easier said than done--the security team member who found the part couldn't run and seemed to move more slowly, making him perfect fodder for the necromorphs. This would be especially true if he had no teammates giving him cover, and even if that player did make it back in time, he still would need to defend the position for a brief period of time before making his way to the other parts.
Also, keep in mind that the way necromorphs respawn also makes this difficult. When you die as a necromorph, you can not only change the necromorph you're playing as, but you can also specify where you respawn by selecting one of numerous vents in the level. To prevent the whole necromorph team from instantly spawning in a single area, you'd have to wait until the previous necromorph had completely respawned and exited the vent before you could select it. Even then, there would be plenty of other areas to select from that would be within the vicinity of an unknowing security member.
The second map, called Escape, had a somewhat similar objective in that we were trying to ultimately get away from the necromorphs. But this time, we had to activate a series of switches that enabled the escape pods located in a different section of the station. Once the switches had all been activated, we had to make our way down to the escape pod area and get inside before we (and the rest of the Sprawl security team) could claim victory. Naturally, activating these switches required us to stay stationary for a few moments, which again, made us a prime target for necromorphs. But if you've managed to activate all the switches, the most fun from this particular multiplayer mode comes near the end--necromorph teams tend to hang out in the escape pod bay at that point, making the final moments and the path to the escape pods a gauntlet of death.
So far, what we've played of Dead Space 2's multiplayer mode seems to work pretty well. It doesn't have quite the same terrifying atmosphere of its single-player counterpart, but it does supply its own kind of tension through time-limited objectives. Dead Space 2 is currently scheduled for release in January 2011.