As outlined in our September preview, Dead Space 2's multiplayer pits the humans of the Sprawl security force against the fleshy, nightmarish necromorphs in asymmetric four-versus-four matches. In these, the human team has a set of story-driven objectives to complete, while the necromorphs need only destroy the opposition, with the sides alternated between matches. Visceral Games introduced us to a new map, Solar Array, for our hands-on demonstration: a network of classically creepy sci-fi corridors and chambers leading toward a solar weapon, for which the humans must obtain and deliver the firing codes.
Solar Array, like the four other locations that will be available for multiplayer in the finished game, is set in a Sprawl location unique to multiplayer. Though the fictional backdrop of the multiplayer challenges fits into the fiction of the main game, these aren't repurposed single-player maps. The humans are armed with the expected plasma cutter weapons, designed for Dead Space's trademark "strategic dismemberment" and equipped with alternate fire modes. The necromorphs, on the other hand, come in four flavours: the wall-walking, lunging Lurker; the clawing, infantlike Pack; the Puker with its charged short-range acid vomit; and the Spitter, with a longer-range acid attack. Sound familiar?
Much is reminiscent of Left 4 Dead's competitive multiplayer, beside the similarities between necromorph species and special infected varieties. Necromorph players can also choose their spawn point from within a free-roaming ghost cam view, though they are restricted to glowing air vents and floor hatches. In the action itself, they can see humans through walls as translucent, glowing blood vessel networks. Unlike in Left 4 Dead, though, the combat is kept up close and personal (and all the gorier for it) in the closed-in industrial spaces of the Solar Array complex. When assigned to the necro side, players can also select which species to spawn in as.
Necromorphs are able to trigger paired attacks: Execution moves that immobilize human foes, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks. A Pack necromorph, for example, leaps onto a human victim and affixes itself to his or her head and chest while the human player hammers X (in the PlayStation 3 version) to free and save him or herself. At the same time, the necromorph player must tap the same button faster for a successful execution. For humans, the level-up system involves unlocking secondary fire attacks for their weapons, such as the stasis freezing effect. Human characters receive points toward leveling for actions beside killing necros, including healing (using a health item heals friendlies who are nearby), rescuing (shooting a necromorph in mid-execution attack), and kill assists.
On the necromorph side, the necros get upgraded abilities--a stronger melee attack for the Pack demon baby, for instance. Health items and ammo packs drop from defeated necromorphs. Although humans also respawn after death, it feels as though the necromorphs are meant to be the more disposable characters, chosen and deployed strategically according to which abilities are most useful at that point in play. In a nice touch of presentation, the necro interface is cosmetically different from the human heads-up display: The necromorph's objective arrow is alien- and organic-looking, with their overlay text font appearing as spiky, scrabbled handwriting as opposed to the human's obligatory sci-fi font.
For many, a multiplayer mode was an unexpected addition for a sequel to Dead Space--a horror game powered by the isolation and vulnerability of playing as a lone human. Visceral will be aiming to convince players its multiplayer offering is more than a tacked-on extra when its game launches in January 2011. Keep an eye on the site for more on the single- and multiplayer between now and then.