Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dead Space 2 Multiplayer Hands-On: A Visceral Experience, Indeed

As if the thrills, chills and very bloody spills of Issac Clarke's upcoming single player adventures in The Sprawl weren't enough, Visceral Games is tweaking Dead Space 2 with a rather interesting multiplayer component that can be somewhat accurately described as tactical run & gun meets Left 4 Dead. I'll admit to being initially skeptical that any sort of online multiplayer modes added to this decidedly story-driven horror action franchise would be nothing more than another excuse for loudmouthed losers to run around shooting each other in the head while yelling all sorts of M-rated insults. However, I'm indeed thankful to report that I was proven dead wrong.

At Sony's Holiday 2010 event last week, I got to go a few rounds with the multiplayer demo and was very impressed by the experience. What's here is fun, fast, frantic and frequently freakish, thanks to the back and forth player swapping that takes place during matches.

Rather than the usual pick a character/class/weapon load-out method of hopping into online matches, multiplayer here has you playing as part of a small human security force for one round, then switching to Necromorphs for the next (or vice versa), swapping places for as long as the game clock ticks. This more dynamic style allows players to get the most from each weapon as the humans and each of the four types of playable Necromorphs. In fact, death comes so quickly in some of the crazier moments that you'll get to play as all of the mutated aliens in a single session if you like. Whether you're spraying acid from a distance as a Spitter, or crawling speedily along walls and ceilings as an ankle-munching Lurker, there's a barrel of bloody fun to be had here.

The great thing about the multiplayer is that you can tackle it in a strategic manner by teaming up with other humans to watch each others' backs while those control points are attended to. Conversely, as Necromorphs, you can split up and attack the humans from multiple angles or send one player in to draw fire while the others gang up on anyone that chases down your buddy. Everything moves so fast that you'll need to pretty much lead, follow or get diced to pieces because you were too slow to attack or defend. In fact, I'd highly recommend teamwork, as the few times I set out alone as a human or Necromorph, I found myself out-clawed or outgunned except for two or three occasions when I surprised a few players and got quick kills as a result.

Maps are designed to look like they're pulled from a few of the main game's settings, but wisely aren't set as part of the main game's storyline. For me, this was a great thing as it doesn't yank you out of Issac's story as most multiplayer games do when trying to "explain" (or not explain) the existence of certain characters running around shooting each other in the face. Here, protecting control points or slaughtering poor humans trying to guard those same points looks and feels satisfying. Controls for the security force members is the same as in the main game, but there's no TK or stasis usage here as far as I could tell. Each of the Necromorphs has different attacks and a nicely creepy running animation that looks great whether you're playing as or being chased down by one of these nasties.

One other nifty twist is while playing as a Necromorph, you can "see" human players through walls as glowing icons, making tracking them down quite easy, but not too easy if the person playing the well-armed meatbag has a few full clips and sees you coming. Combat as both player types is quick and dirty with the loser ending up in a pile of bloody chunks and headed for a respawn point. Both humans and Necromorphs have melee attacks with quick-time events where you can grab (or be grabbed) and jam on a button for a few seconds to try and shake off (or dispatch) your foe. I loved that respawn points for Necromorphs are wall or floor panels they can pop out from, offering brief "jump out" scares to players in the vicinity. Of course, it's entirely possible to see one of those Necromorphs come out of a wall of floor just as you've get it in your sights, so at least the playing field is a bit more balanced in that manner.

Playing against one live editor-type on the floor and a few live online opponents (at an undisclosed location) was smooth as silk, controls (and of course, the visuals and sound design) were tight and overall, this is shaping up to be one pretty cool addition to an already awesome game. I'm laser-focused on getting the PS3 Limited Edition thanks to the HD-enhanced Dead Space Extraction and its Move-enabled control setup. Of course, the main game is the main draw for story-driven narrative freaks like me (duh!). Nevertheless, each addition to the already solid content that's coming just makes the overall package all that more of a must-buy. Now, about that portable Dead Space game I'm dreaming about, Visceral... get cracking, already - I want to be able to scare myself silly while on the subway here in NYC (other than wondering what that odd smell is a few seats down)...

Between the must-play single player demo coming December 21st to PSN and Xbox live to what's turning out to be a really wicked multiplayer mode, it looks as if Visceral Games and EA are going to be sending fans of the franchise over the moon when the game ships on January 25, 2011. Back with more on Dead Space 2 shortly - stay tuned...

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