You Take That Back!
You probably haven’t played “Dead Space 2′s” multiplayer offering, even if you own the damned thing. I don’t entirely blame you; for one thing, it’s hard as hell to join a game unless your NAT is so open that it borders on whorish promiscuity. For another, it’s getting terrible reviews almost across the board, even (or especially) from publications that are otherwise lauding the game to the high heavens. People are saying it’s perfunctory, tacked-on, and shallow.
And they’re absolutely wrong. Read on for the straight dope.
I’ve only clocked about four or five hours with DS2′s multi, but already I sense that Visceral Games just nailed the potential inherent in their game. The secret to their success is that they clearly set out to make a completely unique beast: a survival horror fragfest. “AC: Brotherhood” was such a huge success because they figured out how to distill stealth gameplay into a competitive environment. DS2 has figured out the same thing for survival horror, which was frankly a much easier target, but their success is no less sweet as a result.
The structure of the combat is somewhere between “Left 4 Dead” and “Battlefield: Bad Company 2″ (on a much smaller scale). Players are split between humans and Necromorphs, and dropped into four or five labyrinths not unlike the scenarios of the campaign. The game finds a unique and exhausting tempo: faster than L4D, but slower and more endurance-based than CoD. That idiosyncratic rhythm is what makes the game feel uniquely like a horror shooter; it’s not an all-out gib fest, and yet if you look away for even a moment, you’re toast.
The humans are armed with weapons, a lot of health, and medpacks, but they are saddled with completing wave after wave of time-sensitive objectives. And by “time sensitive,” I mean you have three minutes, not some endless countdown crap. These are pure “Bad Company 2″ tactics: defend this point, carry this thing that makes you walk agonizingly slow to this point. And of course, the old standard, “hold A until the bar crawls across the screen.” A human victory requires a slew of five or six min-wins in all three of the above-mentioned categories.
Necromorphs, by comparison, are children of the forest, they live a carefree existence comprised of killing humans as much as possible. They also have a variety of different classes, each of which has a unique compliment of melee and (in most cases) ranged attacks. And naturally, they have supernatural awareness of where the human team is at all times, because their nervous systems glow in the dark.
So what’s the trade-off? They’re weak. Very weak. They will never win a stand-up fight on their own, ever. To effectively utilize these monstrosities, you have to take advantage of blind corners, isolated targets, and people with their backs turned, all three of which happen with some frequency. It’s very challenging at first, but the balance is well-tweaked, and a smartly executed attack is often rewarded.
Of the two, I prefer playing as the humans, and I’ll explain why. The dynamics of the Necromorph characters sort of draw the monstrous side out of their human controllers. Put another way, when people play as the monsters, they start to think and act like the monsters. I swear I can hear people going “Blarrrrghh!” over their headsets with the way they come at me, three or four at a time, thirsty for the sweet taste of spinal fluid. The game just brings out the animal in them, and there’s a bizarre, raw pleasure in how pure the ferocity of the combat becomes. No one grabs cover or “camps” during these matches, people literally hurl themselves at you. I’ve been in hand-to-hand deathmatches with entire teams of Necromorphs that lasted for more than two minutes of real time. I was almost panting when it was over.
I just think they’ve done something great with this multiplayer, and I’m so surprised it hasn’t been better received. If I had played this without knowing the critical reaction, I’d have assumed it was going to be a huge hit. Maybe it still can be. Log on and give it a chance…you know, as long as your NAT is a dirty slut.