Even though “Dead Space 2” has a handful of multiplayer modes, it’s a game people will largely buy so they can play through the single player campaign, probably multiple times. That’s part of the reason I devoted nearly all of my review of the game talking about what I liked and didn’t like about the single-player game. Well, that and I’m a loner.
I did spend some time sampling the multiplayer and came away pleasantly surprised, as my experience varied from what I’d heard. I do think “Dead Space 2’s” publisher, Electronic Arts, is erring by requiring an online pass, included with new copies of the game but sold separately for people who bought “Dead Space 2” used, to play the online multiplayer. Taken on its face, the multiplayer probably won’t have a robust player base or enough lasting appeal to justify coughing up an extra $15 to play online if you happened to buy the game used or are borrowing it from a buddy.
The multiplayer in “Dead Space 2” (rated M, $60 for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) includes five maps, each with its own game type that tasks a team of humans with completing a set of objectives. A team of necromorphs is tasked with delaying them long enough until a timer runs out.
In “Solar Array,” “Fuel Core” and “Titan Mines,” the humans run to designated points on the map, press or hold down a button to expose a piece of information or equipment, then ferry it to a specific spot on the map. The end goal is different, but the objectives you have to accomplish within each game type bear some similarities.
In “Escape,” the team of humans will be activating escape pods on the USG Ishimura, via the same “hold the button” technique, then clambering aboard before the timer runs out. On “Marker Lab,” they’re tasked with exposing via “hold-the-button,” then destroying a number of replicas of the alien markers that serve as the focal point for much of the single-player campaign.
Like a good game of “Left 4 Dead,” “Dead Space 2’s” multiplayer requires the good guys to stay in a tight grouping and work together, while the necromorphs are weaker and need to try to attack as a team and coordinate strategies.
My regular crew I play online with wasn’t available, and our player base is split between the PS3 and Xbox 360, so I tackled the multiplayer alone. In general, I found complaints I’ve heard about the game being unbalanced in favor of the engineers to not be the case in my game. The necromorphs won about 75 percent of the time. While it’s true that the undead creatures tend to die a lot easier than their human counterparts, your only goal as the necromorphs is to slow the humans down enough to cause them to fail. It’s not like in “Left 4 Dead” or “Left 4 Dead 2” where you need to rack up a high kill count to succeed.
What’s frustrating is that “Dead Space 2’s” multiplayer scoring still works like what you’d expect to find in a traditional shooter like “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” Players’ kill/death ratios are prominently displayed on the leaderboards, and it’s easier to rack up your own personal score as a human by simply slaughtering necromorphs. When I played on human teams, I was the one who often activated each objective, or ferried cargo to its destination, yet my courier role and tendency to evade enemies didn’t seem to net me as many experience points as I earned when I hung back and played escort to someone else’s mule.
As in just about every online shooter these days, “Dead Space 2” features a number of unlockable upgrades, plus additional weapons and armor, meaning the more experienced players will have an edge against rookies. Luckily, I dove into the multiplayer at Level 1 and found enough low-skilled players to hang with that I wasn’t embarrassingly awful.
I do think EA erred by requiring an online pass for “Dead Space 2’s” multiplayer. First off, the multiplayer is a first for the series. Charging people who buy the game used extra money to access the online modes might make sense in a primarily online game, such as EA’s “Battlefield” games. But with the game’s strong single-player game, New Game Plus options and the limited variety in multiplayer might mean many players never move beyond the free two-day trial.
All in all, “Dead Space 2’s” multiplayer is a fun experiment. As a fan of team, objective-based games that go beyond just straight up killing, I dig it. I doubt it’s something most players will still be obsessing over a year from now, but it’s not a bad first step.