Isaac Clarke is no stranger to getting out of scrapes if you can call being yanked apart by a shuddering tower of blood, gristle, and talons a scrape. However, even he would have trouble solving the problem that faced Visceral Games when the developer started work on Dead Space 2.
The first game was a stately and stompy ramble through the spooky corridors of an abandoned spaceship. Combat was fierce, but it erupted in little bubbles of action. With its focus on tactical dismemberment, it was fairly stately and stomping by itself, too.
But online multiplayer requires a different kind of approach. Games like COD and Halo are fast and frantic, with little time to take in the scenery or savour the atmosphere. What, then, should Dead Space multiplayer look like? How should it work?
It should probably work a lot like this. Visceral's clearly had a good long think about how to adapt their single-player game's strengths to the competitive online environment, and the team's solution, unveiled at this week's EA Winter Showcase, is already looking like a smart combination of ideas.
For one thing it's objective-based, and it's asymmetric too. Players have been asking for a chance to play as the squishy, boney, puss-filled Necromorphs for quite a while, and it looks like Visceral's found a convincing way to make that happen.
Players form two teams. One's made up of humans, as part of a well-armed Sprawl security team, while the other is made of aliens, as part of the many-armed, many-headed Necromorph infection. The Sprawl security forces are given an objective based around the particular map they're on, and the Necromorphs have to stop them from achieving it before the time runs out. Simple.
Or not. Initially it seems that the Necromorphs are going to have all the fun. Playing as the alien menace, each time you spawn a term that seems unusually appropriate given the context you start off shifting around the map as a floating cursor.
From this perspective you're able to choose which particular grate or vent you want to pop out of, giving the game a smart tactical twist. Maps are small but filled with pinch-points, so there's plenty of opportunities to ambush and fence the human players in. Even then, entry selection is only half the fun.
The other half comes from the range of four classes you can choose to spawn as: Spitter, Lurker, Puker or Pack. The Pack are those nasty little long-fingered babies that race around dealing brutal melee damage. The Spitter and Puker both have ranged vomiting attacks much longer ranged in the case of the Spitter and decent melee options via wobbly arms which sprout from them in unpleasant places.
The Lurker, finally, can climb walls, which is handled pretty smartly with the stab of a face button when you're in position. Once installed on the ceiling, Lurkers can start to rain down death from the darkness.
After all that it might seem hard to get excited about playing as a mere human, but Visceral's tried to sweeten the deal. There's an excellent range of weapons, drawn from the single-player game, to mess around with, and you'll be able to customise your loadout before going into battle.
You'll also have a quick heal option at your disposal and, adding another tactical layer, it's an area effect - meaning if you can catch team-mates with it, you'll give them a bit of a boost too.
Then there are the objectives you'll be tasked with. These are tied directly to the game's five maps. Five may not seem a lot actually, it isn't a lot but the two shown so far make up for that to some degree through sheer thoughtfulness. Solar Array is a riddle of claustrophobic walkways you'll have to navigate in order to get the area's power back online. Titan Mines is a little larger a cluster of corridors leading to a central plateau where your mission is to put together a bomb to wipe out the alien incursion.
You'll do this by standing near bomb-part spawn points long enough for them to open up, then lugging the components back to an assemblage area. All while nasty little babies and many-legged monsters will try to hurt you at every step.
The pace of combat feels like it's been stepped up a little bit for the multiplayer and while the focus is still on strategically lopping bits off your rivals, the Necromorphs seem to bust apart a little quicker.
One dynamic the game already has a lot of fun with is forcing human players to decide whether to stay together and sacrifice speed for safety, or whether to split up and try and get the objective sorted before the aliens can bash out a proper strategy. It makes for multiplayer with a real sense of tension.
A final balancer sees teams swapping factions after each round anyway to ensure that the supply and demand of humans and aliens is always in check. There's also an experience points system that seems to be universal: your points are tied to your account, by the looks of it, and open up weapon and perk unlocks for each faction depending on who you're playing as.
Multiplayer Dead Space is still an odd concept, but it's pleasing to see it working this well already. If Visceral can keep the maps coming post-release and listen to the community when the inevitable balancing issues erupt, the developer could be sitting on top of a satisfying, effective alternative to Call of Duty.