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.