We get into an above-ground Defend mission, assigned to defend a tall tower in the middle of a rough sandy area, and quickly understand the challenge. "We force players to juggle priorities and coordinate better teamwork," says Roje.
"It's one thing to have to manage enemies trying to kill you. It's another thing to worry about them trying to kill you AND trying to destroy your defend target. Instead of simply watching some form of meter trickle down to communicate defend target damage, players will see bits and pieces falling off their defend target." We learn this... Quickly.
That's because these aliens owe a lot to, um, Aliens. They're annoyingly fast, frequently unpredictable and nastily varied, capable of killing you quickly either up close or at range.
The limited ammunition each player carries can leave you highly vulnerable until you find a pick-up, especially as the aliens spawn all around you, which means there's a huge temptation for players to split up to cover the defense of the objectives. We found ourselves running towards critical locations, spaffing our ammo like Blain from Predator, then running away meleeing frantically.
In all the Armageddon modes, as you fight huge chunks of the buildings you're defending get blown away (by both sides) or fall down; if too much is taken down in Defend, it's mission over. Which is where the Repair ability comes in very handy.
We found it helpful to have one player running around inside the building frantically patching up the holes whilst the rest of the team focused on killing the baddies (or running away from them). The level design is a lot more vertical than Gears of War; in fact it's possibly closer to Lost Planet's excellent multiplayer (though the mechs that made that so wonderfully asymettric seem confined to single-player here).
Notably, friendly fire is off, which was a blessing as we were struggling with the speed of the enemies anyway. "It's not only in regards to their speed," says Roje "The ability for most of the enemies to leap in an unpredictable fashion can lead to a LOT of inadvertent friendly fire.
"Also, with the amount of destruction, having friendly fire turned on would cause players to be more tentative than we'd like. We want to entertain players, not frustrate them."
There are survival modes as well, which offer a purer Horde experience; kill all the aliens before they kill you. These come in two flavours, normal and the much-harder Dark. In the latter, each player has a short-ranged torch, which gets boosted when near other teammates, combining into a greater light; absolutely necessary for seeing approaching aliens.
"If they don't stick together, then the extremely claustrophobic darkness makes it very difficult to prepare for any potential ambushes," says Roje. "In short, when it comes to the dark levels, the motto is: 'Live together or die alone.'"
Again, our playthrough of survival mode started easily, trying levels out in underground slums and ice caves. However, after a few levels of just firing wildly at the enemies (the only effective weapons you start with are the two grenade launchers), that tactic begins to fail and eventually our last man gets massacred by leaping aliens.
Dropping the difficulty, we ask Roje for tips. "Spamming grenades will only get you so far," he warns. "One of the most important things is which Nano-Forge ability each player has.
"Unlike single player, where you can eventually wield all 4 abilities at once, we limit each player to one Nano-Forge ability. If all 4 players want to use the Impact ability, then they can choose to do so.
"However, I've learned that it's essential that at least one player has the Shell ability and one player has the Shockwave ability. The usage of both abilities in unison creates a nice synergy where you're both protected and playing crowd control with the enemies."
Roje's confirmation that "Yes, there will be Steamworks AND Steam Cloud integration for the PC SKU" will certainly lure the PC crowd in for a time, but we're not sure whether this will become a lasting feature on our multi-player cycle alongside Modern Warfare, Team Fortress 2 and Warhawk.
A lot depends on the single-player's reception; if that doesn't do well, players are unlikely to last long enough to try out Infestation. Even if they do, the parallels between Horde mode and this might be too strong to stomach for many players.