Oh boy, this one. This is a game that’s been repeatedly called out as not being unique and tacked-on. At many times, it’s been one of the poster children alongside Bioshock 2 as what makes “unnecessary multiplayer” (and we’ll be addressing Bioshock 2 in due time, have no doubt). Now I sit here, just a little bit happy to point out that not only is the game still active on PS3, but it was still active with new and old players during and after the Destiny launch. Yeah, that’s right. Destiny, the most pre-ordered game of all time couldn’t draw away the playerbase. By comparison, Crysis 3‘s recent influx of PS Plus players left in droves. But it’s “unwanted” and “unnecessary”. The multiplayer mode, that without update since a few weeks after launch, is still active. Games with even more content and patching support have died off in this game’s lifetime. It’s almost like people actually did want it and enjoy it.
I’m sorry, I don’t want this to just be some cocky, self-righteous rant. Consider that tone of voice dropped from here on out. Those are never useful, and I will outright admit my bias towards this game: I have played over 200+ hours out of the single-player alone. I -really- liked Dead Space 2, so I’ve made the extra effort to fight past that and acknowledge the multiplayer’s flaws (and my gosh does it have some). We’re going to find out why this game’s multiplayer is Still Alive!, and what we can learn from it’s successes and failures. This is Dead Space 2: Outbreak. Bet you didn’t even know it had its own name.
Dead Space 2: Outbreak is an amalgam of several games. It has the four on four focus of Left 4 Dead and Nosgoth with two asymmetric factions. There’s the inventory management, QTE grappling, and brutal combat of Dead Space 2‘s single-player. It’s got the lightly narrative focused, objective based missions of Killzone 3‘s Operations mode. Top it off with the pacing and speed of a game of Counter-Strike, and you’ve got Dead Space 2: Outbreak. It leads the game to a unique blend of survival horror co-op and PvP. Not only do you face player Necromorphs, but AI controlled Slasher variants that mob you. Human players start with limited supplies but can grab more health packs, stasis packs, and ammo clips from killed Necromorphs. Humans can also save each other by shooting off grappling Necromorphs, doing area of effect heals, and using stasis on nearby enemies to freeze them in place. Necromorphs do best teamed up, with one player grappling a target whilst another hits him from below and the other two keep his/her allies busy. If you get a primed group, you can ambush humans and slash, shoot, and bite them (literally) apart before they get to their next objective.
This leads to a constant sense of tug and pull. Humans have to complete objectives in a time limit or they lose. Necromorphs lose if the humans complete all their objectives in time. You have to judge when to press your enemy as a Necromorph, requiring an interesting aspect of patience you rarely see in a multiplayer game of this style. Going off solo as a human also backfires for even the most seasoned EarthGov security officer, thanks to Necromorphs being able to track humans and their current health via visible heartbeats. The team that sticks together and knows what to do almost always beats out an uncoordinated mess, leading to some satisfyingly tense moments as a desperate gambit pays off. If anything, the unpredictability, compounded with the careful balancing, heavily increases the tension over the single-player. You can’t predict enemies here, and you don’t just reload a save when you die. Everything’s for keeps, so conserve ammo and check your corners.
Unfortunately, it’s here that one of the game’s biggest issues comes into play. As Extra Credits discussed in one of their videos, players often go towards First Order Optimal Strategies (FOO Strategies for short). This is very evidently the case here, as sadly most players resort to specific strategies. Pros refuse to use anything other than the Javelin Gun, spamming it’s alternate fire mode to kill Necrmorphs. Newbies (h***, even I’ve had to use this) fire the grenade launcher function of the Pulse Rifle to clear out weaker enemies that try to ambush you. Necromorphs will shoot you around corners every chance they get, and the Spitter’s charged shot can nearly one shot you if given long enough charge time. I’ve only seen one player use the Force Gun in multiplayer, and only a few use the Plasma Cutter or Seeker Rifle. The Line Gun gets used by most (myself included) and the rest just use Javelin Gun religiously, to the point of annoyance even when they’re on your team. While far too many of the game’s guns are left out of the multiplayer, the ones included are solid, and you should change up your playstyle every now and then in any multiplayer game.
This lack of variety in character customization isn’t exclusive to humans, and is the root of the problem in Dead Space 2: Outbreak. The gameplay and levels themselves are solid for the most part; a few could use a little rebalancing but not by much. No, the problem with Dead Space 2: Outbreak is its progression system. I’ve heard rumors that the game’s multiplayer was rushed ahead of schedule, with even more content planned, and nothing supports that theory more than the progression system. Almost 90% of what you unlock, are suits of armor. Not even upgraded suits of armor, just different textures of the same exact suit of armor. The final unlock is even a suit of armor. Guns receive two predefined upgrades as you level up, and necromorphs receive four upgrades. Yes, objectively better stat upgrades. It’s not even a change in playstyle, just an outright upgrade. While I can attest the upgrades weren’t made very substantial, it speaks to just how badly handled the progression system was.
Similar to Resistance 3 and Sniper Elite V2, Dead Space 2: Outbreak rewards its master players to the point of detriment to everyone else. Your guns will not work as well as other players’ guns simply by virtue of sloppy design and execution of what should have been an easily constructed aspect of the game. With the single-player having shown how effective it’s node based upgrading was, it’s mind boggling this wasn’t the template used in Dead Space 2: Outbreak. Necromorphs could have had a mutation tree where they unlocked different abilities that could be made into unique loadouts. Humans could have done the same, having a limit on how many nodes they could put into each gun, requiring specializations. Maybe you upgrade your plasma cutter’s fire rate and capacity, or decrease the charge time needed for the Line Gun’s alternate fire proximity mine. New suits of armor would be fine as cosmetic bonus, but the keyword there is bonus, as in not the primary goal.
The lack of anything other than security suit armor hurts this even further. Why do I care about having an Olive colored security RIG? Why not have some exclusive suits of armor for multiplayer. Or why not make certain suits have different perks like in the single-player? The starting suit gives a slight health regeneration for newbies, the next one upgrades damage for the Pulse Rifle’s primary fire. You can’t tell me no one at Visceral Games considered anything like this. The code was already there in the game, it just would need tweaking instead of creating an all-new system. Sadly, whether or not someone thought of it, Dead Space 2: Outbreak lacks a proper progression system. Instead, grinding is all but pointless, and the sole reason to come on is for the gameplay. For some, this is still enough, but like with Titanfall, there’s only so much you can do before you run out of things to do.
It also doesn’t help that the game’s server support is incredibly underwhelming, especially for PC. I’ve never had so many disconnects, even from any other EA game, than this one. It was especially bad back when the PC community was still active, with some particularly large amounts of experience points lost thanks to last-minute disconnects. This is less on the developer’s head and more on EA, as is the game’s lack of post-launch content. Currently, on console, we have two more free maps. That’s… it. It’s like EA wanted to do the whole Mass Effect 3 Free Multiplayer DLC idea with Dead Space 2: Outbreak, but then chickened out at the last minute. Irony being, if they had kept rolling content out, the game would have had a lot more longevity and could have patched out its issues. The base here is solid, solid enough that people are -still- playing it at almost every hour of the day on PS3 (trust me, I checked). I’m not sure if it was negative press towards the online component or what, but it’s just a pity they stopped short of keeping the game going. If they’d pulled a Valve and treated the community right, I imagine the game would have stayed on even stronger.
And still, even with these problems, I would still recommend giving it a try. The gunplay is as solid as it is in the single-player, the maps all have neat little twists to them, all the main ideas still make in despite the competitive focus, and it has so many ideas under its hood. For all the effort made to say this multiplayer had no soul or heart behind it, there sure seems to be a lot of evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, due to the changes in combat system for Dead Space 3, the competitive multiplayer tested badly for it so they dropped it entirely in favor of solely doing co-op. While weapon crafting would have presented a balancing challenge, it would have been nice to see Visceral take another shot at this type of game. It could still work, if they ever come back to it with fresh eyes. It might have pleased everyone, but to say Dead Space 2: Outbreak was unwanted is to deny the existence of the game’s playerbase. They might not be chatty, and they may sometimes be stick in the muds about weapon choices, but they are still quite active.
The problems of Dead Space 2: Outbreak are more systemic of a pre-2014 EA development schedule and lack of follow through on supporting their product. While some problems do remain on Visceral’s head, I have to wonder what if they had more time to work out the chinks in the armor. I might not have even needed to write this post if they had. The best parts are thanks to the game Outbreak is built upon, and it more than ever has me eager for more experiments with Dead Space multiplayer games. We’ve seen traditional co-op and competitive multiplayer, now let’s try something bigger. Dead Space meets DayZ. Dead Space meets Dark Souls. Maybe a combination thereof. The potential on display is clear, it just needs to be properly utilized. In the meanwhile, the rest of us will keep on escaping The Sprawl’s blood soaked halls for many nights to come.
Hanging in there despite claims of early demise. While it might not make it past 2015, it’s had a solid run since 2011, and devoted fans will keep it’s heart beating on consoles.
Lessons To Be Learned
Support your games post-launch, and don’t force them out before their ready. Patience and persistence can pay off a lot more than an attempt at a quick buck.
Worth Digging Up?
Yes, but only on consoles. The PC playerbase has been all but destroyed due to PC-specific hackers and terrible server support.
Aliens: Colonial Marines