There used to be a time, many aeons ago, when survival horror was a lonely business. You'd tip-toe through the dingy corridors of a Mysterious Mansion/Horrible Hospital/F**cked-up Fairground, whimpering as you turned each corner. If your path happened to cross with another sentient being, you'd most likely try to kill each other; your only friends were the 12 bullets you'd carefully saved, a near-useless knife, and a powdered green herb (this was the '90s; everyone was stoned). Back then, we used to save our progress on typewriters - but you kids probably don't know what they are, do you?
While Resident Evil 5 made a half-decent stab at co-op spookiness, there's no question that Left 4 Dead is the king of sociable scare-em-ups. It's hardly surprising, then, that Dead Space 2 has taken heavy inspiration from Valve for its own multiplayer massacres. To be more precise, it's Left 4 Dead 2's Scavenger mode that's the key reference point - pitching four human troopers against a quartet of lovable Necromorphs. The former have to complete a number of linked objectives before the time limit expires; the latter have to pull out their opponents' organs and turn them into Christmas tree decorations (intestines make a great substitute for tinsel, so I hear).
Like the single-player campaign, Dead Space 2's multiplayer matches are set on The Sprawl - a civilian settlement on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. The concept here is that we're following a group of security forces as they set about important tasks around the city, in locations that won't crop up in the main campaign. In the demo at today's showcase, the anonymous workers are paying a visit to The Solar Array. They might be on a mission to fix something important, or maybe they're here to install a Sky+ box; I don't know, but what I do know is that they're almost certainly going to fail. Why? Because the nice EA man has already explained that cooperation is vital, and the security forces are running around like headless chickens - quite literally, in some cases.
Matches work on a two-round basis, with each team swapping sides at the halfway point. It's a sensible structure that gives everyone a chance to play as the 'morphs; given the choice, I suspect most players would side with the mutants every time. There's an undeniable novelty in assuming control of a rotting baby with massive tentacles, and while it's still fun to blow these nasties to pieces as a human, it's far more satisfying to humiliate your rivals by tugging out their squishy parts.
Three of the four Necromorphs on offer are brand new; The Lurker is the sole familiar face - he's the dead baby one who looks a bit like a frog with a trio of tentacles sprouting from his back. The Lurker has the unique ability to climb walls and ceilings, and is best suited to ambush strategies, wanging his waggly bits at people who pass beneath him. The Spitter and The Puker are tall, stalking creatures who respectively gob at and vomit upon their unfortunate foes. Finally, we have The Pack - the most normal-looking mutant on offer, although that's not saying much. Mr Pack is a pale, bald humanoid mess with long claws. If you absolutely had to go on a date with a Necromorph, and given his relative lack of mutation, you might consider The Pack to be the best choice. You'd be wrong: Mr Pack is a child, and a dead one at that. What the hell were you thinking, you big sicko?