Left 4 Dead 2: Six boycott-trumping features
14th Jul 2009 | 15:02
Last week we managed to go hands-on with the excellent - and oddly controversial - Left 4 Dead sequel in London.
With all of this talk about a full sequel 'ripping off' fans of the original, we thought we'd attempt to put sand on the flames by highlighting the features which we found together (and some alone) form a package that's well worth a new box... and a '2' on the end.
Don't forget to read our internet-destroying interview with Valve's Doug Lombardi for more things to moan about.
The New Survivors
Left 4 Dead's four new characters; gambler Nick, 21-year-old Ellis, TV producer Rochelle and Coach, weren't exactly in feverous conversation during our short demo. Part of the reason is probably the hordes of zombies they're busy painting the streets with, but the other is that unlike the old faces these four are learning from scratch.
Left 4 Dead 2 kicks off right as the first traces of infection reaches the South, with the Government clearing off and the first wave of nasties reaching the New Orleans streets. By the end of the game, says Valve, the four will have grown and changed as characters, which suggest a whole new depth of story and dialogue for the 'quick' follow-up.
The first game has proved that players will happily invest hundreds of hours into their campaign, and in response Valve's planning even more - and increasingly more rare - character dialogue for Nick, Ellis and co.
The new keenness for narrative was present throughout our demo; booming government fighter jets in the sky offer a hint at civilisation, and later we're told they'll even fire bomb the streets - and you with them if you get in the way.
Left 4 Dead 2's new dismemberment system sounds like a miniscule change on paper, but in practice it's made shooting zombies four times more satisfying (that's one time for every limb).
With an assault rifle, chunks of flesh and body parts spray with great abandon from your target ghoul. With a shotgun you can blow holes clean through the Mississippi hordes, and explosions send arms and legs spraying in every direction. We even found a Boomer's arse lying nonchalantly in the street.
Dismemberment looks great and feels better; the first time you literally cave in a zombie's face with an axe you'll be convinced, just like we were, that Left 4 Dead 2's going to feel flight aged after some decent time with this.
The Melee Weapons
And if blowing limbs akimbo is satisfying, twatting a stumbling zombie in the face with a frying pan is brilliant fun. As well as the fry-up tool we also got to try out the lethal axe in our demo (the chainsaw was disappointingly unavailable) which chops through infected with incredible power and a plethora of gore.
However, melee weapons are still really only affective against small numbers of enemies as large groups will quickly make them look useless - and don't even think about using your pan on a Witch (we did... and paid for it).
Different hand tools also appear to be affective against different kinds of infected. One Survivor quickly tool down a Witch with an axe (after this Wally offered to cook her breakfast) and other pickups (baseball bats and of course, chainsaws) suggest more baddie mix and matching.
The New Maps
Valve's new dynamic approach to building Left 4 Dead maps - which has the AI Director opening up and blocking off routes through the environment at will - means that the sequel's colourful daytime streets offer a lot more room to explore.
Off-route abandoned villas and battered alleyways are far more plentiful in the demo we played, giving further justification to the introduction of various new pickups (including different kinds of handguns and incendiary ammo) that you're rewarded with for exploring.
In the original game, though the appearance of items, special infected and common baddies was dynamic, would always have you take the same route. Left 4 Dead 2's Southern locales will vary from a mad dashes to safety to winding death traps every time you play.
The sheer sprawl of the playfield also means it's easier for rookies to get lost and separated from the other survivors, and subsequently put to rest by an eagle-eyed Smoker... as we were. We'll pay attention next time.
The Charger is the first new special infected revealed for Left 4 Dead 2. In a nutshell, he's half Tank, half Rhinoceros, with one giant arm for knocking down survivors and speedy little legs for charging in out of nowhere.
In the demo we played Chargers were two a penny and carried hardly any of the fanfare gifted to the three original 'boss' zombies.
Two thirds of the time we only realised a Charger was in the crowd when its corpse came speeding towards the ground in front of our feet (see the tail end of the video below) and they're not the strongest of baddies either.
The idea is these charging beasts will split up - and briefly incapacitate - a group of survivors closely bunched together, which became a popular tactic in the original game. Unfortunately our group of Survivors put Chargers on the ground before they go anywhere near us.
Still, we acknowledge that this is very much a work in progress - and we haven't experienced even a fraction of the game - so these critters could be given a much needed boost in the run up to release.
The finales are one aspect of the original game that Valve felt needed a good kick in the backside. So instead of the farmhouse sieges we're used to the concluding acts in L4D2 are now frantic, relentless battles from A to B, as seen in the chaotic bridge crossing we got to play in London.
The rat race kicks off - naturally - with a radio. Once the survivors have radioed for help, a large barrier slowly and dramatically recoils to the ground and the action's kicked off with a traditional roar from the alerted horde.
Pictures a worth a thousand words - and moving ones even more - and you can watch the entire demo finale in our video footage below.
The new 'A to B' setup is designed so that players can't "game" their way through the finale, i.e. finding a nice bunker to hold up in and pointing four rifles out the door as was so commonly the best strategy in Left 4 Dead.
During our play sessions we witnessed plenty of players attempting to camp up inside an abandoned truck, only to run out of ammo and get completely overrun by the horde. It's now a more frantic, exciting and entertaining end to a campaign's events, and we welcome the change.