Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Impressions

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The Left 4 Dead 2 demo just clawed its way out of the cold earth to entertain the general public with its unique brand of frantic, zombie-slaying goodness. I went charging through the hordes, guitar in hand, and can report that there are quite a lot of zombies. And they bleed. A lot.

Structurally, L4D2 is identical to its predecessor. Four survivors make their way from safehouse to safehouse, navigating the hordes of Infected that line every street. Left 4 Dead 2 boasts spectacular new levels of gore, new survivors, new guns, melee weapons, more special boss infected and ‘gauntlet’ events. It’s the latter of all of these which proves to be the most exciting addition. Valve observed the playing habits of those playing the original game and noticed that habitually survivors would hide in a corner or a cupboard and stave off the hordes from a well defended position. The ‘gauntlet’ succeeds in remedying this.

Now sometimes when a panic event is activated in one location, it must be concluded in another. As you travel to the end of the gauntlet the all-knowing AI Director which controls the hordes will throw wave after wave of Infected your way. The only choice is to run, picking off charging Infected as you go, fending off the brain-hungry fiends attacking from all sides. It’s frantic and terrifying.

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Fortunately when the monsters get too close and you’re becoming overwhelmed you have the welcome option of switching to a dedicated melee weapon. These are scattered throughout the levels and you’re just as likely to be liquidising zombie brains with a guitar as a machete. Getting up close and personal with your foes is where Left 4 Dead 2 gets messy. Hitting a zombie with a machete has serious consequences. Body parts fly off, blood spurts and bubbles from gaping wounds, entrails fly and generally a huge mess is made. It’s a fitting homage to the hyperviolence of the zombie movie influences that provide the basis for the Left 4 Dead experience.

While the melee weapons are visceral and perfectly satisfying, the new guns leave something to be desired. They’re hissy thin-sounding things which feel as though they’d struggle to bother a pane of glass. The silenced SMG in particular disappoints as it rattles off its shots to weedy bursts of static. The weapons you fire bear little reaction to the spectacular violence they inflict.

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The new special boss Infected also fail to make an impression, though the brevity of the demo stops them from showing their full potential. Over the course of a full campaign, in different environments, they might really come into their own, but for now they are a minor nuisance at worst.

The demo’s too short to really get a sense of the new survivors.  The old team were much loved but Valve promise character devlopment over the course of the five campaigns that will be included in the full game, and this could lend them more depth than the old survivors ever had.

I loved the original Left 4 Dead. It was a superb game in its own right, but the pleasure really came from throwing LAN parties with friends and nailing each campaign on expert. Left 4 Dead 2 looks to have taken Left 4 Dead and made it bigger and better. The new deep south setting will hopefully add some much needed sense of place to the levels which, in the original game, were guilty of treading the cliched game locations such as sewers, offices and warehouse. The gauntlet events are set to be great and no doubt the finales will provide some memorable gaming moments. All in all, I have sky high hopes for the full product when it arrives on November 17th.


Ludo out.


5 Responses to “Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Impressions”

  1. 1 Owen
    November 4, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Does it tell you when you’re in a gauntlet? Or do you just keep fighting zombies until you realise you have to move? Do you still get infinite pistol bullets? That was one of the least realistic parts of the original, in my opinion, and I would have thought that the introduction of the melee weapons would be precisely so they could remove infinite pistol bullets. If you hit a teammate with a melee weapon do they take any damage? Did you get to test them on the Tank, to see how much damage they actually do? I saw a video of L4D2 on YouTube a few weeks ago, and it seemed like the characters (mainly the zombies) looked a bit more cartoonish than in the original. I wasn’t sure if they had finished the graphics yet when they released the video, because they looked a bit poor, and your screenshots also look a bit strange. Have you noticed that? Or, when I see the full game in action, will I be happy with the graphics?

  2. 2 Ludo
    November 4, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    It’s really clear when you’re in a gauntlet, the characters generally announce what you need to do, and you can see where the switch is from a mile away.

    You do still get infinite pistol bullets.

    There IS friendly fire with melee weapons, though it doesn’t seem too severe. I haven’t yet been able to clobber a tank with them.

    I didn’t notice anything odd about the zombies. When the game’s in motion it’s so fast that you don’t really have time to study them. If anything the game looks a bit crisper then L4D1.

  3. 3 Owen
    November 4, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    I’m going to download the demo to see for myself what it’s like, or whether it’ll even run. Quite worryingly I don’t have enough disk space for the demo so I’m rummaging around the computer looking for rubbish to delete! May report back later…

  4. 4 Owen
    November 5, 2009 at 3:12 am

    It took me seven hours just to download the demo so I’ll have a go at it probably on Friday evening now.

  5. 5 Owen
    November 5, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    OK I have played the demo a couple of times now so here is my review.

    It’s definitely an improvement altogether (obviously), but there are some new things about it that are great and some that are silly. First the silly: Most of the melee weapons are way over the top in terms of damage. How could one normal person decapitate ten zombies in a row with an electric guitar? Likewise with the frying pan, and I can’t imagine a zombie taking too much damage from a nightstick either. Hitting people with things is a bit cartoonish and reminds me of Team Fortress in that respect. Some of the new infected are a bit silly as well. What is the point of the jockey? I can’t see any rational explanation for why one would exist. I quite like the chargers, except for their ridiculous speed. They’re a bit like mini-tanks, taking about 4-5 shotgun blasts to kill, but their speed is silly. The spitters are alright, although I noticed they do a ton of damage to you. In my first game I played it on normal and I went from about 90 in health to 1 from that alone. Some of the new items are also a bit weird. Why would boomer bile just be hanging about on street corners? Who actually procures that? The defibrillator and the adrenaline are two more stupid additions. Don’t defibrillators only work about 1% of the time in particularly relevant scenarios, like when the heart fails? How likely is it that one would work on somebody dead in the street whose had their face eaten off? I think some of these negatives might be solved by use of the Realism function. I don’t really know what that entails but if it does what it says on the tin it sounds good.

    Onto the good. I think the thing I liked the best was the massive variety of types of infected, and particularly special infected. The female boomers and smokers are pretty funny. Plus I fought against a tank (I attempted to take him with a frying pan but he was having none of it), and it looked quite unique: about unique enough to still be recognisable as a tank. I also like the animations of zombies getting shot at. I crept up on one guy and shot him in the spine side-on and half his back blew away, which was satisfying. You can be shooting zombies at a distance, just getting hits on them knowing that somebody else will probably finish them off when they get closer, you turn around and back again and suddenly there’s a zombie in your face with only one arm, which is fun. I don’t think this applies to the special infected who still just absorb your shots until they die, but it’s a good start. If you shoot at a zombie running at you with the big machine gun you can pretty much reduce them to a skeleton by the time they collapse at your feet. I also quite like the characters, and the dialogue is pretty good between them, and Coach isn’t massively over-sized and clumsy as I thought he might be. The guns were hit and miss. There’s a weird thing you pick up near to the gauntlet that fires single shots that insta-kill and go through zombies like the sniper rifle and doesn’t make much noise or leave much mark on its victims. The little machine gun actually makes quite a nice sound in my opinion, but the pistol looks and sounds like something out of Star Trek. Also I like some of the mannerisms of the zombies. Sometimes you see them howling skywards and making some other gestures. Haven’t seen any puking yet though, or lying on the ground.

    All in all it looks pretty decent. I don’t think it’s become too complicated. The original was great because of its simplicity if anything, and I don’t think this has gone too far to negate that.

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