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.
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.
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.