E3 2009: The Five: Left 4 Dead 2
The Skinny: More than a downloadable update, Left 4 Dead 2 is an honest-to-God sequel to last year's smash-hit co-op shooter. That means four new characters fighting for survival through new co-op and Versus campaigns. New weapons, new zombies, new everything! Did I mention that Left 4 Dead 2 is all-new?
1. Remember the old exploitation-themed posters for the original game? The first playable portion of Left 4 Dead 2 took place in a campaign called "The Parish." Players start on a dock in a seaside town that resembles New Orleans. The action takes place in broad daylight, with the sound of cicadas buzzing in the air. Flashlights aren't needed until the Survivors make it indoors.
2. The wrecked cities and outdoor expanses of Left 4 Dead had a distinct Northeastern feel. With Left 4 Dead 2's Southern setting comes an entirely new vibe. The buildings in "The Parish" take on the architectural style of the French Quarter. The teeming Infected are dressed in the bright colors and casual shorts suitable for weathering the Southern heat. There are fewer cops and army men among the undead. Instead, Survivors can expect to encounter flame-resistant zombies in hazmat gear.
3. As usual, Valve relies on setting and action to tell the story. In "The Parish" we see a town poised for an evacuation. One of the big set pieces takes place near a bus station, where citizens were corralled through high fences. When players enter, an alarm sounds atop a military guard post. With the horde alerted, players must navigate their way through the maze of fencing and turn off the klaxons to stop the horde. If the Survivors make it through this gauntlet in one piece they'll find a depot full of busses that never left -- a morbid nod to the incidents around hurricane Katrina.
4. Of course, we'll also get a little bit of story filtered through the four new characters. Sadly, the cacophony of E3 wasn't the best environment for listening to the chatter between Coach, Rochelle, Ellis and Nick. My biggest concern about the new survivors is that Ellis (a southern grease monkey) and Nick (a grifter) don't differentiate as easily as Bill and Francis do. Valve may need to tweak the looks of Ellis and Nick to help them stand apart.
5. Perhaps the biggest tweak to gameplay will come via the new weapons scattered around the landscape. More game-changing than the new firearms are melee weapons, like the axe. When you're wielding one of these pickups, you can't switch your guns without dropping the weapon on the floor. Timely grabbing and ditching of these destructive melee tools will be key. The axe was great for clearing mobs of zombies, but for every second you've got the thing in your hands, that's a second that you're not killing the zombies that are after your teammates.
The Verdict: Only the brain-dead would consider a boycott.
This preview is based on a hands-on demo of the Xbox 360 game at E3 2009.
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