While I felt fairly zombie-like playing the somewhat controversial Left 4 Dead 2 (let's leave it at me being exhausted due to lack of sleep), it didn't stop me from having fun. While it's impossible to have sat around and play long enough to experience everything on offer with the new game, my initial thoughts are things here seem more directed. The first game's settings were a little bit on the bland and obvious side - dark back streets, dark sewers, a dark misty woods area and of course, the hospital (which had some dark, too). But here, with a sun soaked Deep South, the impending zombie apocalypse is painted just a little more scary.
There're cheap scares in things blistering out of a dark shadow at you, because you don't know what to expect, but when you see death running at you; blood-stained mouth from the juicy morsel of deceased dinner it just finished before smelling your fresh and heightened blood flow, well you just can't top that fear-factor. We saw the same thing happen with Resident Evil 4. Capcom pulled players out of the dark mansion and surrounding areas and into a fully day-lit Spanish village; and because that particular game had more potential death for you to see
it was infinitely more intense.
Of course, Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead really only have zombies in common, and with the newest additions of the L4D series, they're of the creole kind. Setting itself up in New Orleans, Left 4 Dead 2 already has options open for a more diverse range of gameplay. Swamps and Bourbon St are as geographically close as the game's story requires, this time fleshing out the game's universe quite a bit.
"It's more than just tossing those four survivors who've just met onto the moon or something," explains the game's writer, Chet Faliszek. "You want to have some concrete things in the world, because the world is real to us; we have rules for the world, fiction for the world and we want to keep exposing that to players."
It's important to note the core experience here hasn't changed. I jumped in and was killing zombies with gusto without a hitch - I didn't really need a primer on what to do, and when I did, it became a reactionary thing to what was happening around me. The Charger is also one mean character, but the absolute meanest of all now is the revamped Director who has a whole new sense of dynamism thanks to a larger creative toolset.
He has more powerful infected to throw your way, as well as atmospheric dynamic weather, and a renewed sense of level design to mess with your progressive path. In fact the whole game's directional flow is merely a series of open areas designed to slowly pull you into gauntlets where you'll face an unprecedented number of undead. Obviously all of this is in the hands of the menacing deity known as the Director, but other enemies have new tricks up their sleeves. A smoker, for example, managed to lash his disgusting (and far-reaching) tongue out to snare me, only when the camera snapped back so I could see the entrapment in embarrassing third-person glory, I saw that he'd wrapped his tongue up around and over various objects and tight geometry. This obviously makes for more intense support as your teammates are forced to go to the source of the tongue, which may be preciously situated in an area not at all helpful to the group's goal of sticking together.
But you also have some new tricks up your own sleeves. The characters in the game are Rochelle, a tough-as-nails lady who takes no crap. Coach, the big man. The ever agile Ellis and suited up honcho, Nick. Obviously there are your usual array of firearms, but there are two main differences this time around in the form of incendiary ammo (so you can set zombies on fire, and they have a tendency to spread said fire among themselves, so best left to long range) as well as the newly announced melee weapons that consist of an axe, baseball bat, frying pan and chainsaws. Not only do these weapons help in tight, tough situations where aiming a firearm just wouldn't help, they also make a delicious mess of things - which is really what the zombie experience is all about.
There are five campaigns in the world of Left 4 Dead 2, and we're told there's going to be a lot more story. Unfortunately I wasn't really privy to that as the room I was in was pretty loud, so dialogue and information was a bit of a lost cause. What I can tell you is the game looks
fantastic with stunning imagery and the sunset haze just casts the perfect light on the overall experience (don't go thinking it's all light though, there'll still be plenty of dark places for you to have to deal with).
My time with the game was somewhat limited, but I found the order of things, while familiar and easy to grasp, more complex in the overall delivery. The team of players I was 'surviving' with had clearly spent time with the game before, so it's not like we were slouches in the play department, but the Director really knew how to mess with us; my play-time ending fittingly with the massive and scary Charger, err, charging me down to a bloody pulp. Stupid teammates...
Don't believe the anti-hype, this game is going to be worth the price of admission when it ships this November 17. For more, check out our video interview
or our full interview transcript