When Left 4 Dead 2 was announced at Microsoft's press conference last week, cheers went up from the crowd to celebrate the arrival of the sequel to the phenomenally successful zombie-smasher on the Xbox 360 as an exclusive title. It turns out that exclusivity had only extended as far as the console space because on the first day of E3, I managed to get a taste of the gory zombie-slayer on the PC.
A mission from the main campaign was available, and this time around, the action took place in the Big Easy, New Orleans, with a new crew of survivors trying to escape the confines of what had been the home of Mardi Gras, Although the Xbox 360 version was running only a few feet away, there were, unsurprisingly, no seats available for me, but fortunately, there was an opening on the PC side. I promptly jumped in as Ellis to protect my newfound buddies.
Four new characters comprise L4D2's survivors. There's Ellis, whose cap and grizzled five o'clock shadow made him out to be an unassuming destroyer of the undead; Rochelle, the news reporter who can wield a shotgun as well as an automatic pistol; Coach, who looks like Ving Rhames give or take 100 pounds; and Nick, whose white suit, shoes and party shirt look like they had just left a party only moments earlier.
Not much had changed from the first game. The zombies are as relentless as ever, pushing, prodding and hounding me and my fellow journalists into alleyways, hedge mazes and abandoned military cordons. At one point, we thought we were safe enough to go back to a shop and restock on ammo, but that turned out to be a big mistake. More mindless corpses poured over the walls and fences to tear us apart, and before long, we had quickly spent the methane tanks, fuel cans and pipe bombs that we had hoped to save up for our push through the garden hedges ahead. It was exhilarating stuff, and a few of the familiar threats — the Tank, the Smoker and the Witch — were back to grind everyone into maggot-infested meat. There was also another zombie, the Charger, who lived up to its name by running through one of my fellow slayers before we managed to put it down.
While L4D2 will seem familiar to fans of the first title, new locales, such as New Orleans, give would-be monster mashers new tactical challenges in learning the maps. We had to get to a bridge which, as Coach had pointed out in a short scene, was conveniently across the water. That meant fighting through a small neighborhood and all of the abandoned roadblocks, spaces and parks between it and our objective — and it was filled with plenty of walking corpses that were eager to sink their teeth into our brains. I quickly learned that there was nowhere to hide as rigor mortis failed to keep the dead hordes from climbing, jumping and running at us in an unrelenting wave.
There were also a few new weapons to try in the demo. One of the other players, as Coach, found a fire ax that he used to chop down the dead with every swing, like a medieval warrior hell-bent on cleansing the world of zombie filth. Another player, as Nick, managed to find a frying pan that he used to wallop the dead as we tried to break out of what had probably been a nice restaurant before everyone died.
Gore, broken bodies and blood-spattered asphalt were only some of the visuals that the Source engine painted the screen with, but in watching the performance of the Xbox 360 crowd, the game was certainly still on par with what was being seen on the PC and with a consistent frame rate. Zombies in L4D2 shamble, rush in and swing just as wildly on both platforms.
The only thing that may be a concern to certain fans is the feeling that L4D2, as it looks right now, may come off as an expansion pack of new levels that are being priced as a brand-new title. The basic gameplay remains relatively the same with only different locales to stomp your way through, which has created a few threads of concern on Valve's forums. L4D's gameplay is still here, only now in a vastly new area filled with its own environmental choke points and killing fields, and it will be up to the fans to decide whether or not they want to support the game by adding it to their collection of survival horror.
If the cheering crowd at Microsoft's press conference and the enthusiasm of the demo players at E3 were any indication, Left 4 Dead 2 will still manage to find a warm reception when it arrives on shelves November 17, 2009.
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