Left 4 Dead 2

So.

Maybe.

I didn’t finish Mirror’s Edge. Maybe that was because Mass Effect 2 took off with me like an intergalactic Piper, whistling promises of space exploration, anticipated enhancements far surpassing its first venture, and reunions with alien allies that would fight by my side, pledge loyalty to my cause, and bang it out. All of this, I could not be denied, I had to follow. Maybe that’s it. Another way of saying it could be that we picked up an HDTV that my boyfriend has been relentlessly plying for all things baseball, hockey, and anything else that requires a protective cup. Not that I blame him, I’ve always liked sports, which has granted the Olympics headway in dominating the living room where I do a majority of my work (and drugs). Of course, none of this is an excuse, and as much as I love sports I don’t think I’m alone in the observation that if one even tries to come between a man and his sports…

Regardless. No excuse. I know. I do have two games ready for upcoming posts though – hooray!


Just another day in the bayou. Another fight for survival, kill all the undead rising out of the murky green water, set the Tank on fire, startle the wandering Witch, pray-for-your-goddamn-life-the-boat-will-come-on-time day in the bayou. New Orleans just isn’t the same since the dead came back to life, and by the end of just another day in the bayou, it will just keep spreading.

Which is good, I mean, if you enjoy Left4Dead 2. Changing the setting and the characters seems a less than tentative step from humble juggernaut Valve toward a bigger end. Left4Dead 2 opens up a really titillating consideration for new vistas. Maybe the streets and sewers of Paris? Foggy nights in London? The cold streets of Moscow? Jesus. What about Tokyo?

 

Considering everyone is on board, however. Left4Dead 2 faced some pretty ugly reactions upon announcing their intentions of release at E3 ’09; from dedicated Left4Dead fans gathering thousands of fellow deadites to boycott the game, to accusations of racism and insensitivity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Though many of these issues were met head on – “No, we have not forgotten L4D, there will be new content” and “Yes, that seems to be insanity you are suffering from, there are not just black zombies, and Hurricane Katrina has nothing to do with it in any case” – there is obviously a precedence there for the team to be aware of; the infected is one thing, it’s the fans that are scary.

What do we want?!
Lots of attention!
 
Fans have a voice, a voice which feels louder and more noticable in the video game industry, and fans do have their say, but c’mon. We’re talking about Valve here, whose track-record includes things like, oh, Half-Life? Let’s give the gang some credit here!
 
But in a way, you have to give the fans some credit on this one, too. That is some gnarly devotion, and the first game really was that friggin’ good. The Director was a huge step for enemy A.I that would reward and punish a player in a way similar to a kid luring out ants with some sugar before zapping them with a magnifying glass. Also, the use of cinematic tools brought a rich quality to the game that would be great to see more of in future Valve projects such as their aforementioned Half-Life episodes. Tools like vignetting elevated tension, color correction brought further detail in level design, and other elements such as film grain and sharpening gave the game a whole new visual sexiness. Cinematography and lighting became the player’s “map” to a level.

 

In this case, yes, we do want to go towards the light.
How could Valve even think to top this sort of stuff? Especially with new characters no one knows, in a new city with new weapons no one has ever used and facing new zombie friends. Now, I can get behind a game going against the grain of a typical video game sequel, but I’ll admit that as a fan I could understand the skepticism. But then I got to play it and, no shit, it felt so good to be so wrong.
 
If only Nick were there, too…

You have your choice of four zombie baits: Coach, who is just what (awesome) his name (awesome) implies (and awesome). Nick, a con artist who would prefer the company of the zombies over his team and possesses my undying affection (call me). Rochelle, caught up in all the madness while she reported on the evacuation effort. And Ellis, your classic, Southern, bump-on-a-log who knows how to handle cars and dip a lot better than people. They have their strengths, they have their weaknesses. Nick has ex-wives to spare should he run out of bullets, I’d call that a strength, while Rochelle’s only weakness seems to be saying “son of a bee-sting”. They’re plucky and mismatched, and they’re also armed to the teeth.

(l to r): My husband, Rochelle, Coach, and Ellis

Because in this go around of L4D, you get melee weapons, and they are happy inducing. Electric guitars make a satisfying TWANG upon impact, and my Shaun of the Dead loving heart fluttered when I got to wield a cricket bat. There are tons of other melee weapons, and I won’t get into all of them, suffice it to say that being struck with Boomer bile and subsequently assaulted by a horde of zombies ain’t so bad when you got a chainsaw on hand. Don’t worry, if melee isn’t your thing there is a menagerie of firearms to choose from, some of them old friendlies like the shotgun and dual pistols, to others newcomers such as the grenade launcher, magnum, and various species of rifles and shotguns.

TWANG!

You also have new equipment beyond the bullets, blades, Molotovs, pipe bombs, and happy pills. Boomer bile canisters can be thrown on Tanks, who are then jumped by tons of zombies – always a plus. Defibrillator units can resuscitate your team-mate, adrenaline shots will boost your speed and health for a brief period, and you can modify your ballistics with explosive and fire ammo. Laser sight extensions for your guns are also available! Hell yes, I… really didn’t use most of this stuff. I mean, I dabbled in them, but when said defibrillator and explosive ammunition replaced my health pack, I quickly went back to my pack. A few of my friends swear by the modified pieces, but I just find them extraneous. Still, pretty cool to watch a bullet set a zombie on fire from time-to-time. It’s like a little Molotov cocktail in my gun.

 

I think one of my favorite modifications in this game was the improvement of the mini-events. In the first game you’d have to open a door, which would sound an alarm, and alert the zombies, who’d pour onto your position with a firm determination to eat all your brains, etc., etc.. In this game, let’s say you open that same door door, and the alarm sounds, only this time you have to go shut it off in a completely different area of the map. Until you do that, you will be assaulted by horde after horde after horde, and even after you have shut it off, the last wave still has to finish out. This ups the difficulty of the sequel considerably over the first one.

New specials like Spitters, Jockeys, Chargers, Lady Boomers, are all newcomers to the brain buffet, but they are not alone. Hidden in those hordes you are so desperately trying to dispatch are a few undead Easter eggs. There are zombies in HAZMAT suits that are immune to fire. There are clown zombies in the carnival level, and you can always tell they’re on their way when you hear that ominous squeak, squeak, squeak amidst the groans and shrieks. Turned police officers have to be melee’d to expose a vulnerable back, considering their bullet proof vests protest their chest and stomach. Familiar special zombies like the Boomers, Smokers, Hunters, and Tank have also been spruced up for the sequel. This is one of my favorite things about Valve. They don’t just finish a project, be that a character or design or weapon, without the intention of returning for more work, more polish. Just a little extra shine.


I mean, it was that or “Swallower”. Technically, all zombies do that. No new ground being broken there, Romero.

If playing lonesome and alone in the dark isn’t your thing, you can always hop on-line and make kindly, totally not abusive in the least friends via multiplayer! Nothing will bring out the beast in a gamer more than competitive FPS games. Still, it’s refreshing in an almost sadistic way to know that somewhere out there is a person with nothing but burning hatred for you, a livid fury that only shines brighter as their attempts to veto you are denied over and over again. It’s the kind of foam-at-the-mouth frenzy that can only be brought about when I had the chance to play a Jockey and run a survivor into a Spitter’s acidic upchuck.

Bonk!

In multiplayer, you can rock it old school in your Member’s Only jacket and Flock of Seagulls hair do if in this scenario L4D was released in the 80s. Anyway, Versus brings you back to the roots of the game, switching you between Infected and Survivor through the span of a campaign. Survivor is there too, pitting you in a fight for your life against the Infected for as long as you can last. The only thing that could improve Survivor would be if I could join the game as an Infected, but that would just be Versus again, so I let me just reel that opinion back in. I just like playing zombies, I suppose!

I mean, nothing gets my griefing engine going more than playing the Infected, and the best place to vent this blood curdling talent is in Scavenge. This is a pretty cool one. The Survivors attempt to gather gas canisters to fill the tank of a racecar on display in the mall. This is a finale event in one of the campaigns, only this time you can play both sides of the fence which becomes an effort in concocting nothing short of pure, unadulterated rage fuel for some most people involved.

It’s like college all over again. Go VCU RAMS!

What’s awesome about L4D 2 is not just that it has the Valve sticker, you can see the work that went into the project. The graphics are smooth, the detail remarkable, the new characters entertaining, the levels and their scenarios tighter, more challenging, and definitely unique despite being tied together in a single, ambiguous plot. The fact there is an overarching story that travels behind the scenes of these levels connected me to the characters for the long haul, rather than connecting, disconnecting, and reconnecting with several different places and situations. Much more cohesive than the start-and-stop-start again of the first game. Mini-events and finale events also break up the monotony of the hike, and definitely kept me on my toes.

None of this is to say the first game was bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. The zombie frenzy has a tight hold on entertainment, and reinventing an approach to this graphic, brainy medium can be difficult. Instead of separating themselves from their predecessors, Valve paid homage and kept it simple. So minimalist, in fact, that they never really explain where the zombie breakout came from. All you had as a player in the first – and have as a player in the second – game was the rambling on the wall. The first game was a great achievement for Valve, but L4D 2 really meets all the potentials that may have been missed in the first game. When you play the game, you see these achievements, you feel it as that tension creeps back in and you keep close to your team. Valve has managed to blend what we all love about zombie films and stories into an entertaining pair of games that I can only hope will keep growing, keep spreading, keep coming to get me.

Replayability 1
Design 2
Story 1
Sound 2
Gameplay & Mechanics 2
Score: 8 out of 10

 

Valve out does itself with this sequel, and shines better than ever even through all the blood and brains. There are some extraneous items in the game, but this does not render the game unplayable. Multiplayer has expanded, and so has the L4D universe. If you are new to the franchise, or a veteran that wants to see L4D meets its maximum potential, you don’t want to miss this one.

Stay tuned for the dish inspired by the game! We’re looking at a ruby red crawfish étouffée.

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About ourladywar

I love food and I love games. When I'm not stuffing my face or throwing my controller against the wall, I work as a full-time line chef. I am also trying to launch my own catering company. Otherwise? I act and I write to make sure the hobbies get their due. Thanks for checking me out!
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