Left 4 Dead 2 is a game that’s been mired in controversy, whether it’s Australia refusing classification for the game or a boycott by fans of the first game, unhappy a sequel is coming so soon and accusing developer Valve of going back on a promise and stating that the game couldn’t be any good due to the quick turnaround time after the first Left 4 Dead. Outside of the controversy, though, the game is being anticipated this fall for a number of reasons, whether it’s the new cast of survivors, the new settings, the new infected or any of the other new features that have been planned for Left 4 Dead 2. At PAX, I had the chance to check out the new title from Valve on the Xbox 360 and see if those who were complaining about the game really had a valid point. Well, part of the way, at least: my teammates let me down and I had to watch the rest from others playing.
The new campaign, called “Dark Carnival,” takes place in three stages, so to speak. The first part is along a highway and at an abandoned motel, with plenty of empty rooms for infected to hide in. The second part travels down along a riverbed to the third part, the actual amusement park for which the campaign is named. Sadly, I died in the second part during my playthrough, but I did stick around enough to see a team of four get to the amusement park. The goal here was basically the same — get to the safe room alive and continue your escape — but there were a few new traps thrown in the way, such as a merry-go-round that you have to shut off after it comes to life so the horde doesn’t come after you. The park itself is home to zombies with clown-painted faces, something that should scare the crap out of you if you’ve ever seen It. Then again, if you’ve ever seen It, clowns should scare you, period. The whole level features an overcast, gloomy feel that adds to the apocalyptic vibe of the game, with just enough light and lighted places to give you a false sense of hope.
The new special infected were also out in full force. The Boomer, Hunter, Smoker and Witch are all back, joined by three new friends. First up, there’s The Jockey. His job is to hop onto your backs and steer you towards danger until someone shoots him off of you, and for the most part, he really does this well. I got jumped as I was playing, and the end result feels a little bit like drunk walking in Grand Theft Auto IV: you’ve got some limited control to fight back, but it’s very hard to move about once The Jockey’s latched on. Secondly, there’s The Spitter, whose power is similar to that of The Boomer, but she leaves behind an acidic residue on the ground. Touching it eats away at a player’s health until they escape it, and she also seems to be a bit faster than The Boomer. Lastly, there’s the aptly named Charger. On several occasions, we ran into one of these beasts, who proceeded to pick up one of the survivors, bowl over anyone else in the way, and then repeatedly bash the captured survivor into the ground once it stopped. The Charger is a little bit like a miniature Tank and will likely become the new pain in the ass for Left 4 Dead 2 players. Each of the new infected adds an interesting and needed twist to the game’s strategy, perhaps even putting an end to the old gung-ho way of running into crowds with guns blazing.
Melee weapons are the single biggest new addition on the survivor end of things. New weapons like axes, chainsaws and cricket bats are equipable, taking the place of your pistols in your inventory. They work as one-hit kills on regular zombies, but they swing a bit slowly. That ought to be enough of a deterrent to keep people from melee spamming the way they push spam in Left 4 Dead. Still, it’s a nice option to have these in the game and work as a sidegrade more than an upgrade, once again adding in a bit of strategy. Do you stick with the unlimited ammo of the pistols or go to the more powerful, slower melee weapons? The other inventory change is that survivors can now carry pipe bombs and Molotovs simultaneously, something they may need to get past the hordes of the undead this time around.
And speaking of the hordes of the undead, the new more-realistic zombie damage models were at PAX … but it really wasn’t anything too noticeable or noteworthy. Sure, it’s nice to see them lose a limb here and there when you swing your axe or fire your shotgun, but it’s more a small touch than a drastic change, and one you probably won’t be spending a lot of time admiring while you try to survive.
To make a long story short, Left 4 Dead 2 is, yes, a lot more of the same at its core, but the new elements to the game add another layer of strategy. The new level wasn’t anything too different, but the new special infected are going to make players a little more cautious before they try and pull a Rambo-esque zombie killing spree. There’s a whole lot more we didn’t get to see at PAX, like the new game modes and the other campaigns, but if “Dark Carnival” was a taste of what’s to come, they should all be pretty good. The full version of Left 4 Dead 2 will hit the PC and Xbox 360 on November 17, and hopefully by then, we’ll all be too busy chopping up zombies to be complaining.