Previewed on the Xbox 360
Left 4 Dead 2 puts Valve in a very different position than they have been accustomed to. Following the announcement at E3, over 40,000 angry fans signed an online petition pledging to boycott the product because they felt it should have simply been downloadable content for the original L4D. Everyone can argue endlessly about whether it is fair for a company to do this or whether people are just complaining due to Valve’s track record of free and continuous DLC support for Team Fortress 2. What matters now is whether this feels like a standalone game, something that should have been DLC, or a cheap selling out of Valve’s reputation in a move that would have been more foreseeable from other high profile companies.
As I picked up the controller to start the Swamp Fever campaign, the L4D instincts that had been honed over the last year immediately kicked in. There was the shotgun, machine gun, and health packs. All four of us chattered about weapon choices and ensured the others had picked up their medpacks, just like in the original L4D. As we moved forward into the swamp we set up a marching order, called out special infected, and asked to slow down or get moving.
Even the setting felt very familiar, as if it would fit right into the first game. The trees choked out what little light would have been visible from the last rays of sun or the moon, while wooden planks and bridges spanned the distance between small areas of land in the swamp. Only the voices that called out enemy locations or screamed for an ally to stop shooting them provided the smallest hint of change, at least, until the Charger decided to make an appearance.
One of the new special infected, the Charger, almost resembles a mini tank. It specializes in surprise, charging and knocking survivors away from each other. I made the unpleasant discovery of another attack it’s capable of, after it picked me up in one giant, meaty paw and pounded my face in with the other. Thankfully, the other survivors came to my rescue and pumped hot lead into the beast. The other Charger we encountered was much less intimidating as it charged right off a bridge to the swamp below, allowing us to take it out from relative safety above.
Beside the familiar foes of the special infected from the first game, the other new special infected we saw was rendered almost irrelevant by the environment we were in at the time. The Spitter has the ability to spray some sort of acid that covers an area for a period of time. Any survivors that stand on this will take damage. It didn’t exactly make things difficult for us as we continued on our march to the next safe room, but it has great implications for Versus mode. Anyone that has seen the Survivors stack in certain areas of the original game that left them virtually untouchable while waiting for a door to open or rescue to arrive will quickly realize this changes the dynamic.
When we came upon a fire axe, I was initially worried about the loss of range, as I consider range crucial in any zombie encounter. When a melee weapon is picked up, it temporarily takes the place of any other equipment or weapons that can be wielded. It must be tossed to the ground to use a medpack or pull out a gun. With my shiny new axe, I took over leading the way, while infected after infected lost limbs to the sharp implement. It performed best when we were beset by the horde in a wooden structure. Holding the door was almost too easy, as each swipe would cut apart 4 to 5 of the beasts.
Walking away from the game left me arguing with myself about whether this was DLC or new game material. Most people wouldn’t think twice if this was any other company in the industry, just cashing in by churning out a simple sequel. Valve may be a victim of their own success after releasing what could arguably be called the greatest deal in gaming history with The Orange Box and the TF2 DLC. Because of their track record and my time with this game, I’m inclined to bet that Valve is once again creating something that will be worth every penny. After all, who wouldn’t want more variables tossed into the equation that has led to so many sessions with, and stories about, the original Left 4 Dead?