A little while back when I was ruminating on recent horror-flavored video games, I mentioned Left 4 Dead and how I dig it. Well, thanks to the repulsive, disgusting consumerfest known as Black Friday I scored a copy of the recently-released sequel (cleverly titled Left 4 Dead 2) for but a pittance. Hooray, more zombie-blasting action!
In Left 4 Dead 2, players assume the persona of a survivor making their way through zombie-infested hordes in search of rescue, stopping in safe rooms across the way. While this is essentially the same idea as the original L4D, the gameplay has been tweaked and ratcheted up to new levels of insanity.
First and foremost comes the addition of melee weapons. In addition to blasting away the undead with shotguns and pistols, you can now hack 'em up with axes and machetes, or whack 'em with a frying pan (which results in a rather satisfying "gonnnggg" sound), or mow 'em down with a chainsaw. It's visceral and immediate and really, really gross- holy moly, the grue flies in this game. The screen is splattered with blood, zombie entrails leave trails on the ground, and body parts are everywhere; the gore, in fact, is so prevalent that the game has been banned in Australia.
These are new era zombies, the kind that run straight for your face faster than the wind and/or Flo Jo...and there are just so many of them, they never seem to stop coming at you. Several times I've cautiously stepped out of a safe room only to be set upon by a mass of the undead gunning for me. The difficulty level, it seems, has been ramped up a bit in L4D2, and I'm not complaining- it's total madness.
Both the sequel and the original game feature intermittent "crescendo events", wherein players are forced to make enough noise to attract the horde. For example, you've got to open an alarmed door to proceed, and the blaring sound will infuriate the hundreds of zombies in the surrounding area. In the original game, the sound would eventually stop on its own; now, however, you've got to figure out a way to stop the noise yourself. You know, open a door and fight your way through a store (and masses of the undead) to reach the alarm's off button. It's a welcome addition that adds incredible tension- and frequently has me running out of ammo.
In addition to your run of the mill rotters, L4D2 features "special infected"- sort of uber-zombies who have abilities above and beyond running fast and biting hard. All the special infected from the first game return- the Boomer is back to puke more undead-attracting bile on you- but there's a whole new batch of them to avoid as well.
Story has never been a hallmark of Left 4 Dead- it's all action, and the plot is boiled down to the simplest "the world is fucked, let's get out of here!" terms. That's much the same here, although the 5 scenarios ("campaigns") are loosely intertwined and somewhat sequential; at the end of one, for example, players drive off in a car...at the start of the next campaign, they're forced to abandon the car when the highway becomes impassable. The setting (Louisiana, from the bayous to New Orleans) is on a larger scale than that in the first game, and you truly feel as if you're making your way across the land in search of help. Along the way are abandoned evac sites and refugee stations, and it quickly becomes obvious that the government agency dealing with the zombie outbreak ("CEDA") has, for one reason or another, failed the local population. Hints of Hurricane Katrina can't be ignored, and it's easy to surmise that yeah, this is probably the way shit would go down if this ever happened....which, who knows? Walls covered with graffiti claiming that "THIS IS NOT A FLU!" have turned my horror-loving brain to thoughts of the media's incessant, alarmist swine flu coverage.
I hope it is just a flu, of course, because if my Left 4 Dead 2 skills are any indication, I'll be royally screwed if there's a zombie outbreak. I'm always getting puked on by the Boomer, or pummeled by the Charger...I'm always accidentally shooting my teammates and running out of ammo. Of course, if there was a zombie outbreak, I wouldn't know about it for days because I'd be inside playing video games.
Speaking of which, my fellow nerds, I'm finally on Xbox Live- see my badge over yonder to the right and add me or whatever it is you kids do there. I don't know why my rep is anything less than stellar- I've yet to actually interact with anybody, and quite frankly I'd give myself 5 stars, whether I accidentally shoot my teammates or not.