With the launch just around the corner, Valve have shipped out a demo for the not-very-long-at-all awaited Left 4 Dead 2. It wasn’t something I was particularly looking forward to in all honesty – the fun of the original had long dried up but, you know, I really enjoyed my time with Left 4 Dead 1 though you can only play the same campaigns so many times. So while I wasn’t looking forward to the sequel per-se, a revisit to l4d with brand new content was more than a welcoming idea, and I do love bashing those zombies. However, after playing it through twice, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
The L4D2 demo sees you come off a boat into a campaign called The Parish. It’s the deep south New Orleans type vibe, and for me, this is where the problems start. Obviously this is just personal taste but the Southern America setting doesn’t really interest me, it’s just boring and you could almost say easy. It’s an easy place to stereotype – just include Jazz music and rednecks and you’re three quarters there. And it’s colourful, which goes beyond personal taste. The demo is set in the afternoon, complete with sun shining and water sparkling, and it feels wrong. Zombies are a night time thing; like hookers, kebabs, and drunken arguments over wether boss fights are ever a good thing. It needs to be dark so you can pick out horrible dead faces with your torch and constantly feel uncomfortable about all those dark corners and nasty sounds coming from just around them.
The new boss zombies are…hmm. There are three; The Jokey who can jump on the back of a player and try to run off with then, The Spitter who spits bile stuff that hurts, and another one that’s like half a tank that can charge and grab people. I like The 1/2 Tank thing and The Jokey – they are genuinely interesting/fun and make for new mechanics – The Spitter though is just lazy. She fires bright green, almost cartoonish goo on the floor that hurts if you stand on it. It’s lame at best and the colour of that goo looks absurd next to the rest of the L4D pallet – and I think this feeds in to why this demo has failed for me, it’s lost the essence of left 4 dead.
The original was drowning in atmosphere. The campaigns were eerie and you never felt safe – there was always something that you had to worry about and sticking in a group was as much about tactics as it was about making yourself feel better. Somewhere between the original and this though there has been a change in tact; and the best way I can illustrate is probably by highlighting the intro videos. The original saw our beloved survivors as just that – survivors. They are struggling, only just managing to get by and the idea of escape seems a massive task. “Run like hell” and “We just crossed the street” are the key quotes, which in themselves are defeatist and cynical. Now the new one sees them as fighters, the zombies more of an inconvenience that they revel in fighting. The defeatist, almost scared attitude has been replaced with one of aggression and cockeyness with “kill all sons-a-bitches”. The atmosphere is gone, the player changed from the hunted to the hunter – it’s not scary now, it’s just gory, and that’s an absolute shame.
It’s by far not all bad though. The gore is welcome – an integral part of the zombie movie genre is to have a ridiculous amount of blood and limbs flying through the screen. Voice acting is pretty much flawless, and the characters are actually far more enjoyable than I thought they would be. The new weapons are fine if not feeling a little lacking in feedback; though the new melee weapons which are plainly a delight to use – the spang of a frying pan as you play whak-a-mole with zombies is fantastic (though does play into that lack of aforementioned atmosphere).
So yeah, unfortunately I’ve come away from the demo disappointed but unsurprised. It’s just not that good. I mean, it’s not bad, there is definitely a decent game there, but it’s not by any means brilliant – the usual Valve standard. It feels like Left 4 Dead 1 with it’s soul taken out, or pointed in the direction of Dead Rising. In the end though, this is just a demo. It could have been a complete blunder on Valves part and they have shipped us something un-representative of the full game, but I can only go on what they give me. Grab it through steam anyway and let us know what you think.