November 5, 2009

Fifty Posts

Well, more than fifty posts, but about 50 REAL posts, when you set aside the crap. Woooo! Here's to many more. But anyway. I wanted to talk about Left 4 Dead 2 today- the first game since Half-Life 2 Episode 2 to sound like a baseball score. Okay, I stole that gag from Yahtzee. Man. A landmark post, and I've ripped someone else off inside of a paragraph. Encouraging.

Anyway. So, I bought the original Left 4 Dead, and I enjoyed it for a while- I thought it was quite a good game. It was simple, solid fun- a great multiplayer experience. The problem with the game, of course, was that there wasn't a lot there. There were only seven weapons (plus two thrown weapons), a handful of campaigns, and six enemy types (zombie, hunter, smoker, boomer, tank, witch). The core gameplay was wonderful- it was like a delicious zombie B-movie, coupled with Valve's always excellent writing. It was a delight. But there wasn't enough variety, and even with the AI Director, which promised to make every playthrough unique... the game got pretty predictable.

So Left 4 Dead 2 is almost out now, and the demo is free on Xbox Live. There's the whole "paying for the experience we should have gotten with L4D1" that people are bitching about, but I can say I disagree, and don't really wanna talk about it here. It's an argument where neither side is gonna convince the other of shit, and it's just gonna be a bunch of yelling. Pointless. Let's talk, though, about what's improved.

For starters, item selection is muuuch better. The demo likely doesn't even have all the weapons in the game, but I have used some eleven primary weapons, nearly double L4D's six, (3 assault rifles, 2 sniper rifles, 4 shotguns, 2 submachine guns) six secondary weapons over only one in the first, (pistol, magnum, guitar, machete, nightstick, frying pan) and four items over L4D's two (medkit, defibrillator, pain pills, adrenaline). Oh, and a new thrown weapon too, the Boomer Bile. There are now plenty more enemy types, three new special infected and the new uncommon zombies. Of the new enemies... the uncommons vary based on level, so all I've seen is the one from Parish, but it's good, it's interesting. They aren't hard so much as you have to take a moment to think about them. You can't just point, boom, dead, you have to deliberately act against them.

Of the new special infected, I am sold on two out of three. The Charger seems to have a hard-on for me, I got charged by him six times in one game (!!!), but he's a very good addition. If you see him coming, he's avoidable, but he moves very fast, and like many special infected, if he hits you, another player has to help you or it's all over. He's half tank, half hunter- instead of discouraging you from wandering off, he's there to discourage you from sticking TOO close to your allies. The Spitter serves much the same purpose- she spits acid on the ground, making it deadly to stand on, thus preventing camping, and sometimes splitting groups up by trapping one member on the wrong side of the acid pool. She's not very much of a threat, usually, but she can really screw you over. The Jockey, though... I can appreciate what they were trying to do, but in the end, he just feels like a lamer, more pain-in-the-ass version of the Hunter. He grabs onto you, and basically forces you to run away from the group while he rips you apart. He doesn't have a very interesting feel, I think.

Other than those changes (though they are significant) it appears to have remained much the same game. The Witches now roam instead of just sitting and sobbing, and that's a good change, and the one big set piece in the demo level is significantly more interesting than ones from the prequel- having to run to turn off an alarm instead of just holing up and waiting for it to end is much more interesting. I think it's walking a fine line, frankly. They said that it was too much of a change to be an expansion pack, and I play it on 360, where it certainly would have... but for a full sequel, it feels like they could have done more.

It's still preliminary analysis, because this is just the demo, and certain the full game seems worth buying, but I would have liked to see them play around with some core concepts more. Multiple paths through the levels, perhaps letting the AI Director choose those paths- maybe a door that was your way out last time will be locked this time. Barracades that collapse under the weight of a furious zombie onslaught. It's an excellent game, but it plays it too safe. There may be more content in the final product, but the core features are locked- these things aren't going to change. Maybe for L4D3. Oh come on, you know they're gonna make it.

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