Left 4 Dead 2 Comic-Con PreviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Jul 23, 2009
Will the angry online petitions continue with new revelations from Valve regarding Left 4 Dead 2? Tough to tell, but one thing's for sure: based on what I played at EA's event earlier today, I for one, won't have much of a problem forking out my own hard-earned $60 to buy a copy. Today, Valve provided a new hands-on encounter with the recently unveiled "Swamp Fever" chapter. On the heels of "The Parish," a New Orleans-inspired segment of the shooter sequel, this new section brought with it new perils, and a glimpse of some of L4D2's new methods of separating you from your teammates. Here's a hint, most of it deals with fire.
When I played at E3, I took on the role of riverboat gambler Nick. Today, I randomly ended up with hapless mechanic Ellis. In terms of eventual outcome, both of my encounters ended the same way: undermined by a few unfortunate mistakes from myself and my teammates. Sure, I was the second-to-last survivor, but we all gave up the ghost at some point. Along the way, though, I noticed plenty of shiny new gameplay elements that Valve somehow concealed from the E3 debut. The most important one, from a combat perspective, is the temporary gun perk. Basically, as you run around the map, you and your compatriots encounter special bundles embedded in different places. When all of you pick it up, it gives you flammable rounds for your heavy weapon. A shotgun with explosive bucks really comes in handy when a Tank is trying to quite literally make fresh-squeezed juice with your face. I also watched as survivors who made it to the later stages earned a grenade launcher, which liquifies flesh-eaters with a remarkable efficiency.
And though I briefly sampled the fireaxe at E3, today's demo delivered new melee weapons, including a canoe paddle (didn't try it) and a frying pan. I'm still not sure about the melee weapons in action yet; I found frying pans when I least needed them, such as in an empty stretch of swamp land, or right before encountering a special zombie, like a Smoker or the new Spitter. As a result, I never really got to see it effectively in action. So far, it's one of the few unproven elements of L4D2 that I'm not gaga over, mainly because it pops up in inconvenient places during each of my five minute demos. But I could be misguided. We'll see.
Spooking the Witch Is the Least of Your Worries
During my interview with Valve's Doug Lombardi, he indicated that Valve isn't just designing levels to create bottlenecks and tension, they're effectively grabbing you by the scruff of your collar and making you play alongside your teammates. Now, more than ever, you'll fool around at your own peril. Of special note: Valve paid close attention to the safehouse strategy, which encouraged selfish players to hoard supplies until they reached the safehouse, rather than aiding teammates. Now with random aid/item drops, it'll behoove you to work together instead of stockpiling for the safehouse. There's no longer any guarantee that hitting the safehouse will do anything but provide you with a stopping point to the chapter. As a result, L4D2 could enforce intricately planned teamwork simply due to the sheer number of undead that the new Director 2.0 AI throws at you. Here's a hint: the combination of claustrophobic quarters and napalm-barfing zombies will immediately sift the wallflower from the rest of the survivors.
Speaking of napalm vomit, Valve unveiled a new special zombie during today's demo. Dubbed the Spitter, this emaciated mutation sprays out a red trail -- at first glance, it resembles a Smoker's long tongue -- but in a few seconds' time, the trail lights ablaze and incinerates whatever's in its path. It's not immediately identifiable, which makes it quite dangerous (and will likely continue to be for the first week that L4D2 is available). One napalm bath, combined with a wave of 30 zombies proved to be my squad's ultimate downfall. But it's not the only new villain. Each stage will have a creature unique to its stage. For "Swamp Fever," the Mudmen lurk under the murky swamp water and jump out to fling mud in your eyes. It's not as immediately awful as Boomer vomit, but it's designed to make the process of hitting the safe house that much harder.
EA showcased a fair share of titles during this Comic-Con kickoff event. Of them all, Left 4 Dead 2 was indisputably the pick of the litter -- it didn't hurt that Valve had a fresh new level to show off to the media, while many other titles offered second helpings of their E3 demo. That said, I had a great time playing and I'm really excited to play, but I'm curious to see how effectively some of Valve's new implementations will work. For example, will stage-specific enemies piss off some players and make them swear off certain levels? As powerful as melee weapons are, will the Director AI place them somewhere intuitive, such as near the start of a 30-something zombie swarm? Those are the questions -- not why Valve is "cashing in"-- are what I'm left asking after my play session. Lombardi also hinted that Penny Arcade Expo will bring another new stage. Ideally, the gaming public will finally see what Valve's up to and make a judgment based on gameplay, rather than press releases. Hopefully, they'll enjoy it as much as I did.