Sunday, February 14, 2010

LEFT 4 DEAD 2 (Video Game Review)


By Doug Norris
Team-based on-line shooters took a tight grip on the gaming world nearly a decade ago, only to become the latest genre to be overrun faceless, interchangeable titles. Whether titled COUNTER STRIKE, CALL OF DUTY or anything bearing Tom Clancy’s name, the games began to emulate one another—they all showcased multiplayer squads made up of varying shooter-types and a medic, pitted teams against one another and featured humans killing humans. Valve saw this monster (possibly from a fatherly eye) and decided to kill it, raise it from the dead, infect it and let it loose through the city streets in the LEFT 4 DEAD franchise, pitting humans against hordes of zombies.

The first outing generated massive appeal, but not without heavy faults. Glaring clipping issues, repetitive gameplay and overall lack of variety caused much murmuring amongst the fanbase. With the recently released sequel, Valve has addressed all of those issues and produced what could be one of the best releases of the year.

LEFT 4 DEAD 2 (Xbox 360, Windows Vista/XP) presents a new group of survivors trying to catch that last rescue chopper away from a decaying, wartorn New Orleans. It’s a familiar scenario for fans, but this gang breathes new life into the instant camaraderie of four lonely, desperate souls working together to achieve an impossible escape. The rolling dialogue alone provides far more depth and personality to the new cast than in the previous installment. Try to ignore and not laugh at Ellis’ random stories of pre-apocalypse good-ol’-boy mayhem he indulged in with his good buddy Keith. Their tales make you hope that there’s some DLC down the road that involves Ellis, Keith and some form of Rube Goldberg-inspired pranks to take out the horde, backed by hilarious redneck banter (if that happens, Valve, I want a line in the credits).

The Big Easy setting deserves just as much of a casting credit as any of the four protagonists. From the city streets to the factories to the swampy bayou, L4D2’s environments present a rich tapestry of decay and ruin. The shattered homes and rotting texture enhance the frustration and fear created by the horde’s onslaught. Traveling through the wreckage and piles upon piles of dead bodies really helps create the need to escape, though the fact that carnival games are accessible may make you want to stick around a certain level. What better way to relieve stress when fending for your life than with a solid game of whack-a-mole?

As with the previous installment, though, L4D2’s true draw lies in its on-line play. Whether in cooperative campaigns or team-based survivors-vs.-infected scenarios, the action stays onerous and intense. A new form of gameplay, the “Scavenge” mode, offers a change in the level of teamwork required to get from point A to point B. Also, the “realism” mode, in which players do not respawn and must be revived by another teammate, gives players a new challenge to work as a cohesive unit.

By far the absolute best and most enjoyable addition to L4D2 lies in the sequel’s melee weaponry. In the first installment, players could use the butts of their guns to knock back horde members in the event of a crowd or lack of bullets. This time around, you can choose from items such as a machete, chainsaw and even a cricket bat (nice nod to SHAUN OF THE DEAD). Never needing reloading, never breaking, these objects prove to be must-haves for journeys down the ghoul-infested roads. Aside from proving extremely helpful to fend off the attackers’ bum-rushes, the melee weapons paint the screen with the blood of the infected. Each swing of the machete or ninja sword leaves splattery streaks of blotchy redness on the screen, so much so that in a crowd setting, one can find oneself temporarily blinded by the backsplash. Just imagine what kind of mess the chainsaw can make…

LEFT 4 DEAD 2 serves as a shining example of a developer progressing the future of a cash-cow franchise, while simultaneously keeping an active ear tuned to the fanbase, taking in suggestions and complaints and churning out brilliant enhancements. While everyone else is spending their on-line time slaying wizards or taking orders from a realistic general, take a trip down N’awlins way and see how you’d fare at the onset of a southern-fried apocalypse. Just make sure to keep a blunt object by your side, because like the aftereffects of eating too many funnel cakes and crawfish, the horde attacks fast with no remorse.

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