previews\ Nov 10, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Left 4 Dead 2 - 360 - Preview

I recently got the chance to get some hands on time with Valve’s upcoming installment in the popular '28 Days Later'-style zombie series, Left 4 Dead 2. I also finally got to experience the game’s newest melee weapon, the chainsaw, which slices the undead like a knife through warm butter. Unlike the other melee weapons though, the chainsaw requires fuel to use so it cannot be used indefinitely. This also presents a level of strategy because while it’s extraordinarily powerful, if the chainsaw runs out of ammo you’ll have to use your secondary weapon until you come across new weapons.

Left 4 Dead was pretty gory, but its sequel takes that to a whole new level. The chainsaw sends bits of decaying flesh everywhere, the katana effortlessly bisects multiple foes with one satisfying swipe, and it's easier than ever to dismember hordes of foes with Left 4 Dead 2’s expanded arsenal of guns. Another noticeable addition to the infected also made the game infinitely creepier, as the common infected’s eyes glow making them look even more wicked. I also got to use the newest addition to the selection of health items, the adrenaline shot, which gives you a boost of energy and keeps you from slowing down when attacked by the infected. I can see this item being used to help teams of survivors fly through levels with grace, though the shot’s effects ware off rather quickly.

The changes to the original special infected were great, though the Smoker’s tongue seems to be weakened a bit and the Boomer felt slower. The Hunter looks and plays like it always did and the Tank is just as badass as you would expect. There have been a few welcomed cosmetic changes to the Smoker and Boomer - the former now has a tentacle coming out of its neck and there are now female boomers as well that I sometimes mistook for the potbellied Spitter. Out of the new special infected the Spitter was my least favorite, though that doesn’t mean she’s not a great (and much needed) addition to counter the abundance of campers. The Spitter shines against groups of survivors, especially in closed spaces, but when they’re running out in the open she becomes utterly useless.

Without a doubt my favorite additions were the Jockey and Charger. The Jockey is a ton of fun to control and watching a survivor being rode by the little guy is actually quite a funny thing to behold. Pouncing on and steering an unsuspecting survivor into a horde of zombies, or if you’re really smart a Spitter’s acid never gets old. The Charger basically charges a group of survivors, knocking them all over the place before grabbing someone and slamming them on the ground multiple times. If you’re a survivor its actually rather terrifying to hear the Charger’s loud yowl he emits before tackling and grabbing his prey. Overall, the new selection of infected is great and for the most part they’re all very well balanced. During my play-through I was never the same special infected twice, which is a welcome change from having to be the Smoker or Hunter again and again in Left 4 Dead.

Besides the chainsaw, Left 4 Dead 2's new multiplayer mode was also unveiled, and is called Scavenge Mode. This new mode provides even more frantic gameplay than the Versus or Survival modes and has a simple objective: there are 16 gas cans spread around the map that can be used to fill a generator at the center of the arena. You begin with 120 seconds that begin to tick away as soon as the round begins. Every gas can your team successfully uses to fill the generator adds another 20 seconds to the timer. If someone on your team is holding a gas can when the timer reaches zero you enter overtime mode that keeps the game from ending as long as someone is holding a gas can and the minute you use the can your team gains another 20 seconds.

The goal of the infected is to keep the survivors from using their gas cans and this is where I found the Spitter infected most useful as she can simply spit at the gas cans, setting them on fire. At the beginning of the level all of the gas cans are outlined in white, meaning they cannot be destroyed by the infected, but once a survivor picks up a gas can it becomes orange meaning it can be eliminated by an infected or a stray bullet from a survivor. A survivor can't use the gas can as long as they're being attacked, so it's great to pair up because during my experience every time someone ventured off on their own they almost always got taken down by a special infected.

The best thing about the newly unveiled Scavenge Mode is how simple it is to learn, there aren't any complicated rules or strategies, and it is truly frantic when you find yourself as the sole can-wielding survivor when the timer is nearing zero. This mode added to the Versus and Survival modes that come with each of the game’s five available campaigns means Left 4 Dead 2 will launch with way more content than the original, so if you’re on the fence I can assure you there’s plenty of new content to justify the game. Other than some refinements to the gunplay and a few tweaks to the way the infected handle Left 4 Dead 2 is very similar to its predecessor in both its visuals and gamplay, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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