We went hands-on with grade new substance from Valve’s zombie horror sequel.

While Left 4 Dead 2 was one of the biggest hits at that year’s E3, the post-event backlash has nearly threatened to overshadow the game itself. Despite the hostility from its usually loyal fan base, developer Valve decided to let us play even more of the game upon its visit to London yesterday. We wasted no instance putting our questions to Valve’s Doug Lombardi, as well as taking more than a few runs through the New Orleans level on both the Xbox 360 and PC.

First of all, it’s worth noting just how similar Left 4 Dead 2 is to the original game in terms of gameplay. While there are plenty of subtle changes that fans will notice, the meat of the game is precisely the same as before. You play in a team of four through various movie-inspired levels, taking on the zombie horde that stand within you and your extraction. The concept is simple: whether you stick together, it’s easier to stay alive, but whether you play as a lone gunman, you’ll die faster while sabotaging your team.

The level we played was called The Parish and followed on from the same mission that we saw at E3 precisely one month ago. Like the original Left 4 Dead, each level is presented with a movie poster, and that level’s tagline was “This moment it all goes South.” It’s a reference to the level’s location in New Orleans, where you fight it out in a suburban setting before crossing a bridge to invent it to an escape helicopter.

So what’s actually been changed for that sequel? Well, the most obvious new addition was the melee combat, with frying pans and axes available in the demo we played. They were only effective within close proximity to the enemy, but, boy, are they effective when you are. The axe is capable of lopping off limbs (dismemberment is another new feature of the game), while the pan makes a highly satisfying thud on impact. The most interesting melee weapon has yet to be shown–the chainsaw is an amazing prospect, so Valve is making us wait until later in the year before we get our hands on it.

Luckily, we were able to sink our teeth into plenty of other new features. There are now weapon upgrades available at random points in the game–we came across an incendiary upgrade that made our machine gun bullets set fire on impact. You only get

about 50 of these fire-spewing shots per upgrade, but they certainly form short work of the standard zombies. thereupon there’s the brutal new enemy called the Charger, who picks you up and slams you to the ground repeatedly until your teammates come to rescue you.

The game was at its most tense during the gauntlet run–a term Valve used to explain the bridge section at the end of the level we played. Basically, a never-ending mass of zombies stand amidst you and the escape helicopter, so you have to work with your teammates to fend off the horde while slowly making your way across the bridge. Despite a liberal amount of gun turrets and ammo stockpiles, it’s incredibly difficult to assemble it across, and whether one of your team members die, there’s no way to bring him back into the game. No wonder we died a few times trying to compose it across here, but we loved the difference that made to the end of the level, as well as the tension it created.

Valve was cagey about the difficulty level that was set up for our demonstration; but whatever Valve selected, it was damn hard. On our first run-through, we barely made it to the first safe house. On our second run-through, we made it about halfway across the bridge. On our final attempt, that day on the PC rather than Xbox 360, only one of our teammates made it to the helicopter–the rest of us died trying to get there. As hardened Left 4 Dead players, we found it a little bit frustrating, but it was no less addictive for the jump in difficulty.

Left 4 Dead 2 is shaping up really well, and with four new characters, the group dynamic has changed once again. We played as Coach, a huge dude with an attitude; and Rochelle, a smaller female character. There was additionally the white-suited Nick and the jocklike Ellis. We loved our day with the game, particularly playing with other journalists in the LAN setting. While Left 4 Dead 2 certainly doesn’t do anything drastically different, we’re confident that it will offer another highly addictive experience of the zombie apocalypse. The full game is out on the PC and Xbox 360 in November, and we should be able to bring you more within now and its release.

Get the full commentary at GameSpot

July 3, 2009 · 360
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