One of the biggest draws at PAX 2009 was the Left 4 Dead booth. Unless you’;ve been living under a rock the past year or so, then you no doubt know about this shooter that throws you and three other survivors in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
The original Left 4 Dead is a lot of fun to play, but was heavily criticized for its very short campaign, which can be completed in about four hours. Valve modeled the game play after Counterstrike somewhat, as they discovered that most players were playing the same maps over and over again.
Four great campaigns may be better than ten crappy ones, but Valve shot themselves in the foot by stifling the software mod community. Not many groups were making new maps, frankly because the tools weren’;t easy to use, and even harder to install. So, even if you managed to install a custom map, the chances are that you won’;t find any other players with the same mod.
The L4D2 booth
Since we at OCmodshop are major journalistic celebrities, we walked right up to the L4D2 booth to make a media appointment. Once they realized who we were, Patrick and myself were whisked away to the inside of the booth, where we were met with huge-ass muffins, bagels and coffee. Also inside was a server running all of the L4D2 kiosks, and a special media-only 4-player setup waiting for us. We were met by Chet Faliszek, who gave Patrick and myself a personal tour and answered our questions.
Left 4 Dead 2 is pretty much the exact same game as last year’;s original game with a new set of Survivors, different locale, new boss zombies, and a whole crapload of weaponry and powerups.
Although the kiosks were PCs, players were only allowed to use an Xbox 360 controller to play the game instead of the keyboard and mouse combination. Because a gamepad is less accurate, the Xbox 360 version is usually “looser” in terms of weapon accuracy.
This campaign, named “Dark Carnival” takes place somewhere in or around New Orleans, and has lots of Creole flair. The demo map we played featured a run-down two-story motel near some fairgrounds. The four new Survivors are named Coach, Rochelle, Ellis, and Nick.
We went around getting ready for the zombie horde by gathering new weapons. In addition to the usual weapons and ammo pile, you can find melee weapons, like the fire axe just laying around on a picnic table. Also strewn about are weapon powerups, such as a laser scope, which makes a somewhat inaccurate weapon like the AK47 much more precise.
Almost immediately I encountered one of L4D2′;s new monsters: the Jockey. This guy pounces on you like the Hunter, but wraps his legs around your head. You can continue to move around but must shake off the Jockey by moving around. Imagine having a 100-pound turkey on your head and you’;ll get an idea of the top-heavy movements.
We encountered another monster, which I originally thought was a modified Boomber, but is in fact a Spitter. This nasty little bugger spits a pool of acid, and can snipe you from far away like the Smoker. Sometimes monsters will tag-team you by putting a Jockey on your head and lead you into a pool of acid, or snipe a group to break up a campout. There is another monster that we didn’;t see, called the Charger, and all three of these new zombie bosses are playable in multiplayer, in addition to the existing ones.
Chet also mentioned that there will be variations of some of the zombies. One example he gave is a Clown zombie who has squeaky shoes which summon other zombies to the area. The Hunter and Smoker zombies are also being redone for this game, but Chet didn’;t give up any details.
Some of the big changes
The biggest change was the weaponry. There are now a whole host of new rifles and shotguns, as opposed to the basic types in the first game. Each of the weapons can also be upgraded with powerups to compensate for some of the weapons’; drawbacks. For example, the AK47 is fast, but inaccurate. Adding a laser scope makes the assault rifle much more precise. You can also find incendiary and explosive rounds, which can ignite a boss or horde for additional damage from a distance.
We asked Chet about the short campaigns and if the new game corrects this criticism. Chet stated that the maps are much larger, and the five new campaigns are much longer, but he couldn’;t give any actual figures on the actual average gameplay. He also stated that not all of the planned features have been implemented.
The biggest change to the game is the use of Director 2.0. The Director’;s AI engine has been rewritten to make it easier for mod makers to create custom maps, and even entire campaigns. The new Director can also modify the game in other ways, like taking out a bridge if the players are doing too well. There will also be random weather events like storms that affect the game.
Valve created a very rich world in the Half-Life universe, partly why the game was so satisfying to play. It is unclear if Valve will let on more about the Left 4 Dead back story. We still don’;t know exactly how the zombie apocalypse happened, or if there is a way to fix it.
Even if the core campaigns are much longer, gamers will find a lot more in this second installment of the zombie shooter. There is now more and better of everything: from weapons, monsters, and large maps. If that’;s not enough, then you should definitely be excited about the tons of user-created custom maps that are sure to hit the Interwebs.
A demo of Left 4 Dead 2 will be released “sometime in October”, and will probably be the same campaign shown at PAX 09. The demo should sustain us long enough until Left 4 Dead 2 officially launches on November 17th.