Fresh Meat

OMG ZOMBIES LOL!

Zombies serve two purposes.

Firstly, they’re quite an effective metaphor for the inhumanity of human consumption and secondly, they’re pretty good cannon fodder. It’s the second purpose that best fits Left 4 Dead 2 because, and trust me here, there’s a lot of shooting stuff. And when I say a lot, I actually mean bloody loads.

For those that don’t know, and I’ll keep it short for those that do, L4D2 follows on from, err, Left for Dead albeit in a new setting and with new characters. The new inclusions feel perfunctory, but serve a role in that they allow Valve to project new characterisations into a new setting. It’s fine, and there’s a bit of a plot, but you won’t care too much, this is very much an arcade team shooter.

It is easy to argue that L4D2 is a continuation of Valve’s ongoing obsession to create the perfect online team game – see Counterstrike and Team Fortress – but the ‘Dead games are much more than that, they’re significantly more adult in what they demand of the player. In Counterstrike and Team Fortress, the team play is less well defined in that you can still play the hero, in L4D, you can’t, and if you try, you get killed. If the game had a motto, it’d be Live Together, or Die Alone. You can have that Valve, for free and all.

It’s a simple and brilliant device, and it’s enforced ruthlessly by the terrifyingly named AI Director, a faceless Big Brother buried deep within the game’s coding. This nifty piece of technology allows the game to direct what happens and when it happens, think of it as movable scripting. It’s very clever and it forces you to work as a team without ever punishing you. If you’re doing really well, the game will ramp up the zombies, and if you’re doing badly, it’ll hold back.

But there’s more, there’s special zombies too, from the fearsome tank, to the unpleasant Jockey. Worse, there’s the particularly frightening witch. Don’t shoot her, whatever you do.

For those of you that have played the original, none of this is particularly new. And that’s the problem with L4D2, it’s not quite a proper sequel. Sure, you do get plenty of very high quality levels, some decent new zombies, some new weapons (which are great) and some subtle tweaks. In fact, subtle is a spot on description of L4D2, its all slight changes. Evolution rather than revolution, and while it’s not necessarily a criticism, I can’t help but feel a little short changed (although I didn’t buy i). (Same principal though).

But as a whole, it’s still an impressive game despite not doing quite enough to distinguish itself from its predecessor. It’s smartly designed – the levels are classic Valve – and the subtleties, such as the way that each character announces when they come across weapons caches, are superb and well implemented. Sure, it’s not a ten out of ten, but it’s a Valve game through and through and if you’ve had enough of the first, I wholly recommend it.

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