Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Impressions

Written by Joe Martin

November 2, 2009 | 11:11

Tags: #beta #demo #l4d #l4d2 #left4dead #left-4-dead-2 #left-4-dead-2-hands-on #left-4-dead-2-preview #preview #zombies

Companies: #valve

Left 2 Die

Perhaps part of the problem is that the demo isn't showing anything wholly new. New levels, new boss infected and new items, sure – but these are things to which players can easily adapt. The new game modes and friends leaderboards, as well as the new methods of storytelling (which you do get a hint of, thanks to the discussion of carriers) – these are things that really grab us and they're unfortunately lacking from the demo. Which is to be expected.

That's not to say that what's in the demo isn't good, though some of it is very hit and miss, especially when it comes to the boss infected. The Spitter, an enemy who launches gobs of acid at you like a venomous Linda Blair, is an inspired way to force well-oiled teams to scatter and the fact that they leak ichor when they die means that survivors can easily trap themselves if they tackle Spitters haphazardly.

Other bosses are less interesting though – The Jockey, a zombie who jumps on survivors and can steer them into trouble, is another example of a concept that's better than the execution. On paper, the Jockey would seem a fantastic way to force survivors to backtrack or to venture too quickly into hordes. In reality we've never seen a Jockey last for more than a couple of seconds and the fact that they sit on their victims head means they are easily marked and knocked off with a burst of bullets.

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Impressions Left 2 Die
Left 4 Dead 2 - Click to Enlarge

Speaking of bullets; the increased variation in firearms is one thing we wholeheartedly approve of, both from a visual and gameplay point of view. The subtle differences between types of SMGs and shotguns means that there's more to the weaponry than just waiting for the second tier of guns to appear. As with the melee weapons though, some of them (particularly the infinite ammo magnum) feel overpowered and can easily replace your primary weapon – as we said in the introduction, it's a matter of guilty pleasures. While we've breezed through the demo successfully with naught but melee weapons or magnums, doing so does take a bit of fun out of the game.

What really claws back ground for Left 4 Dead 2 though are the far simpler twists that have been worked into the old game structure. Melee weapons and Jockeys are all well and good, but what we really found ourselves relishing was battling the 'uncommon common', as Valve call them, and contending with the new types of gameplay events.

The uncommon common are little more than standard infected, but with a few twists on them that make them more difficult to defeat and, as we know from previous discussions with Valve are limited to appearing only in certain chapters. In The Parish, the section on show in the demo, the uncommon common that appear are ex-SWAT infected, complete with bullet-proof armour and truncheons. It's simple enough to bypass the armour as all you have to do is spin them around and shoot them in the back – but when there's one standing in the center of a horde then it can get a little more challenging and require a touch more team work.

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Impressions Left 2 Die
Left 4 Dead 2 - Click to Enlarge

As we said in our last hands-on preview though, it's the new twists in the gameplay and the new types of moving finales that really spice up the gameplay. In the demo that's duly represented by a new tension event that sees you navigating a chainlink maze to disable an alarm, with the infected constantly coming until you do. It's a very basic switch on the old 'Survive for X minutes' idea from the first game, but it feels like it'll make a real difference when it comes to giving the campaigns a better sense of identity and making them more than just level packs.

In the end, while we definitely still love Left 4 Dead 2 and are very much looking forward to the full game, it's hard not to admit being a bit disappointed with how the game seems to be shaping up. The furious combat and reliance on teamwork is still there and has been elegantly expanded on through new in-game events and items for the survivors to use that help introduce more variation to the game...but it doesn't make as striking an impression as the demo for the first game did. Not only is the game lacking in all the game modes that would show that the game has come on a lot since the original release, but it also feels a little muddled in places. We still don't find the new characters all that interesting or engaging, while the changes to the interface and the new soundtrack feel a little uncomfortable.

Left 4 Dead 2 is still shaping up to be one of the years biggest releases, but between the hit and miss additions and the limited scope of the demo we just aren't as excited about Left 4 Dead 2 as we were about the original – though that may change once we get to grips with the full game.

Left 4 Dead 2 is being developed by Valve and is set to be published in part by Electronic Arts on PC and Xbox 360 this November 17th. Until then you can discuss it in the forums.
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