First Impressions: Left 4 Dead 2 Demo

When Valve first announced Left 4 Dead 2 back at E3, I won’t deny that I thought that Mr. Newell was not just content with making it rain at will… but that he wanted it to rain cash to fill Valve’s private swimming pool.  The original Left 4 Dead was less than a year old at that time, hadn’t been supported that well on 360, and felt a little incomplete.  The more and more you look back at the first Left 4 Dead, the more it seemed like a concept that they weren’t sure was going to be a hit rather than a full-fledged game.  Now we are on the cusp of Left 4 Dead 2’s release and the gamers that preordered it have been playing the two level demo for roughly a week.  Does Newell and Co. still have the touch and the power, Or is this the original reskinned with some new weapons and a blatant cash grab?

L4D2 Family PortraitI will continue by saying I was one of the people who didn’t want to purchase this game and support some sort of yearly release schedule from Valve.  I mean, I still have not even seen a screen shot for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 but they were able to build a whole new retail sequel to Left 4 Dead.  Even the coverage of the game so far had failed to sway this opinion.  I went into this demo with extreme prejudice, and came out pleasantly surprised.  While I’m still not sure this is a day one purchase for myself, I found enough meat on the demo’s bones in those two levels to reignite my desire to slaughter hordes of undead with the PNG Dream Team. 

The demo starts off with an excellent CGI intro that immediately put one of my many fears to rest.  I loved the original cast of Left 4 Dead and Valve did an excellent job of giving them each a unique personality.  You can tell they took the same type of care with the new characters from the intro.  The intro also makes it clear that the campaigns will be tied together in some way instead of just separate stories.  Two levels from “The Parish” campaign are available for play solo or co-op.  Unfortunately there is no option to try out Versus, Survival, Scavenger, or Realism in the demo.

Left 4 Dead 2 seems to have went through some graphical tweaks with models looking to be lighted and detailed a bit better.  While you’ll notice certain things like new guns, the melee weapons, and new special infected, the most interesting change in Left 4 Dead 2 won’t be apparent until your second or third play through.  The ever present and often times evil Director has been upgraded and will change the placement of weapons, special infected, and even the path you take to the end of the level based on how well you’re doing.  This made each subsequent play through the demo just as enjoyable as the last.  Valve also added some different healing/utility items for your characters use.  While you Oh shit!  Fireproof zombies!still have your first aid kits and pills, there’s also defib pads to bring a dead character back to life and adrenaline shots to boost your speed.  The defib pad goes in the same slot as your first aid kit and the adrenaline shot goes where your pills do, so you will have to choose which is more important to you.

Each time I finished the demo, it felt incredibly good to be playing Left 4 Dead again.  But that phrase presents an interesting argument in that I was just playing Left 4 Dead again.  Does the content in Left 4 Dead 2 really constitute releasing a whole new game at a $60/$50 price point or should this have been an expansion like some of the masses have clamored for?  It’s a tough question to answer, especially since games like Madden, Guitar Hero, Pokémon, and Mega Man release often with very little game play changes and just new rosters, songs, and enemies.  People still pay full price for those games with nary a peep heard.  If Left 4 Dead continues to go that route, I would be perfectly ok with it because the core of the game is just that satisfying and good.  We just needed more content.

For me, I’m still not sure that I’ll pick this up day one, especially with Modern Warfare 2 releasing a week before it.  That being said, I still love it and think it’s entirely worth picking up.  For those of you thinking this should be priced as an expansion, wait a little.  Valve is notorious for running some crazy sales on their games.
 Coach acheives maximum baller status! 

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