Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2

Stephanie: So, remember when I used to be afraid of zombie movies?

Adam: Yea, now I would say you're pretty ready for the zombie apocalypse. I'll just hand you the shotgun since you're a bit more handy with it.

Did you think you would wind up playing Left 4 Dead so much when you bought it as a selfless Christmas present?

S: Heck no. But as you know, I like doing things I am good at. And I am hella good at killing some mother effing zombies. At least in Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Lets review them shall we?

A: Ok, let's.

The first couple of times playing L4D, I found the maps really disorienting. Which I felt worked to the advantage of the story being told. When you arrived at the safe room at the end of a map, it really left you feeling like you had narrowly escaped.

S: I think that comes across a lot more in L4D2 because the swamp and French Quarter are lot less grid-like than Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or wherever the first one takes place. But to tell the truth, I really wasn't aware of how that worked until L4D2. In the first one I was just impressed that I was killing tons of zombies instead of spinning around in the corner.

A: Yea, I think that's probably why there aren't more new gamers playing first person shooters. No one likes to be the one stuck in the corner staring at the wall, or ceiling.

S: That is probably why more new gamers like games like the Lego series or Katamari - cause you don't have to look and run at the same time. You are supposed to spin in the corner.

But, I think L4D actually helped me become a first-person shooter gamer because the controls are way more intuitive than other games: A = jump, Right Trigger = shoot, Left Trigger = melee. That makes way more sense than Y= melee and Left Trigger = reload.

I also think the multiplayer aspect is really helpful for new gamers.

A: I think having someone to play the game with like Arjun was a big help. He'd already been through a lot of the levels before we started playing, so he could help guide us through.

S: He also doesn't like to call people homophobic and misogynistic names when they say, accidentally shoot him in the back.

A: That's always a plus.

S: But, I think that multiplayer aspect is totally key. Being able to play with your friends and having to rely on them to actually win the game is what made L4D a successful gateway drug for me.

A: It's really too bad that there aren't more co-op games available. I'm not really that into playing against my friends. That's what strangers are for!

S: Yeah, especially since I really like to beat people with dumb tags or who are jerks.

A: So, let's talk about something that I know you'll want to review between the two games: Zoey vs. Rochelle.

S: Ugh...okay. Lets start with the fact that Zoey is another reason I played the crap out of L4D. Not only is there a girl character, there is a girl character that doesn't have gravity defying boobs and who pretty much looks like me - right down to the converse. So awesome.

But Rochelle, oh Rochelle. I really really really wanted to like her, but dear god, she is annoying. If we survive the zombie apocalypse only to be accompanied by someone who screams at the top of their lungs all the time, can we agree that will will shoot them?

A: Agreed.

But, we mainly wanted to like Rochelle because she bares a striking resemblance to our friend Nnekay, and she wears a Depeche Mode shirt.

Overall, I still haven't grown to like the cast of L4D2. Rochelle screams all the time, Ellis is borderline autistic, Nick is a scum bag, and Coach is the dad from Family Matters. Not really as engaging a cast as a biker, an IT guy, a veteran and an every-girl.

S: Well, every white 20 something year old girl.

A: I'd really like to see an update to L4D2 where they let you at least re-skin the characters as the L4D characters.

S: I think there is talk of letting you play all 8 characters in the DLC which would be fantastic, especially since we have more than two gaming friends.

A: That would be amazing.

S: But, back to the L4D2 characters: I was really excited to have another female character to play, and I think the diversity of the characters in both games is a step in the right direction. Even if they still continue to be a bit stereotypical.

A: Giving them personalities is one thing, but making them stereotypes is another. They need to give you an option to toggle Rochelle's screaming OFF.

S: To be fair, in some ways the stereotypes make the game fun to play. I mean a biker who hates everything and a kid that loves Nascar are fun to listen to. But, I think they also set themselves up for quite a task placing L4D2 in New Orleans and I have to give them credit for that.

A: Yea, I think that the folks at Valve made a pretty cool decision to set up the second game in that location, considering the recent history. They made some cool commentary on the situation down there, and the government's response. Which is a pretty high order from a video game company.

S: Seriously. The integration of the military response is really amazing. Especially considering the game starts with the survivors being abandoned by the rescue helicopters. Its a pretty damn explicit commentary on Katrina.

A: I like that CEDA has replaced FEMA in this scenario, and they've all been infected as well.

S: The fact that they whistle when you shoot them and you have to change your attack on the riot police is pretty damn genius. Not only are they not helping - they have made the situation worse.

What do you think about the argument that L4D2 is hard or near impossible just for the sake of being hard?

A: If L4D2 had been the same difficulty as the first game, I think it would have been knocked for being too easy.The controls were already established by the first game, along with the pacing. Players knew what to expect going into this game, so you have to ramp up the difficulty a bit, otherwise gamers would just tear through it. Plus, you can't please everyone.

You handle yourself fine in it.

S: Well, *ahem* I am the only person in this review that completed an expert level in L4D1...

A: THAT'S NOT MY FAULT! I got punched off the building by a tank during the finale.

S: I know, honey, you sacrificed yourself to save me.

But yeah, they sure do throw a bunch more zombies at you, but they are at least interesting zombies and you have to figure out different ways to kill them.

A: I actually try to defend you a lot in that game, just like in real life.

S: Awww. Thanks honey.

A: Anytime. I know that you have a gun of your own in the game, but I always feel like I should take the brunt of the punishment.

S: Well then maybe we should go back to playing L4D1. If my character doesn't scream so much you might think I can hold my own better. Remember, I used to teach 12 year old girls to kick attackers in the balls - and remember, I don't even need a gun to shoot zombies!

A: Haha, yep, you're that good.

Have you ever tried the survival mode they added?

S: No. The scene in the mall where you have to fill the car with gas is stressful enough. Why have you and Arjun played it after I went to bed?

A: I played it a little with Arjun. It's a pretty crummy mode, since you can't really ever win.You just see how long you can last against swarms and swarms of undead, which just gets more ridiculous with each passing minute.

S: So, in other words, its like what a real zombie apocalypse would be like.

A: Not really. You can't fortify your location. You can't run away or move to a unreachable location... actually, you can, but only because you're sort of cheating. There's a rock outcropping near the boat house that you can stand on, and no one can reach you.

It's just not a very appealing addition to the game. What's the point of survival horror if you can't survive?

S: Good point. I mean even I know that rule one of horror is at least one person has to survive. Carol Clover would argue its the girl, but I'd bet Zoey 3-1 over Rochelle on that.

What do you think about the Versus mode?

A: Since there's no ranking, like with Halo 3, you wind up playing against kids who have played Versus waaaay more than you. It's not a very balanced experience.

It's kinda fun to play with friends in that mode, but I still feel like I've never spent enough time as the infected to become any good at controlling them.

S: Yeah, I really suck at that part of it. Also I really like talking to friends while we play and if we are split between survivors and infected you can't talk to each other without giving away your strategy and position and I think coordinated attacks are key when you are the infected.

A: Yup. I'd prefer to spend my game time playing the actual game rather than the variations.

S: Me too, especially since I love the totally detailed stats in the "credits."

So, should we ping Arjun to try and escape New Orleans tonight?

A: Haha, maybe!

S: Or we can always try and hold up at the airport so you can get you expert achievement. :)

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