Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 Impressions (360 version)

Note: I’ve read that the PC version of this game plays much differently than the 360 version in terms of difficulty and balance, so keep that in mind as you read.

I picked up L4D2 during release week, but because I’ve been out of town for a week I’ve only had a couple of chances to play. Bill, crew, and I have done a couple of Campaign runs, one on the carnival scenario and one on Dead Center as well as a handful of Versus runs. My overall impression?

This game is frigg’n hard.

I can’t decide, though, if I think it’s *too* hard. My gut is that it is. Our primary four-man crew has been playing the first game since around January. We are not particularly skilled, but we’ve at least finished all the L4D1 scenarios on Advanced difficulty so we’re hardly rookies. In L4D2, however, we’ve had real trouble just reaching the the finale on Normal, let alone surviving it. Mobs everywhere. Specials, bunches of them, coming out of the woodwork at almost any moment. I’ve found that by the time the clock passes midnight the game has started to feel more monotonous than fun. I am enjoying it, but in that same way that Taco Bell tastes really good until you hit your fifth or sixth taco and then you want to curse the chain’s very existence.

It seems like the difficulty levels now only affect how much damage you do and take and not the number of zombies in need of a good shooting. It makes for a much more demanding game that changes how you need to play it and I haven’t learned how to be effective playing with the “new shit” as it were. It’s definitely set up so that it’s nigh impossible to find cover when the horde arrives. You can try, but the new specials like the Spitter and Charger pretty much guarantee that if you don’t get your feet moving you’re going to get torn up. Players that can shoot and move well at the same time are likely to do okay. My problem is that I’m a player who likes to catch his breath. Left 4 Dead kept you moving, sure, but if you wanted to hole up in a modestly secure area for a couple of minutes you could get away with it. L4D2 not so much and I’m not sure I like that.

This is just as true, IMO, in Versus mode in which you’ve got equal number of players playing as infected and survivors. I’m okay with the infected having an advantage in this game. That is as it should be. At the same time, I’ve been a part of four Versus mode matches and have yet to see the survivors make it to a safe room; and you can just forget about anyone coming even remotely close to surviving the finale. Somewhere there’s a line between challenging and punitive and I’m not sure L4D2 is on the right side of it.

As I noted above, it does not mean I don’t like the game. There’s still a lot to love about it. I love the new weapons. I like all the settings I’ve played through so far. The carnival scenario was just a wild, wild ride. And as much as they’re a pain in the ass, the new special infected do make the game more interesting. Seriously, the first time you Jockey a survivor into a horde of undead or bowl over a tight group of survivors as the the Charger… well, it’s pretty awesome. And who knows? Maybe as I get used to/better at playing the way the game demands I’ll change my tune on the difficulty.

I’m less sure I’ll change my tune on the new survivors, however. There’s nothing eminently wrong with them, but I like the original crew better. Ellis, in particular, needs to be shot in the head. He’s funny the first few times he goes on and on about some dumb thing, while in a safe room, but unlike the Bill character from L4D1, Ellis’s shtick gets old. Bill’s “I hate xxx” (trains, farms, stairs, etc.) every 30 minutes is beautiful in its simplicity. Ellis’s constant, long-winded rambling? Pass.