Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Left 4 Dead 2

"Lookin' back on the track, for a little green bag..."*
"Son; we just crossed the street."

Last night I went back and played a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 with my quarter (that's my other half's other half.) It's been a while since I dipped into this particular zombie infected pool, and it's still a lot of fun.

For the uninitiated, Left 4 Dead (both the original and the sequel) are set in a world where the US at least is overrun with 'infected' in the wake of some sort of mutated flu epidemic. The 4 in the title refers to the four naturally immune survivors who make up your party and the 4-player co-op which this allows. The name of the game is escape, and not just once, as each main title is broken into several mini-campaigns, each describing the survivors' escape from one deadly situation, only to get landed in another at the start of the next installment.

The opening movie of the first game pretty much encapsulates the gameplay, as well as showcasing the 'special' infected (although the Boomer is only really there in gunk.)

I keep wanting to call it Dead Centre...

To set the mood just right, each campaign has a movie poster and tagline which shows in the loading screen, along with PSA posters warning you to wash your hands and notifying you that possession of firearms is now illegal as a matter of public safety. This is a game that knows what irony is and isn't ashamed of that fact.

The first game mostly plays out in Pennsylvania, and mostly in the midst of an urban sprawl. Left 4 Dead 2 brings the action south, kicking off in Savannah, Georgia and making its way through New Orleans. In addition to southern accents and an equal black/white balance (I think Zoe is probably meant to be Latina, so the representation isn't too terrible either way, although both have 3:1 male to female ratios and there aren't any Asian-Americans,) the game introduces new varieties of zombies - including the sad-making zombie clowns - and weapons, not just variant guns but the much requested melee arsenal, including axes, crowbars, electric guitars, katanas and the fuel-limited delight of the chainsaw.
Okay; mostly the name of the game is survival.

We played the opening chapter of Left 4 Dead 2, 'Dead Center', in which the four survivors - Coach, Ellis, Nick and Rochelle - are left behind by the last chopper out of town and have to make their way to a shopping mall to steal a stock car. One of the defining traits of the sequel was that it got much more inventive with its campaign finales. In Left 4 Dead mostly you were holding off the horde while waiting for rescue. Dead Centre borrows from the exception, Dead Air, in which the survivors have to refuel a plane as the horde attacks. In this case, you're gassing up a stock car in the middle of the mall and feeling more than a little bit Dawn of the Dead while you're doing it. It's not as good as later levels, like the one where you have to try to attract rescue by setting off a heavy metal band's stage fireworks, but it's pretty damn good.

The campaign manages some solid set pieces. A desperate rush through a burning building is impressively tense for all that the flames are mostly a route map, and the crying of the Witch and the Tank's distinctive brass theme are still enough to fill me with terror.
This image was clearly chosen to represent the gestures that I
wound up making as my buddies drove off into the sunset in an
APC without me. AGAIN.

I found that Andrew has a tendency to rush ahead, which I suspect would have stood us in poor stead on a higher difficulty, but I dialed it back since it's been a while. Notably, he got about twice as many kills as I did, but took roughly three times as much damage. He was also completely not there for me when I was pummeled half to death by a Charger, and don't think that that will be forgotten any time soon.

I'd forgotten how personal this game could feel, although in the final analysis we did all get away, whereas back in the day I got left behind a lot. The story of my early L4D experience is summed up by a picture of a dude standing on a jetty, clutching a pipe bomb as the boat pulls out and the horde charges in.

* Because I did the Monkees joke already.