Review Archive #3 Left 4 Dead 2 Demo (Prior to game release)

These reviews I am republishing on my blog were originally published on texasteamplayers.com (now teamplayergaming.com) and are my copyrighted work.  Please do not repost or use these reviews in part or whole without my consent.

 

Title: Left 4 Dead 2
Genre: Action
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: November 17th, 2009

 

Intro:

There was a time when sequels were thought of as just that, the follow up to a game.  These days inevitably people seem to ask, couldn’t this have just been DLC (Downloadable Content) for the original?  It’s a fair question in most cases.  Valve certainly has had to put up with a lot of that with Left 4 Dead 2.  Protest groups, blogs and boycotts led Valve to even have some of those people come to their offices and see how justified they felt an entirely new game was.  Is it justified?  Let’s take a look…

General:

I’m going to get something out of the way right away.   I don’t generally like to draw conclusions from a game demo.  The game company often times makes huge changes to a game before the final version, and everything from level design to sound and weapons can be changed before release.  That said, I do think Valve has a pretty good track record for giving you a pretty good idea of what the finished product is going to look, feel and taste like with their demos.  I may change my mind when the final game is released, but here’s where the Left 4 Dead 2 demo left me.

Graphics:

The first thing I noticed right off was that Valve did a nice job of auto-detecting the optimum settings for my system. The game was set up to run at native resolution, and I only had to raise the Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filters a little bit to max them out (I really was interested in trying to push my system).    The first question you ask in a sequel is did they upgrade the graphics engine or is it just expansion-like?  Everything from the gun models to the water looks better in this demo.  Reflective surfaces seem more realistic, the textures seem more vibrant, and overall the look is definitely upgraded.  All of the infected animations and models seem to have been given a nice facelift as well.  I was particularly impressed with the physics engine, and the detail in the animations on the infected.

Valve has spent a lot of time since the original Half-Life trying to get physics and body movement as realistic as possible.   One of their original Half-Life 2 tech demos was all about items realistically interacting with each other.  It’s no surprise that Valve improved the was the infected lumber around and move.  Overall the animations and interactions with the environment are improved, so I’m pleased.

Valve has impressed the Hell out of me with what they did with the infected.   As I said in the above the movements are improved, but so are the designs.  The old special infected (Tank, Boomer, Smoker and Hunter) all have has their designs refined and improved, but what really catches your eye is the detail of the new special infected (Spitter, Charger, Jockey).

Sound:

Valve hit a home run in the sound department.  You’ll find all the sounds familiar in this game, but not recycled.  In The Parish campaign Valve did a masterful job of adding a “Cajun” flair to the music and sounds that in Left 4 Dead were all generic no matter what the setting.  When the horde attacks your music is basically the same as Left 4 Dead but with a New Orleans sound/instruments.   It’s this kind of effort on Valve’s part that justifies this as a sequel and not just an expansion on the first game.  Even the Boomer and Hunter sounds, while generally the same as the original game have that little twist in them making them more fitting to the setting.

I also really enjoyed the new song by Jonathan Coulton (So Alive, Portal) that is sometimes played when you turn on the juke box in the bar.  There are several songs and you can cycle through them by continuing to click the juke box.  Like shooting cars it does bring the attention of the horde though.   It was a nice audio flourish.

Gameplay:

There was a definite improvement in the AI for the infected in this game.  Pathing is improved, and overall the special infected are smarter and use better tactics.  Smokers will stay completely out of sight until they attack, which was an improvement over Left 4 Dead where you could sometimes see them running around “trying” to stay hidden.  There is a great mix of your old nemesis’s and new special infected that make you retreat a whole lot more in this game.  Hearing a charger or Spitter will make you think twice about running around a corner, or through the hedge in the park.

Alas the survivor AI did not get the same kind of boost the infected got.  Maybe Valve concentrated on the infected because more people were playing in co-op than single player, but I was really disappointed that the survivors were still slow to get moving or follow closely just like in the previous Left 4 Dead.  I still can’t fathom why Valve has not improved the AI to the point where computer controlled survivors can use pipe bombs, boomer bile or moltovs.  Why Valve?  WHY!?  This seems like a basic/no brainer that Valve should have added to the game.  Maybe it will be present in the final game, but I’m not holding my breath at this point.  Valve should be ashamed at such an obvious omission.

Overall the level design in the demo was a on par with Left 4 Dead.   I didn’t see a huge improvement, but I don’t think there was much to improve upon.  Valve did a great job in the original game with their level design, and this continues here.  Again, the setting is very detailed and fits the location Valve is trying to recreate.   I have been to Louisiana and New Orleans and they’ve done a good job here of keeping everything authentic.

Teamplay:

Since the demo only contains a single Campaign style game in single player and co-op there’s no review of the Teamplay aspects of the game, but I am really excited to try out the new infected when the final game is released.   Valve did enough to wet your appetite for the multiplayer modes.

Conclusion:

I won’t rank the categories here by number since this is a demo and not the full release, but I will tell you that based solely on the demo this game hit all the marks except for Survivor AI.  I am really looking forward to seeing if Valve is able to keep up this level of detail and level design throughout the whole game.   If it does expect a score in the 90’s.  For now the demo is well worth playing for the next two and a half weeks while we wait for the full game.   I’ve played it about 20 times already and it’s exactly as Valve advertised, “Never the same twice”.

 

System Requirements

Minimum:

  • Supported OS: Windows® 7 / Vista / Vista64 / XP
  • Processor: Pentium 4 3.0GHz
  • Memory: 1 GB for XP / 2GB for Vista
  • Graphics: DirectX 9 compatible video card with 128 MB, Shader model 2.0. ATI X800, NVidia 6600 or better
  • Hard Drive: At least 7.5 GB of free space
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

Recommended:

  • Supported OS: Windows® 7 / Vista / Vista64 / XP
  • Processor: Intel core 2 duo 2.4GHz
  • Memory: 1 GB for XP / 2GB for Vista
  • Graphics: DirectX 9 compatible video card with Shader model 3.0. NVidia 7600, ATI X1600 or better
  • Hard Drive: At least 7.5 GB of free space
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

 

TEST System Spec:

  •  Operating System: Windows® 7 Ultimate (64-bit retail release)
  • Processor: Intel core 2 Quad Q6600
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Graphics: eVGA GTX 260 Core 216
  • Hard Drive: Dual 500GB Seagate Baracudas in RAID0
  • Sound Card: ASUS Xonar D2X

 

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