Left 4 Dead 2

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[[Avatar Awards and Clothes]]

Has it been a whole year since Left 4 Dead was released? It's still one of the most played games around. And before anyone can get remotely sick of it, Valve is offering an embarrassment of riches with Left 4 Dead II this November.

We've also just gotten word that Left 4 Dead II will be one of the first Xbox 360 titles to offer avatar awards. Certain milestones reached in the game will unlock clothing and accessories for your avatar. A Steam user found the details hidden with the demo code, and a video from G4 has confirmed the existence of these awards. Here's what you can earn for your special little virtual fellow:

• Med Kit - beat all five campaigns on any skill level
• Frying Pan - kill 10,000 infected
• Garden Gnome - rescue Gnome Chompski (this is the same gnome that appeared in Half-Life 2)
• Bull Shifters shirt - win 10 games of Versus
• Left 4 Dead II shirt - win 10 games of Scavenge
• Zombie Hand shirt - kill 10,000 infected
• Depeche Mode shirt - rescue Gnome Chompski

Now enough about clothes. Let's get to the violence.

[[Cast of Characters]]

Say goodbye to Louis, Zoe, Francis, and Bill. It's time to make some new friends. Although the game takes place only a week after the first L4D, a new location means new survivors. Coach, who bears more than a slight resemblance to Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is a high school football coach with a bad knee-but we bet he'll still be calling all the right plays. Rochelle is a news reporter for a location station. Ellis is a mechanic. Nick is a gambler and a con man. The first title contained few NPCs, and none that made more than a few appearances. L4D2 changes that with the inclusion of Virgil, a Cajun boat captain who will show up at certain points in the game to help your group out.

The four survivors won't be the only new characters you'll encounter. Valve's got a heaping helping of undead opponents for you to kill.

All five special infected from the first game will be back, so prepare to face the Boomer, Tank, Smoker, Witch, and the Hunter all over again. The Boomer, a charming fellow who vomits particularly nasty bile at survivors, can draw swarms of zombies to those in his splash zone. The sequel will also have a female boomer, although it is unclear whether or how she will be different. Vicious ambushes come from The Smoker, who grab survivors from a distance with his long tongue and draw them in. The Tank is basically an organic version of the vehicle he's named after: strong, slow, lethal, and hard to destroy. Hunters, the only special infected who can stay totally silent, is extremely agile and able to pin down survivors, clawing at their stomachs until either he kills them or another survivors knocks him off of his victim. The Witch, as you may remember from the original L4D, will leave you alone as long as you don't get too close. Alert her, and she can kill you in one move. In L4D2 the Witch will also wander around in the daytime (as opposed to merely slumping in place during the evening, as in L4D1), which means you can never fall asleep again. Not content to merely keep you in a state of constant terror, the sequel features new special infected. I'm happy to hear that The Jockey won't be riding a zombie horse, because then I just couldn't play this game at all. Instead, he jumps on your back and forcefully steers you into the salivating horde or traps that the A.I. Director sets. The Charger has one huge, mutated arm that it uses to sweep survivors off their feet. The Spitter spits at survivors, like the Antlion Worker in Valve's Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Its nasty phlegm blob contains acid that spreads upon impact, forcing survivors to move and possibly lose each other in the process.

For the first time in the series, L4D2 will feature "uncommon common" infected. These zombies are unique to each campaign and separate themselves from the rest of the common horde with accessories they had on their person at the time of their infection. The Parish campaign features uncommon common infected wearing Hazmat suits (rendering them impervious to fire) and riot gear (which deflects gunfire). In the Dark Carnival, you'll come nose-to-red-nose with an infected dressed up in a clown suit that has the power to summon other zombies. The infected that come running seem small in numbers to those who appear after you've been doused in boomer bile, but I have a feeling that it won't matter when the appearance of a zombie clown sends me into paralysis and my controller to the floor. Really, can you think of two scarier things? Maybe you can when you meet the rest of the uncommon common infected.

[[Gameplay]]

A few new weapons have made their way into the ranks to help you thin out the infected ranks. So far, we can tell you that melee weapons will include frying pans, axes, and chainsaws. Long-range weapons will feature scoped assault rifles and silenced sub-machine guns. Pre-order now and get access to an American baseball bat as well. Overall, we're looking at 20 new weapons (10 of them melee). You'll also have access to new types of ammo, like explosive and incendiary rounds.

All this firepower is going to come in handy, because you're going to want to spend a lot of time in all of the modes the game has to offer. Co-op will once again be the shining jewel in the game. Like L4D, you and up to three of your friends can link up online and play through the five campaigns as the four survivors-that is, if you can all agree on who gets to be Coach. If you're playing on the 360, you'll also be able to game cooperatively on a split-screen. Of course, you can play through the campaign alone as well.

The five campaigns you'll be working through will take you throughout the Southern U.S., from Savannah, Georgia to New Orleans, Louisiana. Dead Center, the first campaign, takes place in a shopping mall in Savannah that has not yet been hit by infection-although we have a feeling that's about to change. We've seen zombie-filled shopping malls before in Dawn of the Dead and Dead Rising, but this is a scenario I'm eager to revisit. The second campaign, Dark Carnival, takes you from a motel to the Whispering Oaks carnival and my pee-filled pants to the dry cleaners. The third campaign, Swamp Fever, puts the survivors in a flooded swamp littered with bloated corpses. Hard Rain, in riverside Ducatel, Mississippi, sends them through a sugar factory and sugarcane fields. Did you know that Witches are naturally attracted to sugar? Stay on your toes. Finally, The Parish in New Orleans probably won't offer any divine intervention.

Versus Mode and Survival Mode will be back in full force. Like the original L4D, Versus Mode pits two teams of four against each other online. One team, the four survivors, will struggle to get to the safe room. The other team will play as special infected who try to stop the survivors from getting there. Once per chapter, the teams switch sides. Survival Mode traps survivors in smaller sections of each chapter, challenging them to stay alive as long as possible against the zombie horde.

L4D2 also features a new Scavenge Mode. The four-on-four gameplay puts one team in the role of the survivors and the other in the role of the infected, like Versus Mode. In this mode, survivors will need to collect and use as many of the sixteen gas canisters they can find scattered around the level to power generators and increase the time left in the round (provided they don't accidentally blow up the canisters first). Each round starts off with 120 seconds on the timer, and each gas canister adds 20 seconds. The infected players will try to stop the survivors and detonate the canisters. Reportedly, the game will have six new maps specific to this mode.

[[Technology]]

Like the original L4D, the sequel makes use of the revolutionary A.I. Director to give players a unique experience every playthrough. Judging on how well the player is doing, the Director drops items, enemies, and weapons into the game at different locations with varying frequency.

This time, the A.I. Director 2.0 will allow for much more variety. Besides the tricks we saw from the first Director, this second version can alter wall placement, level layout, lighting, and weather conditions-truly making each playthrough different. I'm not going out on a limb by saying that this is going to bode well for the game's staying power. Furthermore, the Director will now reward players for not taking the easy way out. For those survivors that travel along the riskier paths in the game, the Director will provide special weapons, ammo, and other items. I expect that by the time the A.I. Director reaches Version 5.0, it will finally become self-aware.

[[Mo Zombies Mo Problems]]

If you want to make a zombie omelet, you're going to have to break a few zombie chicken eggs (trust me, this is not a pretty sight-but the outcome is delish). It's been a long, hard road getting Left 4 Dead II out the door. Here are a few of the controversies Valve's had to face down.

The Boycott

After Left 4 Dead II was announced, a group of Steam players rallied together and issued a call to action. Angered by the sequel's release a mere year after the original, the protestors argued that Valve was reneging on their commitment to support the original release with DLC and instead milking the franchise by forcing players to purchase a new full-priced title. While the online protest received plenty of signatures, the original protesters soon changed their minds after being brought to Valve's studios to see the game for themselves. The protest is now defunct.

Flipping the Bird

The British Empire has had some serious beef with L4D2. First, the cover art had to be changed for the English release. L4D2's current cover art features a hand with two protruding fingers, a sign that means peace in many countries. Not so in England. The "V for Victory" sign thrown backwards (back of the hand facing out) is the equivalent of the middle finger. Naturally, the hand had to be flipped around so as not to be even more obscene than it already is. British gamers will get this altered version.

Too Violent, Mate

Australia isn't too keen on L4D2's violence. In fact, the game had been refused classification by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. It was considered too violent for the country's highest rating, MA15+. As was the case when the same thing happened to Fallout 3, Valve needed to submit an edited version of the game (no longer containing images of "decapitation, dismemberment, wound detail or piles of dead bodies") that was then accepted as an MA15+ title. Aussies, may we suggest importing?

Is Left 4 Dead II Racist?

Left 4 Dead II features a level that has caused some controversy. Willie Jefferson of the Houston Chronicle drew mass attention to this issue when he expressed his belief that the zombies who "appeared to be African-Americans" demonstrate racist ideology in the game (certainly, not all of the zombies in the game are African-American). You may remember a similar controversy over the black African zombies in Resident Evil 5. Jefferson also pointed out that "setting the game in a city that was a scene of dead, bloated bodies floating by" was "a bad call" in light of Hurricane Katrina. Play the game and be the judge.

[[Last Breath]]

Whether the controversies surrounding the game have validity or not, there's no question that Left 4 Dead II will be a quality title whose holiday sales may go unmatched
If you're looking for a great shooter that isn't "just a shooter," you already know that everything Valve does is golden. Since the zombie craze just keeps reaching new heights, from Zombieland's success to books like The Walking Dead and the Max Brooks titles, I'm expecting a long, successful (after)life for this series.

Pick up Left 4 Dead II when it releases for PC and Xbox 360 on November 17th. A free demo is currently available online and on Xbox Live.

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Left 4 Dead 2

I'm happy they released the additional content they promised for L4D. I'll just be playing through the 3 hour campaign with my friends on lan for free instead of paying for the promised dlc :D

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