Thursday, 5 November 2009

What makes a good sequel - zombie edition

Nothing beats the feeling of removing a zombies head with the surgical precision of a shotgun. Well, actually, a roast dinner and glass of wine would top it, or a cooked breakfast with a cup of coffee, and perhaps even eating a Ginster’s pasty in the front seat of a car. To be quite honest there are probably quite a few more joyous things than putting a zombie down with violence, but that is besides the point.

Over the last week I’ve been enjoying Valve’s very brilliant Left 4 Dead 2 demo whilst eagerly awaiting the release of the full thing that should be squeezing itself down your internet pipes in less than two weeks now. Can a sequel to zombie horde culling really add much more to the formula? The short answer is yes.

The longer slightly more interesting answer is yes, it can. Obviously being a sequel to the first game it has to stay firmly tied to its roots. The sceptics out there would possibly say that L4D2 is largely a re-skin of the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, when you take Fern Cotton and turn her into Keira Knightley, there’s nothing to complain about. It’s simply gone from nice to nice. And in the case of L4D2, it appears that Ms Knightley has also brought several new dresses along with her.

Whilst the game experience is instantly familiar there are some pleasant new additions, such as more boss zombies and melee weapons. At first, pummelling everything with a frying pan or guitar is really great fun, but when you come to crank up the difficulty and realise that closing the distance between yourself and the murderous, raging mad men is a bad idea, it can be more appealing to have the pistols that melee weapons replace.

They have also gotten shot of the four original, loveable survivors in favour of four new strangers who at first caused a bit of a stir in the community because their personalities were not leaping out of the still screenshots. This seemed like a bit of a pointless argument as when I look through photos I don’t tend to judge the people before my eyes as boring because they can’t move or speak when immortalised on paper.

Now the demo is out and the new guys are great fun. You have your hick mechanic, the ironically large football coach, a news reporter and a gambler come conman. Just listening to the characters interact with each other during the short demo fills me with confidence that the same effect in the first game will be pulled off here.

Then there’s the opening sequence. The first L4D had a brilliantly done, tension building introduction that nicely explained how our survivors got where they were. It introduced most of the boss zombies you encounter and had quite a climactic finish. The new intro sequence plays more like an action packed movie trailer showing a montage of the game’s different locations played to a rocking sound track. It has everything, guns, zombies, explosions and chainsaws.

All of this adds a huge amount that makes the sequel feel like a lot more than a simple re-skin. Personally I can not wait to see what happens in two weeks when Steam slows down to a halt as it fails to cope with the demands of everyone and their baseball bat trying to get the new game. It’s nice to have a sequel that stays true to the original, but improves on it in everyway.

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