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Hands On: Left 4 Dead 2

Format: PC, Xbox 360

Publisher: EA

Price: £34.99-£49.99

Release: 20 November

‘What’s that,’ you say. ‘Has hell frozen over, or is Valve publishing a sequel within just a year of the original title’s release?’ Indeed, it may well be that Satan is skiing to work these days as Valve, notorious for their lengthy development time between sequels (just look at the six years separating Half-Life and its sequel), is gearing up to unleash Left 4 Dead 2 on us already.

Anyone familiar with last year’s Left 4 Dead will feel instantly at home with its sequel. In the action stakes not a lot has changed: you’re still one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse and you’ve naught but your weapon, your wits and your fellow survivors to aid your survival across the game’s episodes. What is new is a greater variation in zombies (or ‘infected’ as they’re known in the game), five new episodes to survive through, a more involved mêlée combat system and something Valve are calling ‘AI Director 2.0’, which improves the variation in zombie placement amongst other things seen in the original game.

Scenario ‘The Parish’ was available to play at the event - the same scenario seen in the demo. Having played the previous Left 4 Dead to death – or should that be undeath? – the bloodiness of the game is the first aspect to really stand out and is particularly prominent when dispatching zombies with the various hand-to-hand weapons. Heads will be cleaved in two and limbs hacked off by the swing of a machete, samurai sword and even an electric guitar. Each blow sent reams of blood splattering, particularly appropriate to Halloween and fully deserving of the game’s 18 certificate. The close-combat weapons worked well and though they felt slightly tempered by the sheer speed of the infected hordes – which seemed faster moving than those in the original game – proved a satisfying addition.

New to the ranks of the ‘infected’ are the Charger, Spitter and Jockey boss characters. The Charger is built similarly to the Tank boss character from the original game and lives up to its name by pelting into survivors knocking them for six. The Spitter, as you might imagine, spits venom at the survivors causing burn damage, while the Jockey – perhaps the most amusing infected – jumps on to the back of unlucky survivors causing incapacitation until a colleague shoots it off. The previous five boss characters: Smoker, Hunter, Boomer, Tank and Witch all make appearances too. Finally, there’s the ‘uncommon common infected’ which vary from scenario to scenario. In ‘The Parish’ scenario, these were in the shape of a fallen riot policemen, still clothed in full body armour and hence much harder to take down than your average grunt.

From first impressions Left 4 Dead 2 is shaping up to be every bit as good as the original and in fact looks like a significant improvement. The improved AI director looks like vindication enough for the release of a sequel rather than the release of add-on material for the original game. Each scenario benefits from increased variation in weather effects, night and day rotations and even alternative routes; something the original game would have greatly benefited from. All signs point towards another classic, so grab a baseball bat and prepare yourself for a second zombie apocalypse.