Review: Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360)


New survivor Rochelle is attacked by a Jockey, complete with The Joker-style manic laughter, while Ellis minds his own business (pic: GP)

Everybody loves killing zombies. Something about fighting off the hordes of the undead gives a certain satisfaction you just don’t get from killing Minion #367 or slaying a mythical beast. Perhaps it’s because we relate to the characters in games like Left 4 Dead – the whole world has gone to pot so they are forced to kill everything in sight as a last resort, a final act of desperation, for survival.

Valve’s original zombie-shooter raised the bar in terms of what can be achieved in the genre, and they were rewarded with countless Game of the Year Awards. The game’s intro movie entranced the imagination of players as they watched a Hunter, the hoody-wearing ‘special’ infected, pounce across a road to attack Lewis thinking “I hope I can do that”.

Sure enough the team didn’t disappoint and the multiplayer aspect in particular demonstrated a whole new level of cooperative gaming, clocking thousands of hours of play time on Xbox LIVE.

With the sequel then, the bar was set rather high. Luckily there were issues with the original which needed to be addressed, and Valve tackled these in spades, countering complaints about the lack of campaigns playable in Versus mode by making all five stories playable this time around.

On top of the new levels there are new special infected to play around with: the Charger, a Tank-esque figure who can knock down an entire team like bowling pins and pummel one unlucky survivor to the floor, the Jockey, who piggy-backs survivors and drags them away from the team, leaving them open to attack, and the Spitter, who produces a highly toxic acid from it’s mouth which can cripple a team in seconds.

Choosing not to continue the story (actually you’re right, what story?!) from the original L4D by changing the setting to the southern states of America, the new survivors – Nick, Ellis, Rochelle and Coach – begin their story in Georgia, not even knowing each others names and attempt to find their way to New Orleans in hope of rescue by the military.

On top of the standard campaign, which is more amusing (and frustrating) online, and versus mode, the game also offers ‘Realism’, ‘Survival’ and ‘Scavenge’. ‘Realism’ is for the seasoned L4D player, taking away all the pop up hints like “Don’t shoot team mates!” and not highlighting weapons, items or off-screen players, making the special infected all the more deadly.

‘Survival’ is similar to the free add on for the first game, which sets up the four survivors in various locations from the campaigns and challenges players to stay alive for as long as possible, with as much petrol and pipe-bombs as you can throw.

‘Scavenge’ sees you collecting fuel to power light generators or getaway vehicles and works much in the same way as ‘Survival’ except there are rounds, with both teams getting to play as the special infected and the survivors, forcing players to exploit the new specials abilities, such as using the Spitter to cover the fuel pouring area in acid, or splitting up the survivors by driving one away with the Jockey.

The biggest change is the weaponry. If you ever wanted to swipe off the head of a zombie with a cricket bat (á la Sean of the Dead) you can thanks to the shiny melee weapons. Totalling eight in all, the list is topped by the deadly chainsaw, which can plough through dozens of gruesome infected before it runs out of juice.

The array of main weapons available has also been boosted, now letting you deal death with an array of FPS classics such as the AK-47 or Desert Eagle, but the jewel in the crown is the grenade launcher. Ridiculously powerful, but painfully slow to reload, the launcher sends body parts flying with precision and can quickly dispatch the fearsome Tank.

As if that wasn’t enough, incendiary and explosive ammo are now available, good for one clip per gun when activated. The explosive ammo is a little lack-lustre, merely causing rounds to occasionally clip infected standing nearby. The power of fire on the other hand is devastating, creating one-hit-kills and lighting up the horde like a Christmas tree, well…maybe a pyromaniacs Birthday party…

The campaigns are as fresh and engaging as their predecessors were first time around, and the implementation of weather and other environmental effects is particularly well done. In ‘Dead Center’ you have to escape the building while it’s burning down around you, with flames and smoke everywhere making it difficult to see and almost impossible to find the way out. This is taken even further in ‘Hard Rain’ where the second half of the level sees you re-tracing your steps while a storm rages slowing movement and covering the sounds of the infected’s approach, creating a tense and genuinely terrifying experience.

Online, this game is a triumph and promises countless hilarious and irritating moments, often at the same time. It doesn’t re-invent the genre or poke at the boundaries like Modern Warfare 2, but Valve have lived up to their pedigree and provided a sequel that surpasses the original Without Xbox LIVE though, there wouldn’t be much of a game, so if you’re online play-challenged then give this a miss, for anyone else who owns an Xbox though it’s a crucial purchase. Lock and load.

James Michael Parry

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Music digitalisation: Does CD stand for Certain Doom?

Compact discs have long been the symbol of the music industry. Since their commercial introduction in 1982 as a joint venture between Phillips and Sony, over 200 billion CDs have been sold across the world (according to the BBC). That’s an average of one million discs every hour.

But CD sales have slumped in recent years and global sales in 2009 will be half the level of the peak of the CD boom according to a survey by Enders.

Download services, such as iTunes or HMV Music, now generate around 7.5% of album purchases in the UK, a figure which rose 36% in 2008. (Sources: Offcom Digital Britain Report and The Guardian)

Illegal downloading is also still on the rise, with some 40 billion tracks being shared on sites like Limewire and Bittorrent in 2008 across 16 countries. Efforts by the Government to curb the rise have been met with apathy by the ‘internet generation’ – 14 to 24 year-olds – who “know that file sharing is illegal but will exploit whatever technology is available to enable them to enlarge their music collections for free” according to The Times.

Unfortunately for the industry, these illegal downloads make up 95% of the music being exchanged across the internet, losing artists and record companies £180m every year. Many alternative artists have voiced that they don’t mind how people get their music as long as they hear it, but you feel as though few record company executives would agree.

The silver lining is that in a study conducted by the University of Hertfordshire which says 85% of the age group in question said they would continue to buy CDs even if they were given access to an unlimited legal download service. This shows that people still put value in ‘owning’ things rather than just ‘streaming’ them from internet services such as Last.fm or Spotify.

The reason that many feel it’s ‘OK’ to download music is “mainly because it’s free and they are not going to get caught”, according to Feargal Sharkey, the former Undertones singer and chief executive of UK Music, an umbrella organisation which represents the industry.

Despite best efforts, talks between the industry and the Government have been crawling along for the past few years, with the Government last year proposing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should use a ‘three-strike’ letter writing system to warn offenders, giving them the responsibility to directly tackle the problem, which was reiterated in the Digital Britain report.

Punishments range from having bandwidth curbed to their internet being permanently suspended, according to The Times. Unfortunately there is still no right answer, and the discussions continue. We wondered what people really thought about it all, so we asked you:

Sarah White, 19, from Woodham said “You should be allowed to download music for free depending how long it’s been out for.”

Andy Hemphill, 22, from Ewell said “Illegal downloading isn’t immoral because music companies make music too expensive and are too slow to pick up on digital sales. It may be illegal but it will continue until they lower the cost of music.”

Lis Symons, 19, from Sandhurst said “I only download from iTunes now, because the others are all too much hassle. I always got viruses when I used Limewire, it’s like it’s one big virus.”

Colin Miller, 29, from London said “Maybe I’m just old and bitter but the good music doesn’t get the credit it deserves these days, as most of it gets swallowed up by the X-Factor money-making machine.”

Kirsty Watkinson, 21, from Darwen said “There’s nothing more delightful than having something concrete that you can touch and put up on the wall to represent the music you like, that’s why I love CDs so much, but having digital copies of songs from CD is safer because they can’t get scratched.”

MP3 players, specifically Apple’s revolutionary iPod, have been the driving force behind music digitalisation and now almost half the population (48%) of people own and actively use and MP3/4 or mobile phone music player. This percentage hasn’t increased significantly in the last two years though, suggesting the market may be at saturation point.

The industry has tried to react to changing consumer demand, with companies investing millions in music subscription services , but according to industry critics Deloittle, it’s not enough:

“Music services may need to merge consumer features and benefits, such as a subscription service that comes with other deliverables e.g. portability and CDs, for consumers to believe that a music service is worth paying for.”

CDs may be fading away in the industry but they’re far from dying out altogether. There’s no question they’ll be lying around cluttering up our lofts for some time to come, and there’s a certain charm to listening to an album all the way through while as the artist intended.

One thing’s for sure though, downloads are here to stay, and without punishments for downloaders there’s no reason for people to stop, and with the number of tracks available increasing by thousands a day, why would they want to go all the way down the shops?

James Michael Parry