Five steps to a better Left 4 Dead 2

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 1 - 2009

left4dead2Today at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, Left 4 Dead 2 was announced and I couldn’t be more excited. The sequel to the blockbuster zombie apocalypse trainer of 2008 will be here November 17, 2009, according to the just-released teaser trailer. And to celebrate its announcement, I’m going to share five things I’d like to see in the second iteration of this incredible game. Unlike the similarly themed five suggestions for Dead Rising 2, which suggested necessary fixes, this is more of a wish list — there’s nothing that really needed fixing in the original.

  1. Give us four more interesting characters – One of the great strengths of the original was its excellent and iconic characters. They weren’t all equally well conceived (frankly, old-timer Bill was hands-down cooler than the rest) but all were definitely a lot more realistic and engaging than your average game character. Without these personalities, Left 4 Dead would have still been the same kick-ass killfest it was, but it would have lost half its charm. Giving us four more great characters to root for will go a long way toward ensuring the new game is as good as the first.
  2. Give us more of the back story – Another of the great strengths of the first game was the back story, delivered largely through innovative storytelling devices such as messages scrawled on walls and the details of the settings themselves. Give us more, and give it to us the same way (no cutscenes, please!). Word is one of the new characters is a cable news reporter — why not have her drop a few words about what she saw before all hell broke loose as part of the in-game chatter during quiet moments? And I think we’re all wondering how the boss infected get that way…
  3. Connect the dots a little better – As far as I could discern, there was little or no connection between the campaigns in the original. Without any sort of narrative arc the game seemed like a series of unconnected incidents that left me wondering, “Why do these people keep leaving the safety they reach at the end of each level?” I’m sure you can think of some reason and some clever, in-game way of giving it to us (radios maybe?).
  4. Don’t tamper too much with the bosses or add a bunch of new ones – I think the boss infected are just fine as they are. I’m curious how they got that way (see item 2) but I don’t want to see four new bosses in this game, with no explanation given as to how they appear. That is going to push it in the direction of the Resident Evil franchise, where the various letter viruses (T-virus, G-Virus, whatever) can create any kind of googley-eyed demon the developers dream up without breaking a sweat. It makes the whole thing too video game-y (yes, I know it is a video game, don’t be pedantic) and unbelievable to be fun.
  5. Give us more, period – Arguably the one real flaw in the original is the small number of campaigns (four) and limited gun loadout. Given that the engine is already tuned to perfection, would it be too much to ask for to give us a few more campaigns, an extra mode of some kind (at least give us Survival mode from day one) and maybe a couple of extra weapons, simply for variety’s sake? A real grenade, for example, and maybe an RPG that’s hidden near the end of each campaign, for the end game, would be frigging sweet.

That’s it! Readers, I’d love to hear your ideas for what you want to see in the next one, or what you think of mine. And don’t forget, you can see the teaser here if you haven’t already (embed screwed the site up, sorry!).

Deadlines: News roundup 5/20/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 20 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

Blend up psychedelia, sleazy exploitation, sexual deviance and zombies (of course) and you get something like the upcoming Someone’s Knocking on the Door. Quiet Earth has details, intriguing trailer is embedded after the jump (Quiet Earth).

The first stills for the political zombie comedy Zombies of Mass Destruction (which will screen at the Los Angeles Film Festival) have emerged. They look decent, and if you head over to Bloody Disgusting, you can see them. (Bloody Disgusting)

If you’ve somehow avoided playing Resident Evil in any of its myriad formats and want to rectify that in classic PSOne style on your PS3 or PSP, good news: It’s coming as a download. (Kotaku)

Swine flu has once again been linked to the zombie apocalypse, this time by preventing Dead Rising 2 from appearing at E3. See, the Japanese government is warning against international travel thanks to this swine flu business and Capcom is taking that seriously. Wimps. (Kotaku)

Finally, a way to combine crosswords and the obsessive love of zombie shooter Left 4 Deadthe official Left 4 Dead crossword. (Left 4 Dead Official Blog)

Barely news, but there’s a new Pontypool one-sheet out. (Bloody Disgusting)

After the jump, the gloriously fucked up and entirely NSFW trailer for Someone’s Knocking at the Door.

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Deadlines: News roundup 5/19/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 19 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

First I’ve heard of it, but word is post-production wrapped at the end of April on The Dead Matter, a “supernatural thriller inspired by EC Comics, Creepshow, and Hammer Films” that stars Tom Savini and  a bunch of character actors. The trailer’s got some autopsied corpses walking around, a seance, maybe some vampires — looks like fun, in other words. After the break, I’ve got the trailer for you. (Horror-Movies.ca)

As the original poster over at Kotaku pointed out, the biggest surprise about the clip of Rock Band 2 that shows the characters of Left 4 Dead playing the ultimately appropriate “Pretend We’re Dead” by L7 is that it took this long for it to exist. Enjoy it after the break and kudos to the person who created it! (Kotaku)

Speaking of Left 4 Dead, the official blog subtly suggests you might be interested in voting for it in the 27th annual Golden Joystick awards, a suggestion I heartily endorse. (Left 4 Dead Official Blog)

It was news yesterday, but I foolishly forgot it, so please forgive me. Rob Sacchetto’s Zombie Daily blog, an art blog of the man’s zombie sketches (he did this lovely portrait of me, for example) resumed after a brief hiatus to finish his book called The Zombie Handbook: How to Identify the Living Dead and Survive the Coming Zombie Apocalypse (pre-order it here). Which presumably means the book is done, right? (Zombie Daily)

In non-zombie news, I wrote a review elsewhere of the ridiculous shark vs. octopus movie Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, if you like that sort of thing. And don’t forget, two clips after the break!

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Deadlines: News roundup 5/18/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 18 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

A new one-sheet for I Sell the Dead has come out. No new info (although Dread Central is reiterating the August 14 release date, which was denied a while back) but hey, it’s something. (Dread Central)

Come August 25, you can get your bikini-clad zombie-slaying groove on with the Onechanbara: Zombie Bikini Squad movie on DVD. I know it seems like a can’t-miss proposition, but I’ve heard some pretty mixed things about this one. I guess we’ll see. (Nippon Cinema)

As I hear and read more about Pontypool, my interest level and excitement are approaching a level describable only as frantic. The latest goodness is this intriguing interview with the director, Bruce McDonald. (Shock Till You Drop)

Need more reason to get frantic about Pontypool? Well, how about the just-announced sequel, Pontypool Changes? I’m starting to experience my own personal backlash — I mean, at this point, I don’t know if the film can live up to my expectations or not… (Dread Central)

The Left 4 Dead Authoring Tools are now available. That means lucky PC gamers are going to get to fiddle with the awesome zombie-apocalypse trainer Left 4 Dead and make more levels, game variations, etc. Sometime I envy PC gamers. Then I remember I already spend way too much time playing video games. (Left 4 Dead Official Blog)

Finally, if you look to your right you’ll notice a very slight design tweak, and the addition of a poll. Please weigh in on this initial generic poll (what do you think of the site? — a sort of “Hello world!” of polls) and look out for new and exciting poll content to come.

Deadlines: News roundup 5/4/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 4 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

The mainstream media is catching on to the awesomeness of zombies (surely a sign of impending zombie apocalypse) as the Chicago Tribune jumps in with a piece about the zombie zeitgeist and a short interview with Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. (Chicago Tribune)

If you need more toys to announce to your friends, coworkers and loved ones how freaking much you love the undead, then you are in luck: Fearwerx has some special, limited-edition 8″ figures of the original zombie from Night of the Living Dead available. (Dread Central)

In the “It’s about frigging time” department, REC is getting a proper U.S. DVD release on July 14. That’s the good news. The bad news? No Blu-Ray release and only one lousy making-of featurette for special features. Lame. (Fangoria)

Late Friday, a rumor broke that Peter Jackson was returning to horror with a yarn about nazi zombies that travel back in time to kill Christ. Before your head explodes with awesomeness, be aware the rumor was debunked quickly. (Entertainment Weekly)

The cutesy, cel-shaded zombie game Zombie Wranglers is being released this Wednesday, May 6 on the Xbox Live Arcade for 800 XBL points ($10 in Earth moneys). (Team Xbox)

In other cutesy zombie game news, the downloadable Plants vs. Zombies strategy title releases tomorrow, May 5. And some woman went and knit up a bunch of Left 4 Dead characters and zombies. (Kotaku)

Also, if you’re reading this via RSS, is there any chance I could convince you to either leave me a comment or send me an e-mail and say “hey”? I’m trying to figure out how many of you are out there and I’ve yet to discover a good tool to do so. Thanks!

Deadlines: News roundup 4/30/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 30 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

Starting at Friday midnight GMT, Left 4 Dead will be free for 24 hours for PC players who are Steam users. I’ve already raved about this game a bit, but allow me to reiterate that this is one of the greatest zombie games ever. If you’ve avoided the temptation thus far, give in and try it. (Kotaku)

Speaking of greatest zombie games ever, Kotaku has a short interview with Dead Rising 2 producer Keiji Inafune. The big reveal is that there will be non-combat skills. Specifically mentioned is riding a motorbike in badass fashion. Some of them will help the character level up, like in the first game, but none will be photography, which should make some players happy. It’s a video interview, and it is embedded after the jump and there’s lots more in it about the first game and the upcoming sequel. (Kotaku)

The latest content release for Call of Duty: World at War includes another zombie-killing map called Shi No Numa (Zombie Swamp). I haven’t played this one because I am anti-WWII games, even if they have zombies. Enough, already. That damn war has been played to death. Still, maybe you feel differently, in which case enjoy killing some more WWII-era zombies. (Kotaku)

IFC has got ahold of I Sell the Dead, a movie about grave robbers starring Dominic Monaghan and Ron Perlman. It’s coming August 14 to theaters and on demand. Is it a zombie movie? Well, the trailer (helpfully embedded after the jump) shows some reanimated corpses, so I am going to say provisionally speaking, it counts. (Dread Central)

Special thanks to Kotaku for giving me most of my daily zombie news. You get a zombie cookie. To the rest of you, sorry for the lateness of today’s post. My life interfered.

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Deadlines: News roundup 4/22/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 22 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

The folks at IGN have an update on Dead Rising 2. The condensed version is new lead character, same basic plot (survive 72 hours of zombie hell) with more zombies and more ways to kill zombies.

The week of April 27 to May 4 is apparently the time to experience zombies and the infected on Xbox Live. Download a gamerpic, play one of the featured games (including two of my absolute all-time zombie favorites Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead) or watch one of the featured movies (some great choices such as Shaun of the Dead and Dead Alive, some not-so-great such as Dead and Deader and The Quick and the Undead) and you could win prizes. You can get an early start by playing Left 4 Dead with the Xbox ambassadors on April 24. Like I need any encouragement to play zombie games and watch zombie movies…

The musical Song of the Dead is getting a limited theatrical release May 1. Fangoria has the details about what lucky locations across the American South and Midwest get to see it on the big screen.

Deadlines: News roundup 4/21/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 21 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

The new Left 4 Dead DLC is available for both PC and Xbox 360. You get the “Dead Air” and “Blood Harvest” campaigns playable in Versus mode, plus the all new Survival mode. And it’s free, which is extra awesome.

I lost interest somewhere around the middle of the second Marvel Zombies series, but the tireless folks at Fangoria have kept at it and have a review of Marvel Zombies series four up.

When the real zombie apocalypse happens, good tools will be of utmost importance. This modern steel tomahawk looks to be just the thing for zombie killing (hey, it was a slow news day…).

Deadlines: News roundup 4/17/09

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 17 - 2009

deadlines

A daily roundup of all the undead news that shambles into view… Got news tips? E-mail me at cory.casciato[AT]gmail.com.

It’s just days until the first batch of DLC hits for the zombie apocalypse trainer/simulator Left 4 Dead. It’s adding a new Survival mode and enabling Versus play on two new maps. If you weren’t already excited enough, go get hyped with this Left 4 Dead developer blog explaining how the new Survival mode works.

Now we know when the weirdo zombie madness of Pontypool and the Norwegian zombie madness of Dead Snow will hit theaters! It’s May 29 for Pontypool and June 12 for Dead Snow (a snowbound zombie flick in the middle of summer? Whatever…). If your city isn’t cool enough to warrant a theatrical showing, despair not, they both come to on-demand on the same day they release theatrically. You can read all about IFC’s plans for the films, or read my review of Dead Snow. I’ll review Pontypool just as soon as I can lay hands on a review copy.

Can’t get enough zombie Christmas? How about some more info and images from Silent Night, Zombie Night?

If you’re a fan of video games and big numbers, you will be thrilled to read that Resident Evil 5 has sold 1.5 million copies.

Left 4 Dead‘s epic story

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 10 - 2009

l4d05

Four survivors, thrown together by circumstance when the world dissolves into the chaos of the inevitable zombie apocalypse. While their friends, family and neighbors are turned into vicious, crazed zombies these four people, with nothing in common besides the will to survive, must work together to make it to safety. If they can’t, none of them has a chance.

Not only is Left 4 Dead a great video game, it’s a triumph of visual storytelling. Apart from a skippable intro movie and a separate post-campaign escape scene for each of the four campaigns, there are no cutscenes or non-interactive movies anywhere in the game. The entire story is told within the game world. This is done through messages spraypainted on walls, the scenes of carnage, the gameplay itself and, most impressively and importantly, through the characters.

The messages left everywhere are the tiny, impressive details of an epic horror story. These range from official quarantine orders and safety procedure signs to scrawled  messages for loved ones left behind, to flaky advice and philosophy. Whether you take the time to read it all or not (I did), its simple presence adds a lot of depth to the back story of the game, and consequently helps the immersion factor considerably. Along side the written messages, the simple fact of the carnage and improvised defenses obvious in the setup of the abandoned apartments, houses, hotels and businesses that make up the game levels adds another level to the story. Just like in real life (and in the best movies, for that matter) there’s no need to tell the story — it’s easy to see exactly what happened.

The four characters are expressed ably and subtly through their details, from animations to the signature lines they speak  and reactions to events within the game. Excellent voice acting, character modeling and animation all contribute to some of the best realized digital characters ever seen in any medium. The crusty old vet; high-strung office drone; gruff, tough swaggering biker; and horror-movie loving final-girl type are all communicated well without once interrupting the core game to introduce or explain or anything about any of them. Most gamers will pick one of the heroes as a favorite pretty quickly and stick with them whenever playing — for me, that’s the Bill, the chain-smoking, cantankerous old Vietnam vet with a dark sense of humor. Functionally, the characters are identical as far as I can tell — there’s no advantage to playing with one over or another.

The music and sound of the game are perfect too, from the gibberish and howling screams of the infected to the signature sounds of the special infected. The witch’s musical cue is especially spooky and effective. These elements support and deepen the visual and gameplay elements to tell the story.

I have to say that I love the zombies of this game. They are of the infected type, and possibly not technically dead (it isn’t really clear). I also love that they explained why the characters don’t get turned despite constant contact with infected — much like Planet Terror (which seems an inspiration), the main cast and certain others are all immune to the highly contagious disease. This game finally sold me once and for all on the fast zombies, too. Not as a replacement for the shamblers, who will always be first in my heart, but as an distinct and honorable branch of zombiedom. For the game, these work really well — the tension of the game would be absent if they could only shuffle.

The special zombies, who seem to control the regular horde, are an interesting touch, too. There’s the boomer that can puke zombie-attractant all over anything, the smoker with his long, whip-like tongue that can snare unsuspecting survivors, the fast, agile hunter that pounces and pins the unwary, the grotesquely strong tank and finally, the haggard, emo (she cries constantly until she attacks) witch, fast and strong and very easily upset. Their influence on the game play is enormous and they fit within the fiction just fine, even though tye aren’t really explained (what, you think in a real zombie apocalypse there’s going to be an explanation for all the weird shit you will see?). Again, there’s some precedent — JUNK had a master zombie who was super-strong and could control the other “regular” zombies and the Resident Evil franchise (both games and movies) have included a number of special “super zombies”.  It’s something of a requirement for games — simply killing the same zombies over and over again gets boring, in theory.

If the game’s story has a weakness it is the lack of a coherent overarching narrative to tie it all together. Why do they keep finding themselves needing to cross town to get to the next escape point? It’s a mystery. Or maybe an existential joke: why did the survivors of the zombie apocalypse cross the town? To get to the next level, of course.

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