E3 09: Modern Warfare 2 vs Left 4 Dead 2 vs Halo 3: ODST

E3’s gone dark for another year, and as we bid farewell to the rip-roarin’-est show in years we find ourselves buzzing with anticipation. The FPS field is crowded, as usual, with several massive sequels (and a handful of promising but unproven new titles).  Since you need to know which of these are worth your time and money, we’ve selected a few top-shelf shooters for comparison. Let the merciless scrutiny begin!

Modern Warfare 2

Though we didn’t get to actually play Modern Warfare 2, we were privy to a closed-door demo that was the full version of the level shown briefly at Microsoft’s press conference.

Above: The official screen for the demo mission Cliffhanger 

The graphically dazzling and meticulously paced demo for Modern Warfare 2 showcased many of the game’s strong suits. Frantic firefights. Whizzbang guns with fancy sensors. Combat-free bonding interludes. Plan Bs. The environment played a more important role than in previous games, with a blizzard providing cover and necessitating the use of heartbeat sensors to take out unsuspecting enemies. With typical attention to detail, little eddies of snow swirled across the ground and the whipping wind tore at the player’s clothing. Hell, it made us cold just looking at it! The action flowed from stealthy infiltration to balls-out firefight to snowmobile escape while all the while, Soap MacTavish’s rough-hewn voice growled in our ears, talking us through mission objectives.

Above: Call of Duty 4 protag Soap MacTavish (that’s Captain MacTavish to you!) playing knifey/spoony with a suspected terrorist 

The experience was flawless, with the exception of the snowmobile chase which felt a bit too James Bond-y and out of sync with the franchise’s gritty realism. He’s steering a 600 lb snowmobile off cliffs with one hand while shooting his gun sideways with the other, for chrissake! The chase ends when the player jumps a huge chasm and lands safely in a friendly base. Whether this gonzo blockbuster style permeates the rest of the game remains to be seen; if it does, we’re sure it’ll still be fun to play but will represent a marked change in tone.

Above: Ever fired your gun in the air and yelled, 'Aaaaaaah?' 

Taking an already awesome game and adding more guns and better graphics is a great idea. But MW2 will be more than that. Remember the Mile High Club mission that unlocked at the end of CoD4’s single player campaign, where you had to storm through Air Force One before the timer ran out? Modern Warfare 2 will have a “Special Ops” co-op mode that is essentially that but missions will be unlocked throughout the campaign. With loads of possible gameplay teased in the trailers and more details about co-op and multiplayer sure to come, we can’t wait to get our hands on Infinity Ward’s latest.

Post-show hype: Kachow! Locked and loaded!

Left 4 Dead 2

Valve’s shock announcement of L4D2 at E3 initiated one of three reactions:

1) Shit yeah, more zombies!
2) I want more content for L4D1, betrayers!
3) Where the hell is Episode 3??

OK, Camps 2 and 3, we hear you. But we think by the time the game ships you’re going to be joining us in Camp 1.


Left 4 Dead 2 is set in and around New Orleans, with four new survivors: Nick, Coach, Rochelle and Ellis. The demo level was from a campaign called The Parish. Starting from a waterfront pier, we worked our way up into the city, ripping into zombie mobs with familiar-feeling but slightly redesigned weapons. One thing about the daylight setting, it really shows off how pretty the graphics are! We quickly discovered a new item, a box of incendiary ammo, and hosed down our foes with burning lead. Incendiary rounds were most useful in the shotgun, where a single spray of buckshot could ignite 2 or 3 zombies at once. Cue a new kind of “uncommon” common infected, a zombie in a hazmat suit who is impervious to fire.

Above: The hazmat suit is not bulletproof 

The demo also introduced a new Special Infected, the Charger, who comes at you fast and attacks with fisticuffs like a Tank. This has the effect of scattering your team to prevent you from turtling your way through the level. Though they can knock you around a bit and disrupt your formation, they’re thankfully not as hard to kill as a Tank. Two more new Special Infected will be revealed over the summer. While we’re on the topic of Specials, the Witch has also been tweaked and now wanders around. This caught us totally off guard and she ripped us to pieces on the doorstep of the safehouse. 

Melee weapons are another new addition. In the demo we were able to pick up a cast-iron frying pan and a fire axe for some up-close-and-personal time with the undead. The axe was particularly gratuitous as it forcibly cleaved limbs and heads from the rotting torsos of our foes. Valve is promising over 20 new items for L4D2, including 10 melee weapons and more fancy ammo like incendiary rounds. With melee weapons, we’ve seen the frying pan, fire axe and chainsaw (in the trailer), leaving 7 more to be revealed. We’d expect to see electrical, acid and cold effects from items or ammo, though nothing definite is known yet. We have a suggestion: lawnmower.

Mid-level crescendos also play differently. In the demo level, we holed up in a trailer that served as a kind of mini-safehouse. Upon sounding an alarm, we had to charge through a maze of chain-link fences and climb a scaffolding to turn the alarm off. The goal is to force the team to move instead of closet camping til the horde abates. It’s an interesting dynamic in which it sometimes can actually be better to leave your teammate behind (temporarily) if you think you can get to the switch.

Valve has also said that the AI Director is being updated to control environments in addition to the flow of zombies, though this wasn’t apparent in the demo. Director 2.0 can rearrange parts of maps and adjust weather to slow you down. For example, during a mission taking place in the bayou a party could be beset by a massive storm, or the path through a graveyard could be modified. These tantalizing teases offer a peek at what we’ll see in L4D2’s 5 campaigns, which will all be playable in vs, survival and a new unannounced mode. Another clue about possible levels comes from one of the posters Valve was handing out, showing what appears to be a fire-ravaged trailer park.

Above: Detail from L4D2 promotional posters handed out at E3 hinting at a trailer park setting

We’re sufficiently convinced that there’s enough new content to make this a true, full-sized sequel. If you still feel slighted and don’t want any part of L4D2, Valve has indicated that they will still be releasing new DLC for the first game. As for us, we’ll happily play both. We’d rather be in the mix swinging a chainsaw than pouting on the sidelines.

Post-show buzz: Revved up like a well-oiled chainsaw!

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  • chooby - June 22, 2009 12:32 p.m.

    im gunna follow the crowds here and go for ODST and MW2. although i agree, i hope MW2 will bw less james bond more gritty hardcore shooter.
  • deora2dude - June 16, 2009 4:42 p.m.

    NOOOO YOU BE SAYIN BAD THINGS ABOUT ODST! personally i cant wait.... please dont insult bungie :(
  • Skykid - June 15, 2009 8:49 p.m.

    Games I really really want: ODST MW2 Singularity. Those games are going to be so sweeeet.
  • ASSASINATION323 - June 14, 2009 7:22 a.m.

    I would say halo reach FTW....if it wasn't a no-show. I'll go with modern warfare 2.
  • throughironsights - June 12, 2009 7:26 p.m.

    when are these cod fanboys going to stop bashing other games and sucking up to one of the most generic game franchises? Specially you caboose4400 Saying f**k you to someone because you dont like their opinion? thats just plain ignorant
  • sinkingfeeling - June 11, 2009 11:57 p.m.

    Halo FTW!!!!!! Just better gameplay, esp multiplayer. Pity about the crap story!
  • DeadGirls - June 11, 2009 9:27 p.m.

    "Fans of large-scale PC shooters like Battlefield or Planetside will want to have a go at MAG this fall." GTFO. I want to play a large-scale PC shooter on the PS3 as much as I want to play it on the DS.
  • withnightvisionon - June 11, 2009 6:50 p.m.

    SWEAT, another game with night vision
  • caboose4400 - June 11, 2009 6:01 a.m.

    all these games look awsome but i cant wait for MW2, ODST, MAG and bioshock 2 oh and woot117 F*** you COD 4 is an awsome game and COD 6 is probably gonna be just as good. oh and nice HOT FUZZ reference GR
  • GamesRadarJoeMcNeilly - June 10, 2009 10:52 p.m.

    Re: lawnmower clip: a funny side story, I saw Brain Dead in a museum in New Zealand. Best. Museum. Ever.
  • Hobojedi - June 10, 2009 10:29 p.m.

    Wow.. the lawnmower vid was really weird.
  • SumthingStupid - June 10, 2009 6:37 p.m.

    People are getting upset over L4D2, but don't you people notice that their is a new CoD game every year.
  • oryandymackie - June 10, 2009 6:21 p.m.

    BioShock 2 looks amazing! Shame you don't get the apartment in single-player. Always wanted a place where I can sit down and read a fifty year old Rapture newspaper by a roaring fire with the head of Andrew Ryan on my mantelpiece while a Big Daddy knocks on the door frantically outside
  • oryandymackie - June 10, 2009 6:18 p.m.

    ODST.....erm, yay? Mod War 2 and LFD2!!!! Bring it on.
  • suicidalstickman - June 10, 2009 5:47 p.m.

    It's new mombosa not new mumbosa
  • quicksilver_502 - June 10, 2009 3:30 p.m.

    on the one hand, i get the point about the snowmobile chase being a bit unrealisticcompared with the tone of the first game but on the other hand, it was freaking awesome!
  • MoonPig - June 10, 2009 3:25 p.m.

    @vitoruss how is singularity generic? it has a fricking age gun for f***s sake!
  • StonedMagician99 - June 10, 2009 11:54 a.m.

    Ever fired your gun in the air and yelled, 'Aaaaaaah?' Hot Fuzz reference FTW! Awesome feature, and I'm probably going to get all three of these games.
  • crumbdunky - June 10, 2009 11:15 a.m.

    I thought L4D1 was light on content(even if they finally deliver all the promised DLC it will be)for a full price retail release and L4D2 seems the same. Thet're using the same(old) engine with minor upgrades and making us pay full price again for a basically online only game. So this time we're paying for a couple of "new" modes(which will be tweaks) a couple (well four)of new characters and backgrounds/guns-in other words skins and little else that's really new. And still no SP beyond a very basic training for the mp. All cheap and easy to make too. I like Valve and their games. I even have fun with L4D(I actually bought it three times-twice for 360 as my dog skated on one copy and once for PC-big diffeence from the 360 version)though, in truth, only in short bursts. It is very bad value though when you consider other games like Socom and Warhawk are simlilarly online only and aren't full retail-and what have they had time to make that much better without a SP or new engine this time round? I know lots of people love L4D-so do I, it's great fun with your mates-but to pretend that the first game had any value content wise is wrong and for the sequel the problem is worse. I'll be waiting for it to go down in price myself. I'd love a good SP though to give you some frights and a frame of ref for the MP. And where IS Ep3? MW2 and ODST look like expansions more than anything to me as well as the L4D sequel. MW2 def looks like more of the same(I bet the campaign short again as well) and ODST was the chance for Bungie to really push forward without the usual restraint of being the same guy for a fourth game but apart from night vision and a less linear approach it hasn't been a chance they've taken. Both games are playing it safe in the knowledge that they have big, loyal fanbases and don't want to rock the boat-for me that isn't enough for devs of this calibre . IW and Bungie should really be pushing the FPS genre but don't look to even try this time out-something that KZ2 and GG got hammered for. In fact all the shooters mentioned have question marks over them for me. Bioshock2 could be a grave mistake(esp the mp) after such a unique first experience too. Singularity looks okay with the monster/mutant/time stuff but the gunplay looks weak compared to many modern sjooters. finally, while I'd love to see MAG succeed as a brave attempt by great devs(Zipper who made the original Socoms so brilliant)to do something new on consoles. However, people raised on the easy gameplay and lone nature of COD4 or Halo will find it very odd being forced to play as a team and we all know how hard it is to get THAT game of TF2 and that's nowhere near the scale of MAG. Hope I'm wrong about all of it but I really have my worries with all the games and issues with Valve over L4D2-they should also make the 360 version much nearer to what the PC game is(and looks like) this time round. And fully enable mods on 360.
  • vitoruss - June 10, 2009 8:17 a.m.

    How do you spell "singularity"? G-E-N-E-R-I-C Now they just need the protagonist to be a shaved-headed space marine