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

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!