My vote for videogame weapon of 2009 goes to the frying pan in Left 4 Dead 2. It’s not a particularly special frying pan. Identical skillets can be found on kitchen countertops throughout the game. But the throaty ring it emits when it contacts a zombie’s head suggests that it’s made of cast iron, and therefore certain to survive the apocalypse.
Combined with the grenade launcher, the frying pan is the ultimate weapon. The frying pan swings faster than more obvious melee weapons like the axe, and it has the added advantage of knocking nearby zombies backwards. As they stagger and stand dazed for a few moments, I have time to pull out my grenade launcher and retreat a precautionary step or two. Then it’s swoosh! Kaboom! No more zombies.
The frying pan and the grenade launcher are two new additions to what I assume is now the Left 4 Dead franchise. I also get a chainsaw (great for when I’m covered in zombie-attracting goo — I just rev that sucker and start spinning) and a crowbar (just like the hero of HalfLife). Guns — the only weaponry offered in the first game — have been supplemented by new models (AK-47s), and all of them now feature approximate aiming, blowing zombie heads off even with the widest shots. Left 4 Dead 2 also introduces new ammunition in the form of explosive and incendiary rounds, the fire from which leaps rapidly from zombie to zombie but conveniently fails to ignite anything else.
The tweaking of weaponry led me to believe that Left 4 Dead 2 would be even wilder than its predecessor. In that game, zombies swarmed around me like groupies, snarling, groping and stomping, while other, less astute, undead lumbered picturesquely across rooftops and balconies in the background, just waiting to be sniped out of their misery. Each time I played the game it would throw zombies at me in random patterns — a few here, then a bazillion there, with no apparent repetition. It was a low-fi, cheap thrill, and I loved every minute of it, voting the game one of my “Top 10” in 2008.
The sequel, in defiance of expectations, looks even cheaper, and has sacrificed thrills for shooting-gallery predictability. The zombies still arrive in waves, but almost inevitably they come spewing from the same places in single-file lines. And once the game has birthed them, it controls them identically, sending them climbing over fences and vehicles along the same path. I know they’re zombies, but this is really mindless. Any shooter where I can kill several hundred of my enemies with a frying pan has got problems.
THE GOOD: Did I mention the frying pan?
THE BAD: Though I’m partial to the redneck who talks like a rambling David Sedaris, I mainly found my fellow survivors to be insufferable when the computer was controlling them. Not only do they seem to have unlimited healing supplies (what are they doing, hoarding?), but they seem to be incapable of throwing Molotov cocktails into oncoming hordes, and they trail behind me through the game’s levels with the linearity of, well, zombies.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Left 4 Dead has been left 2 die.