Stop, Left 4 Dead 2: You Had Me At, “You Get To Play This Game As a Sister, While You’re Killing Zombies.”


You’d have to read MEDIA ASSASSIN or my Twitter feed for mere seconds before realizing that I’m absolutely crazy about videogames and I’m cuckoo for zombies. So, from my perspective, the release of Valve’s hellish, undead apocalypse, Left 4 Dead, last fall was akin to declaring a Federal holiday.

Well, hell has a sequel. On November 17th, in Left For Dead 2 (Xbox 360/PC), Valve revisits the world where an unnamed pandemic is turning human corpses into fast-moving, flesh-eating gargoyles. However, this time, one of the four playable “survivors” is a Black woman, above. Hell better step the hell back.

left_4_dead_2_castAll we can see so far is that her name’s Rochelle, far right, and she’s a news reporter, perhaps from a TV station in New Orleans, where this chapter is set. But if you think the fact she’s female means she spends this episode screaming “Help me!”, not only have you never played Left 4 Dead, you haven’t even looked at this skull-popping, super-gory, audio NSFW trailer. Here, along with her co-survivors, above, girlfriend makes mincemeat out of the reanimated with a fury worthy of the conquistadors. (Check our her blunt work with an axe, near the 0:43 mark, to catch my drift.)

screen18Almost as much as the character’s battle-readiness, though, something else makes Rochelle groovily satisfying to watch. (Here, she’s shown, right, with Ellis, also playable.) It’s that, if the trailer is any indication, Valve was smart enough on Left 4 Dead 2 to avoid the nasty ghetto tropes—the “No she dih’nt’s!”, rippling body language, and other unimaginative character shortcuts—that white game designers irrhythmically deploy to self-consciously signal to white players that “This character is Black.”

From her design—she looks a little bit like a lot of sisters I know—to her voice acting, to even her wardrobe—Ro rocks a Depeche Mode t-shirt, and silver hoop earrings with matching bracelets throughout the catastrophe—one gets the sense, even in this tentative display, of a competent, middle-class African-American woman busting her behind to stay alive during a nightmarish, life-or-death event.

256px-re5boxartThis is hardly an easy balance, it seems, to strike. The game has already drawn some controversy for taking place in the city Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government turned into an open sewer fewer than five years ago. Last year, Capcom, makers of the Resident Evil survival-horror series, famously drew flames when their fifth installment of the game, right, was charged with everything short of outright racism. This happened after early trailers, showing the white protagonist blowing away African-villagers-turned-zombies, were released by the firm. The content led one noted Black game critic to utter the quote heard round the gamingsphere: “Clearly, no one Black worked on this game.” (Resident Evil 5 went on to sell 5 million copies worldwide, nonetheless; the title’s best showing to-date.)

screen10Again, should the trailer not be lying, in the case of Left 4 Dead 2, it appears that its makers have done something different, and a lot smarter. Rochelle, right, comes across as her own woman, and doesn’t appear to be a sidekick in any way, as Sheva Alomar was to Chris Redfield in RE5. (L4D2‘s 4-way co-op play default seems to assure more parity between players, of course.)

As for making New Orleans host city to this zombie infestation , it doesn’t appear that game is making specific narrative use of the conditions in the locale as a basis for the story. That is, it doesn’t seem that this is happening because of Katrina, or conditions Katrina left behind. It strikes one as Katrina-agnostic.

screen17As well, the trailer doesn’t merely consist of white guys killing Black people. (Another character, Coach, is Black, shown right with Nick, the fourth playable character. In fact, that the survivor team is, this time, half African-American might represent Valve hedging their bets.) It occurs to me that if RE5 had taken place in, say, Johannesburg, or had even started there, before spreading to other locales, the game might not have incurred the response some gave it.

By comparison, L4D2 appears absent of the unga-bunga-isms that seemed to pepper RE5. What remains looks like an awesomely taut, edge-of-your-seat thriller that may set fans of the previous installment aflame, and perhaps create completely new admirers of these stories.

In the wake of Michael Jackson’s death this past June, I’ve tweeted a few times how much I wanted a Left 4 Dead 2 mod where one could play as the pink angora-sweatered version of Ola Ray from the “Thriller” video.

At least I did before I saw Rochelle, pink top, AR-15 assault rifle, hardcore mindset, and all. As they say, hell hath no fury like a woman. Indeed, if I were zombies, I’d stay away from N’awlins—and Rochelle—this November.

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#1 Sundance on 10.28.09 at 9:36 am

Very well written, as usual.

I wasn’t anticipating this game all that much, but now that you’ve put it THAT way…LOL

And an Ola Ray mod would be “teh dopeness”.

#2 CDF on 11.05.09 at 3:08 pm

I need to play the first one. Valve did come through with The Orange Box, so i’m sure this series will be just as fine.

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