Hands on with L4D2's Dark Carnival (and a katana!)

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Okay so, technically, we only got our hands on a digital katana, but it was just as awesome. More awesome, in fact, because wielding a real katana against a real zombie isn't so much fun as it is terrifying. But more on that later, this preview needs a setup. We got a chance to try out the recently revealed Dark Carnival campaign in Left 4 Dead 2 and, unsurprisingly, it was a blasting, hacking, slashing good time.

The Jockey is ... pulled straight out of Frankenstein's laboratory, complete with a crazy little laugh.

Like most Left 4 Dead campaigns, Dark Carnival doesn't just shove the major set piece in your face right away. At first, the survivors wander down a deserted highway. Deserted of all but the living dead, of course. Before long, you'll catch sight of the amusement park in the distance, but you'll have to trek through some marshland before you can get there -- be careful in the deep water, it slows you down significantly. We're not sure why the survivors would head toward a bright, noisy amusement park, but it's probably best not to concern yourself with such things. Maybe they were running low on cotton candy.

While the gameplay remains much the same as our previous hands- on sessions, we did get to see a few new bits. First, we were introduced -- rather suddenly -- to a brand new special type of Infected, the Jockey. The Jockey is a small hunchbacked creature pulled straight out of Frankenstein's laboratory, complete with a crazy little laugh. True to his name, once the Jockey gets close enough, he will jump on a survivor's back and proceed to ride him. The Jockey then controls where the player will go, though players do have a limited ability to fight against him. While the Jockey provides essentially the same function as the Smoker and Charger, his proximity to his victim makes the risk of friendly fire much higher for those trying to remove him.

In addition to the Jockey, we also got a chance to try out the Katana. Whatever reservations you might have about using melee weapons, the Katana will instantly dispel them. As it turns out, the weapon is very effective, even against special Infected. Unlike the pistol and shotgun, which work well in close range, there is essentially zero chance of missing your target with the katana. The fact that it slices off limbs relative to where it connects with infected is really just a bonus. Of course, running around with a melee weapon does limit your ability to help teammates escape from the Horde and special Infected, so you might want to keep a decent long range weapon as a backup. That said, we can confirm that the player that had the most kills on our team was the guy who ran around with a baseball bat for the whole round, so melee weapons are definitely enticing.

A few other details: There's a new magnum pistol that downs enemies in a single shot (and blows holes clean through them). There is a grenade launcher available too, though we never actually saw it. We also saw some tips during the loading screen that referred to both an adrenaline power-up and a laser sight. Unfortunately, we weren't able to pry any more details about them from Valve's Chet Faliszek, so we'll just have to wait. Oh, expect many more melee weapons in the game too. Apart from the katana and the previously revealed weapons, we also spotted an acoustic guitar, and we've been told there will be an electric guitar as well.

Finally, we were able to experience one of Dark Carnival's smaller crescendo moments. Traveling through the amusement park, we were faced with a conundrum: A dormant carousel -- flanked by chain link fence on either side -- was between us and where we needed to be. The only option, naturally, was to turn it on and unblock our escape route. Of course, the noise and lights of the ride summoned the living dead like a dinner bell. We fought our way through the carousel, out the other side and then cut our way to the power terminal so we could shut the contraption off again.

All in all, killing zombies with friends is as thrilling as it ever was, and the new additions to the game really do freshen up the experience. At this point, we've had our hands on the game several times, and each time has given us something new to experience. We realize there are still folks out there angry that Valve is releasing a full sequel to Left 4 Dead so soon but, truth be told, our resolve has officially cracked.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.