Review by Mageknight

Reviewed: 12/20/09

Twice the amount of fun, twice the amount of frustration

Left 4 Dead was a game that heavily emphasized the use of teamwork and it was something that everyone loved. Left 4 Dead wasn't your typical zombie/FPS game where you could kick some ass all by yourself. You needed your friends to bail you out if you were in trouble because if they are not around, you're dead. It was a winning formula and it was surprising to see Valve wanting to do a sequel exactly one year after Left 4 Dead was out. Now it is here and despite the controversy it created, Left 4 Dead 2 does stand in its own right, but not without some drawbacks.

Like in the first game, Left 4 Dead 2 is about a group of four survivors who meet each other by fate and they band together to survive and escape the zombie outbreak. Unlike Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 has all the campaigns connected so now it makes more sense how the survivors get everywhere. Instead of various locales in a single state from the first game, all the areas in the sequel are unique and feel fresh. You start out in a hotel and work your way to a mall in one campaign and wind up making a long trek to a carnival in the next one. From there, you wade your way though the swamps and escape to a small town that is being hit by a hurricane. Finally, you reach the finale of it all by heading to New Orleans to get away for good. Valve outdone themselves with the environments. The hotel is on fire and you navigate through walls of flame, the storm that blows through the small town can kick up and reduce visibility while also muffling the microphone communication between your teammates, and you also get a sense of doom and gloom as you navigate the streets of New Orleans that are filled with abandoned cars while the army starts to bomb the place.

The gameplay itself has not changed much. You still find various guns to defend yourself with and you also get various medical supplies to keep you going. However, the amount of guns have gotten a huge upgrade so now you have a lot to pick from, such as the Magnum, Desert Rifle, Chrome Shotgun, a Grenade Launcher, and many others. Even all the old guns from the first game come back in this one. New to the game are melee weapons, which are powerful enough to kill a normal zombie in one hit and are useful in clearing out horde. The melee weapons range from an axe, a katana, chainsaw, machetes, and many more. Melee weapons take up the same slot as your pistols so you need to decide if you want a melee weapon or a secondary gun. You also get other useful items, like the defibrillator to bring back dead players on the spot and bile bombs to attract zombies to a target or a specific spot for easy pickings. There is definitely more variety to the guns and items this time around.

Of course, a sequel to a zombie game wouldn't be a sequel without new zombies. Along with the common infected, there now exists uncommon common infected, which are zombies that have unique properties and appear only in specific areas. For example, riot zombies wear armor and are nearly immune to bullets, but are vulnerable in the back and may even drop a nightstick for you to use. These unique zombies are no different from the regular zombies, but they give some freshness when it comes to clearing a horde. All the special infected from the first game (Hunter, Boomer, Smoker, Tank, Witch) return along with new special infected to keep the game feeling like new. Jockeys can cling to a survivor's head and control their movement, Chargers can plow through survivors and smash one into the ground repeatedly, and Spitters can hurl acid that heavily damages survivors that stand in it, which effectively discourages camping. With the new zombies in the mix, players who got used to Left 4 Dead 1's style of play will have to quickly get used to the new style here or get slaughtered.

Campaign mode is back and is nothing different, which is you and three other guys working together to escape and kick some zombie ass. VS mode (8 player game where 4 survivors play against 4 infected players that are trying to kill them) has not changed much other than the scoring system being different from the first game. The sequel does boast two new modes to try out, which are Scavenge and Realism. Scavenge mode is VS, but instead of survivors trying to escape, they have to gather a bunch of gas cans and use them to fuel a car or generator in a time limit while the infected players try to stop them. The team that wins more rounds than the other team wins the whole game. Realism mode is campaign with some modifications. Player names that hover over the characters do not appear, items do not glow unless you are right next to it, Witches can kill in one hit, and players that die do not respawn until the next map. Realism mode is quite a challenge but nothing too frustrating.

How do the new survivors fare up compared to the old ones? While they are not as cheeky as Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey, they have their own quirks that make them likable. Coach has a love for food and will encourage injured survivors to keep going, Nick complains about everything and thinks everything will go wrong, Ellis is quite the naive one whose lifestyle of simplicity doesn't make him see things the way other survivors see things, and Rochelle feels lost and frustrated as she is stranded far away from home. The accents and dialects from the survivors are quite believable and they really capture the feeling of being down south, except for Rochelle since she is from the north.

One thing that holds this game back from being a great sequel is the difficulty. It seems that Valve had taken their fans' complaints of Left 4 Dead being easy a bit too seriously and have cranked up the overall difficulty past hard and into bullcrap. Zombies are now literally everywhere no matter where you go and you won't get breaks in between hordes like the first game had done. Because of this, expect to be shooting and swinging your melee weapon a lot and almost non stop. It is ironic that Valve has chosen this route because in the first game's commentary, they said that they would put in breaks in between major hordes so that players can rest and heal without getting combat fatigue. In Left 4 Dead 2, the constant fighting, whether it is from a group of zombies or a rushing horde, had me feeling bored at times. On top of all this, special infected spawn faster than they did in the first game, all because there is more of them. Expect to be attacked quite often. In fact, if you regularly play Expert or Advanced from the first game, don't expect to be able to do the same right away in the sequel.

Another thing Valve screwed up on is the AI for the survivors. While they were quite iffy in the first game, the sequel's AI survivors are so bad that single player is borderline unplayable. I had too many cases where I was in trouble and the AI would not bother to help me at all or were just too slow to come help. On top of that, the AI will still toss you pills while you're shooting or try to heal you while you are in a tight spot. It's like as if they are the offline version of a greifer. Many people have said that you shouldn't play single player at all since the game is all about multiplayer. I say that if developers are going to include a single player, they better make it at least a decent one and not one where you don't want to play it or the game itself. Until there are patches released where the survivor AI has better reaction times, play with friends as much as you can.

Left 4 Dead 2 has more variety in everything and it is fun for everyone. The AI and difficulty may put you off though as you wind up restarting the same damn map for the 5th time. Left 4 Dead 2 is a good game overall, despite people saying it's not worth it due to it being a "$50 expansion pack", but if you can get this game a cheaper price down the road, do so.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Left 4 Dead 2 (US, 11/17/09)

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