EA and Valve follow up the hit game Left 4 Dead with the equally interesting sequel Left 4 Dead 2. The big question here is, "Can a game with such a simple premise really top itself again?"
Let's find out.
Twice the fun, with a slight chance of decay
I'll be open and honest you all, I have played the first game, but not to the extent that I have played this one. I know that anything that Valve touches is gold, so I went into this game with high expectations. What I found are a lot of good things, but a few that weren't so good.
The gameplay had to be upgraded from the original game. Valve must have went into this game knowing that it had to pull the best of the best out to make it different from the first. Left 4 Dead 2 is in the same category as a Borderlands because it is far more fun to play online with people than it is in a single-player mode. Valve shifted the majority of gameplay to online, which makes this title dependent almost completely on someone's online skills. Before we shift completely into the online portion of this game, I would like to discuss a bit about the single-player.
The single-player mode is a bit stale. The mode drags in areas due to some A.I. issues and due to some clunky gameplay at times. For example, in the second stage of the game you've been given the task of retrieving a six-pack of cola from a grocery store for an arms dealer. He won't clear a path of zombies unless you retrieve this cola for him. You must find your way to the grocery and retrieve this in the midst of hundreds of skin craving zombies. There are three big problems with this. First, you must go into an empty grocery store and pick up a six-pack, which takes the place of your weapon; in other words the cola is your weapon (and you can't use it). Second, before you actually enter the grocery store there is empty space all around you. What does that mean? That means there isn't a single dead soul waiting to get you. Why does that matter? Well, apparently when you open the doors to the store, and the alarm goes off, you have literally almost a hundred or so zombies pour into the area. On top of this, the sheer amount of zombies completely overtakes your team if you don't drop the coke and start firing. So, the process is slow moving and it's highly unfair, especially when there wasn't anyone in sight before you hit the store. Not to mention, when you start moving through the level your teammates tend to follow and not follow your lead. So, this drags a bit. The biggest issue I had with this stage is the dying part. After playing this single stage for 20 minutes straight, I died at the grocery. Guess what? No checkpoints. Yep, so I had to redo the entire stage again and I was forced into the same situation with the same results; quite frustrating for single-player mode.
Like I said at the beginning this isn't the reason for Left 4 Dead 2's existence. Single-player, while overall good (but frustrating), isn't the reason why people are flocking to get this. Online modes make this game work and work well. Here are a list of modes and explanations:
- Campaign - Allows you to play the game with three other friends. One of the greatest things to come out of the improvement of online playing is having the ability to come together with friends and playa full game. It helps alleviate single-player issues (such as crappy A.I., unless you have idiot friends) and it just heightens the experience. Dragging computer players around is like watching children; when I play games I don't want to be the parent. If you don't have friends then you can always borrow them through Xbox Live or play a quick match. Regardless, there is something here that is solid and it makes it worth the effort and time. What's really great about this, and you'll find this in the other modes as well, is how the dropping out of a player from the team doesn't affect the game you're playing one bit. If a player pauses their game to go the bathroom (or something like that), the computer takes control of that particular character. If another player drops off the team completely, the computer takes over that player. It saves gamers the complete collapse of gameplay when one player decides to vamoose.
- Realism - Picture the campaign mode and up the difficulty. That's what Realism is here. You have less help from the game and you depend on more help from folks around you. To top this all of, the game's enemies are a lot harder to kill. So, if you're ever in a real zombie match with someone you're going to gain a lot of experience from this mode. The mode is certainly more intense and it's not for the weak gaming community out there. For me, this mode was fun as hell and tough as nails. In this day and age, FPSs have become formulaic for the most part, so it's nice to see a tough challenge.
- Versus - This can be categorized as a 'deathmatch'. It's you versus them and them can either be the survivors or the infected folk. You get a chance to play both sides in this very intense game of 'hide and go kill'. If you're the infected folks you get to run and hide somewhere, waiting and biding for the survivors to show. If you're the survivors, you get to lock and load up and pray to God you can survive. Each side has its own pros and cons, but I have found the survivors have a terribly good advantage of winning over the infected folks. That creates an imbalance in the mode and requires the gamers to become really good at not picking up a gun and blowing the hell out of someone. As an infected character you have to basically melee attack. It's tough to do a melee when your'e getting burned, blown up or blown away. Still, if you can stick with this mode long enough the game will balance out eventually.
- Survival - The word says it all; survival. You're basically playing the end-all-be-all of the campaign, where you're holding down a fort against endless waves of enemy. I liked it because it's just fun trying to see how far you can get on so little. It's also nice because the scores for the XBL leaderboard is a lot higher in this mode. The catch is that your stint in the mode depends on how good you are. For me, I suck; so don't look for my name in the XBL lights anytime soon. Still, the mode does propose a challenging proposition.
- Scavenge - If you can picture a warped 'capture the flag' then you can picture scavenge. One team is searching for fuel while another team is trying to prevent that from happening. Again, there is some imbalance because of the two sides involved (see Versus for details), but it's damn fun. It's a quick game that requires little to no real strategy; it just requires the right teammates.
There we have it, all the online modes for you. Definitely go into the purchase thinking that you're wanting an online game. If you're thinking that you're less online and more offline then you might be slightly disappointed. If you're dying for a great online experience then this game gives you five solid reasons to make the purchase. Again, much like Borderlands, the online portion drives the game.
Shifting gears, one of the things that drives online FPS titles right now are the amount of weapons you can use. If I had to compare this to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 then there would be no contest; CoD wins every time. With that said, there is a nice variety of terribly good weapons to sport in Left 4 Dead 2. You get a nice variety of shotguns, pistols (duel wielding or a nice magnum) and other long-range weapons such as a sniper rifle or AK-47. There are also beautiful canisters of propane and fuel lying around everywhere. I particularly love the fuel as you can throw it, shoot it and watch beautiful flames ingulf the infected. I know it sounds sick, but it gives you a resting period during the gameplay to just chill and watch them die. In short, you'll have plenty to lock and load here.
Before I move on to the presentation portion of the review I want to give some major kudos to Valve for instituting a wonderful health system in the game. If your'e bit, hit or whatever you're going to lose health. The only way to get health is to apply a health kit. If you don't have a health kit you can take some pills or take a shot of adrenaline. The pills and adrenaline simply put your health meter back up, but regretfully they also cause it to become a sliding scale. The game takes into account that you need a health kit to permanently make your characters well again. Pills and adrenaline are only temporary solutions. Thus, this puts more urgency into your exploration and causes you to go everywhere. That, in turn, allows you to discover things that you would have passed up. This is all because of a health system that requires you to take a health kit to maintain permanent wellness. This is just a fantastic way to motivate players without the players actually realizing it.
New locations, more time and pretty physics
The first game was driven by atmosphere, acting and tons of zombies. This time around it's the same, but slightly better. While there isn't a solid connection with the survivors in Left 4 Dead 2 as there were in the original, it was still nice to see some personalities driving what could be considered a very goofy game. Valve focused more on the actual gameplay than the comedy, but kept intact the witty banter that goes on between the players. I liked that the personalities were tamed a bit, but I wish the dialogue had flowed a bit more. There's nothing quite like getting into a gunfight and yelling/screaming/barking orders. I love that type of stuff; it reminds me of 80s action films.
Moving along, the character models in the game are creepy and scary, but they're nothing overwhelming gorgeous. I've played a lot of games this holiday season and this plainly looks like something you would find in a system's second year. It certainly doesn't outshine what you'll find in Borderlands or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The skin features aren't very detailed, the facial features are something comparable to the game WET (which I did like); in other words, they didn't take four years perfecting the textures or the tones. What Valve did take time on is their physics. How characters react when they get shot and location of the hit (with reaction) is spot on here. There is an uncanny accuracy to the infected when their arm gets shot and they pull back like they should in the most correct way a body should react. Head, body or appendage shots physically react like they should and it's the most fascinating thing to watch. It's no great secret that Valve is the master of such things, but it's always amazing to see it during gameplay.
For the environments, I'm completely torn on what I like and don't. I think for the most part the environments are huge. You get a lot of space to work with when it comes to fighting. The swamp stage is especially dirty and gorgeous. The water effects when a infected person dies is pretty impressive. You see the body floating how it should and you see the transparent to non-transparent graphics that detail how dirty the water they're floating in truly is. You get a lot of little, impressive details like that throughout the game. On the other hand, some parts of stages are just plain bland. For example, when you're traveling to the carnival you have to go through some woods and through some hills. The hills/woods aren't very detailed for a next generation console game. Simply put, the hill is just a graphical, non-detailed lump. Sure that lump leads into a beautiful carnival setting, but I want everything to look good, just not most things. Speaking of looking good, the lighting effects are perfect. Having a flashlight in a dark room just sets the atmosphere up perfectly. It's restrictive, uncomfortable and creepy. You'll have to use the flashlight in a few stages so all I can say to you is good luck. You're going to need something to calm the nerves when you get to these places.
So at the end of all this do you think the game is worth $59.99? For me, the game is worth it. If I can justify purchasing Borderlands then I can justify the purchase of Left 4 Dead 2. It's a large online game waiting for you. It brings together a large group of people and sets up a story of survival just perfectly. Sure it's not CoD, but L4D2 brings a lot of different, deep online modes to the table. It may throw a scrappy single-player mode at you, but that's not why you're going to purchase this game. Simply put, you'll get an endless amount of hours from the online play that will make you happy. You'll be able to play with your friends online during through the campaign and various other modes. Therefore, it's worth your time and money. If you don't like playing online then you might want to reconsider purchasing it. At the end of the day, there's a lot of fun here, but you have to go online to get it.