If you're not familiar with the Left 4 Dead series, where have you been? The first Left 4 Dead was a survival horror FPS that that fitted 4 four players against hordes of zombies that could be played cooperatively or competitively (4 other players on the "infected team"). Left 4 Dead 2 takes the same gameplay mechanics as its predecessor, but is there enough there to warrant spending another fifty bucks? Read on to find out.
Dawn of the Undead.
I've dumped a lot of hours into the first L4D. My usual group of online buddies loved to mod and tweak the living hell out of it, as well as downloading add on campaigns (my all time favorite Death Aboard) when we got sick of the stock ones. Needless to say, with the "official" boycott L4D2 group on steam expressing their concerns over support for L4D1 after L4D2 hits store just right at a year since the release of L4D1. Valve had it in their best interest to make a lot of changes if they wanted people to shell out 50 bucks for a game, from what a lot of gamers saw as merely an "expansion" pack. I have to admit, I was one of the skeptics especially when I had the chance to check it out at E3 this summer. Of course, valve had five more months of work to put into the game before its release. But you're not here for what I had to think about the whole boycott and drama surrounding L4D2. I'll explain on what made me a L4D2 convert, splintering away from the L4D1 faithful.
Same Game, some new modes of play.
One would think I should go over the controls, but seeing how the controls are the same as they were in the first one and full customizable there's no need to mention them further, right?
Improved Director AI
As in the first one, the god-like director would plop down zombies and good in random locations. If you play through the developer commentary they also mention how the director used to drop a certain item in a random location. The improved director gets to choose the item you actually get whether it's a pipe bomb or a bottle of pills as an example.
The same game play modes that were in the first game reappear in the second I may as well go over every mode to save those the trouble of back tracking to check out my review of the first L4D. Gameplay modes include :
Realism (new to L4D2): "Realism" modes simply does away with the auras around the survivors and any other items you can pick up. you literally have to keep an eye open looking for weapons, medicine and other goodies. Also, when someone goes down, they can't be "picked up" someone has to use a defibrillator unit that takes place of the medkit slot to resurrect them, and if they're not resurrected, then you have to wait until the next level before they can play again. Simply put, you do not re-spawn in a closet like you do in the co-op campaign or versus mode once you die. Realism isn't jacked up to the hardest difficulty by default, but you're allowed to pick anything from the simplest difficulty setting, or crank it up "to 11" for one hell of a challenge.
Scavenge (new to L4D2): As Nathan mentioned in his review for the 360 version, scavenge plays a lot like a "capture the flag" type of game where it's a versus match between the special infected characters vs. the survivors. The survivors have to collect canisters of gasoline, and bring it back to a certain point to fuel up something such as a generator or a car.
Versus: Just like in the first game, versus is your standard "team death match" where the special infected try to impede (or kill) all the survivors to the best of their ability. Personally, I think the special infected are over powered especially with the introduction of the new units that have the ability to re-spawn. I suppose it all pans out with the re-spawn time the infected have to deal with that gives the survivor team time to reload and heal themselves as they make their perilous way to the safe house. Valve is known for doing extensive game testing, so if there is too much of an unbalance somewhere I would presume it will be taken care of in a patch sometime in the near future due to the vocal community of PC gamers. One problem I did notice in one of the swamp maps is that you have to call for a ferry. If you're on the infected team, and try to walk across the water to set up to attack on other side, you die and your corpse goes flying across the map. It's very bizarre and needs to be addressed.
Single Player: Single player mode where the A.I. is insanely questionable, as your team mates are prone to getting stuck in certain areas. The AI is rather hesitant to run into the safe house locations causing you a bit of frustration when you're playing on the higher difficulty settings. Most of the time I would let the A.I. die out there once I was in the safe house, or if they wouldn't get their asses in the safe house I'd give them a few good shots with the pistol to get them moving. Not only is this a problem for the safe houses but at the end of a campaign where you have to get on a helicopter. Nathan commented on how hard it was to get the soda back to the guy in the gun store in level two. Personally, I think Nathan had so many problems with that part is due to the game pad. A mouse and key board works out so much better for first person shooters. Seriously, how do people play first person shooters with a game pad? I guess being introduced to first person shooters on the PC has spoiled me to the unquestionably superior controls of a mouse and keyboard for these types of games.
Campaign: Similar to the single player mode, but with three other human players. Playing single player mode is like trying to babysit a bunch of children drooling over the keyboard while bashing it in with their skulls. You're better off playing a game with a group of people with actual intelligence (if you're lucky). Just as in the first, you have the option to vote out players that are being complete jackasses or to change difficult levels.
Survival: This mode was introduced later in the first L4D, and re-appears in the second. Survival places you in a specific area in a level of your choosing to fight off a never ending horde of infected and special infected . Your only objective is to last as long as possible with limited provisions before you're all over run in the end.
New story, locations, people, visuals, and zombies!
Unlike the first installment, L4D2 takes a linear story between campaigns that tells a tale of four random people (duh) that team up to get to New Orleans to be rescued by the military. There's "Coach" a mildly overweight high school football coach that's prone to fat jokes every once in awhile and has mind for strategy. There's the requisite female character Rochelle, whom happened to be a low level production assistant before the zombie apocalypse. There's Ellis or as he tells everyone "...call me El." that's your stereotypical southern redneck that works as a mechanic. Last but not least is the slimy con man in the leisure suit, Nick, who seems to hate everyone in the group and only works with them to survive. He's slightly reminiscent of Francis as he's one of societies degenerates that's managed to last this long after the fall. I didn't feel like there was the same connection or comic relief going with the characters this time around, but then again I haven't dumped as many hours into L4D2 as I have with the first to hear all of the dialogue lines the game has to offer.
Along with the new survivors, there's the new "special" infected. The hunter, boomer and smoker are all present, of course. My all time favorite of the new comers is the Jockey. The Jockey is a little mutant looking guy that jumps on the backs of survivors and can "steer " them into hazards, and other infected. There's the Spitter, that spits acidic goo. The Spitter works best when you work in conjunction with a smoker or when the survivors are trapped in a enclosed area where it's difficult to escape the acidic goo all over the floor. Last but certainly not least is the charger, whom at first seems to resemble the tank. The Charger has one giant arm (reminds me of Strong-arm from the Beetle juice cartoon) that runs towards a survivor to knock them down, then proceeds to pick them up and bash them repeatedly into the ground. The Witches were the most feared in the first game, as if they were disturbed, the person who disturbed the witch was surely dead. Well, now enter "free roaming" witches. You can hear their wail, but will you be unfortunate enough to bump into one? A lot of criticism has come from the "roaming witch" as they are much weaker by a wide margin than the old stationary Witch. In my experience, a few placed shot gun blasts can take out a witch no problem if you startled her. What was something that everyone avoided like working for the weekend, has become something everyone just fires on without the fear of immediate death.
Not only did the special get some new additions to them but the common infected as well. You'll come across zombies in oddly enough, pressurized HAZMAT suits that make a deflating sound when shot and happen to be immune to fire. There's also zombies in riot police gear that are only vulnerable when attacked from behind. There are some excellent graphical touch ups with the common affected. When you're up and close with the shot gun, you can blow out their stomach and get a look at their intestines and sternum. If you get manage to get them from the back, blasting away the flesh to look at their spinal column with a nice new blood splatter effects. This is something that was not seen in the first installment at all. It know it's a minor thing and doesn't add to the game play, but it's one of those small things I talk about in my reviews that adds a lot to a game.
Along with new graphical improvements the new locations are excellent. The sizes of the maps are HUGE compared to stock ones in the original. During my first couple of play throughs I happened to get lost, not knowing exactly where to go, while in the first one it felt like the map guided you directly to the safe house. I felt like this was an excellent move by the developers as it's not always clear where to go during a zombie apocalypse, and if you take a wrong turn, it could mean the end of your life as time is of the essence. With the new locations comes new visual effects. In the first level, you're stuck on top of what I presume is a hotel. Some of the lower levels are on fire, as you descend your way to the ground floor, you're stuck on a floor that's engulfed in flames filled with smoke. It's hard to make out the waves of zombies coming at you, as well as finding any supplies. This effect is replicated in a similar manner during the "Hard Rain" campaign as your objective is to find fuel and bring it back to a boat. As you're making your way back, the area becomes flooded and impedes your movement. As you're making your back, your vision is obfuscated due to the heavy rain. Slogging your way flood waters and not being to see where your going is definitely frustrating and scary as hell all at the same time.
I'm not going to forget mentioning the new weapons. There's so many new weapons in the second installment, I don't think I can name them all off from memory. There's the introduction of melee weapons such as baseball bats, swords, batons and even chainsaws to name just a few. Personally, I found these to be wildly ineffective, but I've been told by other people they work pretty well if you're going to crawl into a corner is to have one or two people up front spamming melee while the others stand behind them and try to take out what's coming at the group.
Fire arms wise, any veteran of the first game knows there's two tiers of weapons. This time around, you don't go by the "tier" system but what you think you're more comfortable with. All the second tier weapons make a return but are dwarfed by the likes of the more power sniper rifle, combat shot gun, my all time favorite the AK-47 , and the burst shot "Assault Rifle". There's also a new silenced Uzi that acts a lot like the default Uzi from the first game. On top of the new weapons you get access to "incendiary" ammo that is only for one clip that sets enemies ablaze. Then there's the "explosive" rounds that can send special infected flying backwards which is highly effective against tanks and witches. The last weapon mod you can get is a the laser sight. The laser sight makes your weapon crosshairs "tighter", cutting down on kick back, oddly enough. There's a new "grenade" type of weapon to compliment the moltov and familiar pipe bomb, the boomer bile. Boomer bile can be found near the corpses of the HAZMAT zombies and in random locations, when thrown, it causes a horde of zombies to go rushing into that location. It's best used against tanks if you don't have a molotov handy as this manages to slow him down and damages him at the same time.
Musically speaking, I love the new renditions of the theme song when you load up the game, and the transition music between levels. You're treated with a very "Creole" sounding score since you're trying to make your way to New Orleans. There's juke boxes in various locations, and when you press the "use" key a random song is played. It's comic relief, and I love it. Especially the "Your Brains" track that's a poppy rock song talking about eating brains of a fellow coworker named Tom.
As other reviewers and other gamers have noted is why Valve doesn't allow you do look down the sights of your gun? I know you can with the sniper and hunting rifle, but you can't with the shot guns or other rifles. I know it's a small gripe and one could deduce that it's a balancing issue. I know it's a small gripe, but it's a gripe none-the-less that leaves a blemish on a well polished game.
I know a lot of people aren't going to shell out 50 bucks for this on principal, due to how Valve has been releasing regular updates for games such as Team Fortress 2 for well over two years. And to charge 50 bucks for something for PC gamers that looks like an expansion pack is understandable given the platform and the history of PC games. In my perspective however, I dumped tons of hours into the first one that's justification enough for me to plop down another 50. Hell, I've spent more money for less. At the very least, do your self a favor and pick the game up on sale if you can't part with a Grant.