There’s nothing quite like a good, old fashioned zombie apocalypse to force a disparate band of strangers to work together for their common survival. Building upon that foundation, Left 4 Dead 2 emerges as a bigger, more diverse and comprehensive package than the original.
Left 4 Dead 2 follows the bloody struggle of four random strangers as they fend off an undead horde and a few new super-zombies. Over the course of five campaigns, a new cast of survivors treks from Savannah, Georgia, all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana. Armed with new melee weapons and a bigger selection of guns and grenades, these new personalities are as distinct and as lively as the fondly remembered original quartet.
Nick, Rochelle, Coach, and Ellis are certainly as ragtag a group and every bit as memorable as the first Left 4Dead’s team of survivors. Coach, a former football star turned high school health teacher, is never short on burly world-weary witticisms. Nick, a gambler and con man who trusts no one, brings a serious sense of levity to the situation. The first time you hear him vent his frustrations, you realize exactly how dire things are. Rochelle is a TV news production assistant who was in the wrong place at the right time. But the real star of the show, thanks to some pretty authentic and incessant down home, Southern-fried yammering, is a young mechanic from Georgia named Ellis. By far the most endearing and full of personality, his monologues provide most of the game’s humor. Just from the simple way he says he doesn’t liked to be called El “cuz it kinda sounds like a girl,” it’s easy to see why Ellis quickly became my favorite character of the new crew. I don’t want to spoil anything, but his anecdotes about his “buddy Keith” are absolutely priceless.
Also joining the cast of L4D2 are three new types of “Special Infected” zombies. In addition to the standard Hunter, Smoker, Boomer, Tank, and Witch, players will now contend with an acid-expectorating Spitter, a linebacker-like, shoulder-smashing Charger, and a pint-sized nuisance called the Jockey that will climb on your back and ride you around. These creatures add brand-new cluster-breaking strategies, effectively eliminating any possibility of players huddling and camping in isolated corners of the maps, one problem that plagued the original game.
Beyond all the new characters, something should be said about Louisiana. Not only does it make for a much more interesting backdrop than the generic city of the first game, it is a character in its own right. The murky southeastern atmosphere, which ranges from dusk ’til dawn, from sun-blinding, hazy days to pitch black nights, adds to the variety of horror. The survivors pass through swamps, carnivals, shopping malls, and even a stretch of Bourbon Street, offering a horrifying look at the result of a mass panic. Our four survivors happen upon a wasteland of deserted cars, downed planes, and abandoned homes in the wake of the recently spread infection. Then there are the totally over-the-top locations where big crescendo events happen. Want to blast zombies in the Tunnel of Love? How about fighting your way through a raging thunderstorm that you can barely see through? Ever dreamed about making a last stand in the middle of a deserted rock ‘n roll stage show? You’ll do all of that and a lot more. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Plus each one of these sequences builds on the next because for this go-around, the individual campaigns are actually connected in a coherent story.
There’s a great sense of immediacy to the new campaigns that was not present in the original game. L4D2 begins just as the government realizes that this infection is widespread. Since they can’t contain it, there’s evidence of an underwhelming CEDA response which eventually leads to a “blow it to hell” ultimatum from the military. This makes the entire trip a nightmare, not just of a zombie apocalypse, but also of how harshly the outside world is willing to deal with the situation. Better than this is a much larger story told as it was in the first game– through graffiti on the walls, occasional banter between the characters, and developments in the world itself. Granted, it’s pretty typical zombie movie stuff, but all woven together, it’s much more satisfying than totally isolated scenarios of the first game, which were all very good on their own.
The core multiplayer modes in L4D2 remain the same with co-op campaign and versus mode (human players vs. zombie players) firmly in place. The big addition to the co-op campaign is that it’s been kicked up a notch with a new Realism mode. In Realism, players have to aim for the zombies’ heads as the infected can now withstand a great deal more damage to their decaying bodies. Also, all the normal effects that help the team (like colored outlines around characters and weapons that are easy to spot in the middle of a frantic moment) are all turned off, forcing the team to stick together no matter what.
The big addition to the Versus game type is a new Scavenge multiplayer mode and is about as close to Capture The Flag as Left 4 Dead 2 gets. In Scavange, survivors try to grab gas cans scattered around a map, then dump them into a vehicle or a generator. The infected try to prevent that from happening. It’s frantic and full of strategic opportunities, with a simple scoring system that works well in 4 versus 4 sessions.
What this all boils down to is the fact that Left 4 Dead 2 is a very fun, addicting, and satisfying game. That said, there are a couple of things you should know about Left 4 Dead 2 before jumping in. First of all, this is a game built upon its multiplayer component. If you are the type of person that doesn’t like to play online or prefers a single-player experience, you will not get to enjoy all this game has to offer. L4D2 does feature a single player mode, but that is not how this game was ever intended to be played. Be warned, if you do not want to play with others, you would be much better off purchasing a game with a strong single player focus. Number two, if you loved the unique cooperative action and eerie undead trappings of the original Left 4 Dead, but feel that game was a little thin on value, know that this much-improved sequel has more than enough new content to justify it as a full-priced standalone package. Finally, this game is an incremental improvement over Left 4 Dead. It offers more campaigns, more enemy types, more multiplayer modes, and better weapons. Although it has more of everything, it is in essence the same game. To put it bluntly, if the first Left 4 Dead didn’t do anything for you, then this sequel isn’t going to win you over.
But if you did care for the original Left 4 Dead’s style of multiplayer mayhem, then Left 4 Dead 2 is a must own game. I loved the original. I played it more than any other game this year. Left 4 Dead 2 brings the same high quality and same intense competitive/cooperative gameplay. It has been heavily tweaked to radically change and improve the experience for Left 4 Dead veterans. At the same time it doesn’t isolate newcomers who are looking to enlist in the multiplayer war against the big, sickly-green menace. If you’re want to have lots of fun with a couple of close friends, Left 4 Dead 2 is a definite no-brainer. (written by Nick Creature)