Left 4 Dead 2: A Cynical View

What follows is a cynical look at Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2, a game with a fair amount of controversy surrounding it. Grab your health kit, some pills and a gun or two and let’s go.

Originally, I was ready to be really, really discouraging about Left 4 Dead 2. In fact, I was wholly behind boycotting it and had no intention of playing it. By not playing it I was at a disadvantage when it came to forming any justifiable arguments should the need arise though, so when the evil overlords of Critical Gamer offered the chance to play it I accepted.

While not turning me around on the subject, playing it helped me try to pin down just what was so bad about Left 4 Dead 2 existing as a separate entity to what many consider to be an unfinished game. Though I have a pile of complaints about Valve and Steam in particular, I’m going to try and park those and focus purely on this game and the one that preceded it.

There seem to be three distinct opinions about L4D2 (ignoring a fourth which would be the group of people not interested in the game at all). The first is players who feel L4D2 is a glorified expansion pack – this is the group in which I fell when it was first revealed. The second is players who looked on it as the ‘real’ game, proclaiming L4D1 to be a beta test to put it simply, testing the market for a bunch of zombie nonsense and co-operative survival. The third were players interested in the game and couldn’t care less either way.

A year isn’t a long time to churn out a sequel – in theory. Actually, I suspect the development time was under a year given that it seems that work on L4D2 began immediately after the first was finished and this would explain the lacklustre support for it.

The survivors have personalities this time. You’ve got a Nicolas Cage wannabe, Uncle Phil, the scout from Team Fortress 2 and a twelve year old girl. Each are far more vocal than the first game’s team and it doesn’t take long to get to grips with who they are as you play through each linked campaign.

I think this was the first mistake. The survivors in L4D1 were pretty hollow, but this allowed the community to fill in the personality and have fun doing it. Valve has filled in the personalities this time in the hopes that the community will go with it. It’s probably just down to personal taste, but I dislike this new batch of survivors and found them irritating. This may be because I liked the bland survivors of L4D1 or because I grew to like the personalities they had been given by the players.

This general dislike also applies to the setting and music. The New Orleans area just doesn’t do it for me after the enjoyable treks through the cities in the first game. The second campaign set around a carnival is the exception to this and is probably my favourite of them all. The music meanwhile has been given a southern flavour and is just plain horrible now. The game does get a small compliment for adding weather to the dynamic list of things that the sadistic director can control, making the Hard Rain campaign a very unique experience as you deal with a rising flood as well as zombies.

The Charger doing his thing.

The Charger doing his thing.

Visually the game is no different to L4D1, save for more gore on zombies which is a good thing…if you like gore. What’s bad is that the lack of new pretty graphics is hidden behind the bloom effect being ramped up to eleven on the daytime campaigns, so half the time there’s a weird haze and blurring going. At one point I looked directly at the sun and thought my monitor was melting. If I were being particularly cynical, I’d say this might also be to hide how many textures have been reused from the first game. There’s also a bizarre trailing blur effect when a Hunter leaps around now that just looks tacky and artificial and further closes the cap between him and Sonic the Hedgehog becoming the same person.

While L4D1 had four campaigns of roughly equal length, L4D2 features five of varying lengths, but still no longer than about fifty minutes maximum. They also feature a new kind of crescendo event that I absolutely hate. Rather than fighting off waves of zombies until a door opens, you need to move through an area to turn off a buzzer or siren or anything else you can think of that makes a noise. While you try to reach these things you are attacked by unending hordes and, perhaps I’m the only one, but I just found these sections incredibly frustrating. Part of the reason for that is probably because of the survivor AI.

Stop right there. Roll your eyes back any further and they might pop out. L4D2 is a co-operative game for real people. Yes, I know. If you have three friends who are available at all times you want to play then I envy you (actually, I sort of don’t). There are times when I might only have one or two people to play with, meaning the AI fills the extra slots. The same happens in versus mode or survival or the new mode called scavenge.

To me and many people the survivor AI seemed worse than in L4D1, but I now don’t believe that to be the case. I just think corners have been cut. Or, rather, a cut and paste has been done from the survivor AI in L4D1 and it can’t adapt to the few things that have changed. Watching the survivor AI trying to deal with the new infected (Jockey in particular) is akin to giving an algebra puzzle to a four year old and expecting them to be able to solve it.

I dont like clowns either, but thats a bit excessive.

I don't like clowns either, but that's a bit excessive.

You may have noticed from the first game that the survivor AI likes to melee things off you. It works for Smokers, Hunters and to safely get rid of Boomers. That same desire to get really close to melee whatever is attacking your face or back doesn’t quite work here with Jockeys pulling you a mile away and Chargers being immune to melee. They do sometimes break into bursts of bullets in your general direction, but it’s so inaccurate that if friendly fire weren’t off for AI they’d kill you faster than the infected trying to mash your brain into the pavement.

Part of the problem is also the new varied layouts. The campaigns in the first game were fairly linear. The campaigns in L4D2 are larger and often offer numerous routes over varying heights of scenery. This is another thing our good old AI can’t cope with and as such the AI tends to trail about five feet behind you so that it can mimic how you get to wherever you’re going. What this leads to is constantly being attacked and ripped apart while it takes upwards of five seconds for the AI to even react to the simplest of predicaments. It is honestly agonising and solidly makes the survivor AI the most dangerous enemy in L4D2.

Would it be so hard to implement a basic orders system for the AI? Go here. Defend here. Follow close. Throw a pipe bomb here. Stop trying to hug the witch. Worst of all; they’ve added a new defibrillator item for reviving dead participants but the AI won’t even use that!

Now onto the new special infected. I don’t like them. They are just irritating…to play against. They perhaps provide the most fun I’ve had in months playing as them in the various competitive modes though. Since this paragraph is complimentary to the game, I’m swiftly moving on.

Along with new special infected there are also uncommon common zombies. There’s one type in each campaign and the weirdest of them all are the zombie clowns in the second campaign. For some reason, their squeaking nose rallies zombies to them. There’s also a plethora of new guns (which all perform pretty much the same), new ammunition types and melee weapons.

Now here is a weird complaint: melee weapons aren’t accurate enough. You heard me. This is going to be very hard to put into words and I think that to best get what I mean you’ll just need to use the melee weapons for a while. Put a katana or axe in my hands and I’m a happy guy, so if I stumble across a spawn of either I use them and it was through this continued use that I noticed the hit detection just isn’t…right. This may have something to do with zombies still gliding around like they’re wearing ice skates as they ‘lock’ you in place, I’m not sure.

*Honk*  .....   *Honk* ....  * Honk* ....

*Honk* ..... *Honk* .... * Honk* ....

When I look at L4D2 I see a game that annoyed me a lot but at the same time was fun to play for a while. Given that it’s really no different to L4D1, I can’t see it keeping my attention for a great length of time because I’ve already played this type of game to death. How long this game holds your attention will depend on what kind of nice stuff the modding community comes out with (disregard this statement if you got the console version, you’ve got nothing).

This game is not worth paying full price for (especially the extortionate prices on Steam). It is an expansion pack, or maybe it’s a finished game, either way to try and charge full price is pure greed. If you must get it, get it at a decent discount. Please.

What should have happened is that all these new campaigns and new guns and new infected should have been implemented as an expansion. A paid for expansion of course, I’m not expecting all this to be free. That way the new concepts and so on could apply to the original campaigns as well and get new life out of old product as they say in the business. Instead, we have a lot of irritated fans formally loyal to Valve’s games left bitter by this poorly executed marketing exercise.

I don’t know why you’ve read all this. It’s pretty long, so I’m sure L4D3 is out by now and everything I’ve said is therefore irrelevant. …Is it any good? I might get it.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

10 comments

  1. Stormy /

    So is this what Critical Gamer does now? Bash popular things, like L4D2 and MW2, in hopes of being a hot topic at N4G and generate some pageviews? For shame, you lads need a new hook. Maybe you could do top 10 lists.

    • Luke K /

      Firstly, they’re independent articles by individual staff members, which is why they’re written in the first person singular. Secondly, sit down and prepare yourself for some life changing news – different people have different opinions, and this even applies to the world of videogames!! Thirdly, they’re good articles whether you agree with the opinions expressed therein or not.

      Top 10 lists as a new hook? At least you’re being ironic. At least, I hope for the sake of your immortal soul that you are…

    • KrazyFace /

      Read the title Stormy, it says “A Cynical View”. Maybe you need that phonetically, here; SIN-A-KAL. That means it’s sceptical or kind of sneering, or are these words too big for you too?

    • I should probably at least be clear that I do like some things considered to be popular (by whoever it is that gets to decide these things). However, in the cases of L4D2 and MW2 I feel there are plenty of good reasons why they shouldn’t be as well recieved as they are and have tried to put these reasons across in my articles. You’re entitled to disagree, of course.

      As Luke pointed out; everything is opinion. The CG review of MW2 gave it 10/10 and the review of L4D2 gave it 8/10 – those are pretty good scores from opposing opinions to my own!

  2. If L4D series had been by anyone but valve there would have been no raised eyebrows over this. The cynical view is adopted by people upset to learn that Valve is just another profit making entity.

    Sequels happen every day guys. L4D2 is better than many. Get over it.

    (also complaining about final fantasys multiplayer or WoW’s single player would get you laughed at)

  3. Rikard O /

    I agree with the survivor AI being an absolute bitch. In L4D1 I liked to finish the campaigns on my own with three AI partners, just to learn the map and get a feel for it, but that is almost impossible in the second game as the AI will do all the things you describe here; run several feet behind you, stopping for no good reason etc.

    The worst thing is that the new crescendo events, and especially the finales, are completely relying on you now, because the AI sure isn’t going to scavenge, or barely even cover your back as you’re doing it. I’ve tried to play the game in single player, but it just isn’t working for those reasons.

  4. Michael J /

    I’d just like to say that for review purposes I played this game almost soley with friends and a few random players. The only time I let the AI in on the action was when i realised I’d managed to forget to take any screencaps during my playtime. If i’d based my experiences of the game around the singleplayer it likely would’ve been a far more negative review, but as a co-op experience I firmly believe L4D2 is pretty much as good as it currently gets.

    When nearly every single aspect of the game, from colour coded player outlines,to weapon balance and item selection is based around there being other real human players there and experiencing the game together, it would have been doing the game a real disservice to push to co-op aspect aside and instead highlight that it doesn’t translate well to Single-player.

    The repetition and similarity to first game I agree with though, it doesn’t feel particularly like a ‘new’ game, which is why i only gave it an 8/10 in the end.

  5. I love every single thing about it. It’s level design is near genius and I have no problems playing in daylight.

    The new infected are a hoot to play. Their main concern is to separate the survivors, which would before, just sit a corner, spamming.

    I do see where you’re coming from with the Melee, but once you’re used to it, it becomes a breeze.

  6. I was happy with L4D2 when I started playing it. But the more I play the more I notice A LOT of bugs. This game was made in about a year and it’s begining to show. On top of the explosion glitch used to exploit high survival points there are also spawn glitches causing tanks to not show up and infected to spawn out of range of the survors. Lag is also worst in this game then L4D1.

    If you’re going to sell me the same game with different maps and weapons, there should be less glitches not more.

  7. The left4dead series sucks. Period. I bought the new game expecting it to not be a complete snorefest like the first one, but boy was I wrong. If you like playing a co-op shootah with shitty, floaty mechanics, and mindless enemies then go for it.

    If you like difficulty being increased by merely increasing the number of enemies on the screen, rather than increasing the AI, then this is your game.

    Otherwise just play a real fucking game.

    Valve has really just cashed in on the stupid zombie fad. Who decided that it would be fun to kill the mindless?

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