Left 4 Dead 2: Review

  • Format: PC (version reviewed), Xbox 360
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Valve
  • Developer: Valve/EA
  • Players: 1-8
  • Site: http://www.l4d.com/

Left 4 Dead came out last year to critical acclaim, lauded as one of the most satisfying co-op experiences yet to be found in gaming. One year on and it’s still difficult to argue any differently. Co-op is found more and more in games, but few have the efficiency of design to be encountered in L4D, with every aspect of the game balanced and focused around operating as part of a team. So here we are only a year later and we have the sequel, with five new campaigns, new game types and a new cast of both survivors and infected to play with.

What chu gon do bout it huh Valve?

What chu' gon do 'bout it huh Valve?

The word new in front of all of those things however, can seem a bit forced. Left 4 Dead 2 doesn’t feel ‘new’. It doesn’t feel old either necessarily, but it feels very similar to the previous game and depending on your perspective that can be a good or a bad thing. You see, despite all the changes – the dismemberment, the infected that force you to react and play differently and the new tools at your disposal, Left 4 Dead 2 at times feels like a remake of the first game, only with Valve saying “This is how it should have been”. Melee weapons don’t feel so much an addition, as they highlight their omission from the first incarnation. The bigger variety of guns simply makes you wonder why there were such a small number the first time around. The fact is, Left 4 Dead was a very stripped down game in many ways. It had a small number of campaigns that you could blast your way through in an afternoon, with the clever AI Director and competitive Versus modes adding longevity to the experience. But at its heart it was still quite a bare experience, designed very tightly around a set of rules that encouraged co-operation.

But for veterans of the first game, Left 4 Dead 2 feels anything but new. It feels like a highly polished, improved and diversified version of the original, with a slightly less charming cast. Now as we stated before, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, zombies are still fun to slaughter in their masses and the melee weapons only add to that pleasure, with limbs flying everywhere as you cut a path to the safe-house using your chainsaw. The new campaigns are for the most part very well designed, Hard Rain and Dark Carnival being the highlights. Hard Rain is actually the part of the game that feels newest, with some excellent weather effects and clever level design making for a punishing and very atmospheric experience. One area has you traversing a witch-minefield, which will un-nerve even the most experienced players, as one false step can land your team in a heap of trouble.

Survive the apocalypse, make new friends and visit exotic locales!

Survive the apocalypse, make new friends and visit exotic locales!

Speaking of trouble, we have three new special infected to deal with; the Jockey, the Spitter and the Charger. Each of the three is capable in the right circumstances of putting the survivors in a world of hurt, and they’re all a blast to play in versus mode. The Jockey in particular is capable of eliciting girlish giggles, even from Critical Gamers’ grizzled and manly staff members, as you steer a helpless survivor into a closet filled with zombies. The charger can be a bit hit or miss, bounding into the survivors and smashing your unfortunate victim into the floor repeatedly. The problem being if you try and charge head-on, there’s every chance you’ll be dead before you reach them. The spitter is just deadly in the right hands. You can separate survivors, or grievously wound any boomered or incapacitated survivors with their acidic phlegm, one nicely aimed gob of spit can spell disaster for the beleaguered zombie killers.

Realism mode we suspect will remain a curiosity for most players, but for some hardcore players with good communication, it could form the basis of much of their time of Left 4 Dead 2. Essentially it makes the game a lot harder and removes the hand-holding of the normal game. Infected become much tougher unless you headshot them, and the outlines of your team mates through the walls disappear, meaning to try and venture off alone can spell certain doom. It means that your team-play, coordination and communication have to improve substantially. Playing with some random people you just met will result in a frustrating and difficult time, especially if they refuse to use voice-com, which many do. Scavenger mode revolves around the collection of petrol cans to pour into an engine, with one team as survivors and one as infected, before switching over on completion of a round. What it offers is a quick and more focused sample of the versus experience, designed for those of us who don’t always have the time for a full round of versus action. You can hop into a game, play a few rounds, and win or lose in 20 minutes, without having to commit to the hour or so of play you’ll need for Versus (unless you’re one of those people who leaves a versus game mid-way through, heathen!).

Not a very clever place to take a nap

Not a very clever place to take a nap

So there you have it, Left 4 Dead 2 adds a lot to the experience. In terms of content it’s hard to complain, as there’s plenty to do within the different game modes. As either survivors or infected, there’s a whole lot more diversity to be found through the new weapons or equipment, and of course the 3 new special infected. Left 4 Dead 2 expands upon what Left 4 Dead did well and gives us a more fleshy, fully rounded experience. The main criticisms of the game are that it feels overly similar to the first game, there hasn’t been a substantial leap forward in terms of gameplay. Secondly, the lack of a structured narrative means we get no continuity from the previous game and at times it can be difficult to care about the new batch of survivors.


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Written by Michael J

Michael is a self proclaimed PC gaming fanatic and is equally at home with all genres, bar platformers and puzzle games. Except Bejeweled, he's awesome at that. Seriously, he is totally like second on his Facebook Bejeweled leaderboard. And they said he'd never amount to anything...

One comment

  1. Rikard O /

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, and I agree with pretty much the entire review. I’ve only played through a few campaigns yet and I haven’t had the chance to try the online play yet, but it really is everything the original was except with more stuff and more fun. Perfect balance between old and new.

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