Left 4 Dead 2 Print
Written by Doc_Brown   
Sunday, 14 March 2010 03:36
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Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Official Site and Opening Cinematic
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language)
PEGI 18+ (Game contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
Downloadable Content is a double-edged sword. If it’s necessary—as in the case of the original Left 4 Dead—then it means that the base game itself is flawed. On the other hand, if the initial release is a complete experience, then the DLC is by definition extemporaneous. I suppose the only reason I’m bringing this up is to justify why my review of L4D encompassed some of its DLC whereas my review of the sequel will not. Still, it’s something to think about.

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In death, the city stirs.
Left 4 Dead 2 follows the format of its predecessor pretty much letter for letter, so everything that held true there holds true here: this is still a four-player, cooperative, first-person shooter, and there are still mutated, fast-moving zombies out to get you. The most immediate difference, as my lead in hinted, is that L4D2 feels much more like a finished product right out of the gate than the original L4D did—you don’t have to wait for any DLC to fill in the missing pieces.

For instance, at the time of release L4D featured four Campaigns and supported Versus mode for half of them. It wasn’t until later that a small fifth campaign was introduced, Versus support was upped to include all the camps, and a third mode of play called Survival was added. L4D2, on the other hand, shipped with five full campaigns, complete Versus support, Survival mode, and two new ways of playing called Realism and Scavenge.

Realism mode is functionally identical to Campaign mode, albeit with an increased challenge due to changes such as the removal of character and item outlines, making communication and teamwork even more crucial to success. Scavenge mode, meanwhile, is a round-based multiplayer game where the Survivors attempt to gather scattered gas cans and refuel a generator while the Infected try to stop them, a faster and more focused alternative to Versus mode.   

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This is just the beginning of their worst nightmare.
Not only does the story this time out follow four new Survivors, there actually is a story to speak of. Newcomers Coach, Ellis, Nick, and Rochelle meet at the beginning of the first campaign, having just missed the rescue choppers in Savannah, Georgia, and proceed to New Orleans, Louisiana in an effort to reach the military evacuation in progress there. Despite the presence of an actual narrative, however, you’re still able to play through the campaigns in any order you choose.

As with the Survivors, there are also new weapons to play with. In addition to the arsenal from the prequel, there is a new submachine gun, a new scoped rifle, and two more shotguns and machineguns. Rather than just reskins, there are subtle variations in each weapon that makes them handle differently from one another. The AK-47, for instance, does more damage than the original Assault Rifle but is far less accurate, whereas the Combat Rifle fires in precise three-round bursts but takes the longest to reload.

The secondary weapon category has seen even more significant changes. While you can still find a second pistol and go akimbo, you also have the option of wielding either a single Magnum—which can kill your standard Infected in one shot—or foregoing guns entirely for a melee weapon. Coming in a variety of forms ranging from frying pans to fire axes, melee weapons can cut through swathes of Infected without the detriments of reload time or finite usage.

There are also a few special class weapons, a grenade launcher and a chainsaw, that do massive damage but cannot be restocked at ammo piles. Laser sights can be added to any gun for extra accuracy, though, and both flammable and explosive ammo can be deployed for your team when needed. And it doesn’t stop there. Mounted heavy machineguns, jars of Boomer bile, defibrillators, adrenaline shots, cases of fireworks… just about every item class from the original game has seen some sort of addition.

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Zombie House Party
The Infected have likewise seen improvements. Damage modeling has been given a serious overhaul, making the game far gorier than its predecessor. Explosions send bodies flying everywhere, and the Infected can lose an arm or have a hole blown through them and keep coming. While headshots are instantly fatal, hitting such a small moving target is easier said than done. Ironically enough, since Valve didn’t implement any crawling animations aiming for the legs is actually your best bet. Maybe Left 4 Dead 3…

There are also some campaign specific changes to your enemies. Since some maps are set during the day, for instance, you may encounter the Wandering Witch variant. She’s not as easily startled as a normal Witch, but has a habit of stumbling into your line of fire. Each campaign, meanwhile, features a unique type of Common Infected with special attributes due to their clothing. Workers, for instance, can’t hear pipebombs because they’re wearing ear protection, while those in Hazmat suits are fireproof.

As for the Special Infected, three new classes have joined the fray. Chargers are living battering rams that carry off their victims, Spitters scatter the Survivors by spewing lingering pools of acid, and Jockeys steer players away from their teammates, toward ledges or other environmental hazards, and into the waiting arms of their fellow Infected. These new Specials not only add some much needed variety to the multiplayer modes, but they’re also a hoot to play as.

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Terror is Reality
At first glance, it may seem like L4D2 is simply an enhanced version of the original. The fact that it’s possible, with a little work, to port over custom campaigns from L4D1 would seem to support that conclusion. But there are more subtle changes to the overall design that argue otherwise. Ammo piles, to give one example, are far less common this time out, being replaced instead by weapon drops. This encourages players to swap guns more often, instead of clinging to their favorite the whole time.

The campaigns themselves are more varied than before. Rather than ending with finales that follow the exact same format, each one is unique. Special mention must be given to the Hard Rain campaign in its entirety, which is a brilliant example of smart design—technically, it only consists of two maps, but as you go back and forth between them the experience is altered so cleverly that you don’t feel like you’re backtracking at all. I’d love to see more camps that take this kind of outside-the-box approach.

But probably the most significant change to the gameplay is the inclusion of melee weapons. To keep them from becoming overpowered, being hit by Common Infected causes a much more noticeable slowdown in player movement than before. Situations in the original L4D where you could have fought your way through the Horde now often end with the player being overwhelmed, which can result in a more frustrating experience than players are accustomed to.

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Conclusion
Left 4 Dead 2 is a more complete, more polished, and more varied game than its predecessor. And yet, while it’s better than the original Left 4 Dead it isn’t leaps and bounds beyond it, either. Both games have their merits, and which you favor will come down to personal preference more than anything else. If Valve can maintain the quality and continue to give each game its own unique flavor, I for one wouldn’t mind continuing to see yearly releases in the series. Bring on the crawling zombies! 

 

Game Rated 8/10