Review: Left 4 Dead 2

I was a huge fan of Left 4 Dead, as you probably guessed from the multiple zombie-related articles and the new feature on Thursdays, which I imaginatively titled Zombie Thursday (I missed it this week – blame exams). However, when I found out that L4D2 would be releasing a mere year after release, I didn’t quite know what to think. Then I read why Valve were doing this, and I got all excited.

You could say that Left 4 Dead was a testing bed to see whether or not the L4D style of play would be popular. Valve didn’t want to waste money on making the full blown idea they had (which later became L4D2), as it was a huge risk, so they made a scaled down version of their utterly brilliant idea to see if people would enjoy the zombie-related coop. It turns out they did, so then Valve started making the sequel. You might say that L4D didn’t need to be priced so highly, and I might agree, but some people are saying that L4D2 shouldn’t be, at which I respectfully ask them to be quiet.

Valve themselves have said L4D2 is what L4D would have been if they could’ve just ignored the risk and gone for it anyway. It’s also got the added bonus of Valve looking at how people play L4D and adding stuff into it to compensate. The new special infected are a great example of that. The Charger is a terrifying enemy, though that could be because I never see it coming before it’s slammed into the wall next to me holding Rochelle. It’s clearly designed to split up the previously-safe group tactic of, well, staying close together in a group by charging through you, and it works brilliantly.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

The Jockey is another new special that is quite brilliant and terrible. It’s about as tall as your legs are and is surprisingly hard to kill whilst it zig zags towards you making a high-pitched almost-laughter sound. It then jumps on you and, true to its name, rides you into something dangerous, whether that dangerous thing is Spitter goo, a Witch, a rather large drop or a lot of fire. The Spitter is a brilliant way of halting the survivor’s progress and/or getting them out of a room. You remember in the first game when you could hide in a cupboard when a horde was coming? The Spitter is there to stop that from happening. Obviously, she spits, and her saliva splatters across the floor, hurting any survivor that’s caught in it. The longer you’re in the spit, the more damage it does, so you’d better get out of there sharpish.

That leaves the Wandering Witch. I have always found the Witch to be terrifying, and the Witch of the Wandering variety doesn’t change that – it’s a whole different ball game when the Witch you’re trying to sneak past is moving around in random patterns. You’ll never recover from the trauma you feel as she suddenly changes direction and slowly moves towards you as you’re up against a wall trying to sneak past. Brilliant. The Wandering Witch only appears in daytime levels, whilst the classic Witch appears only at night, so at least you know what you’re looking out for (they also sound slightly different, the Wandering Witch’s cry is slightly more hoarse, and the music is different, too).

There are new enemies and the game is set in Southern America, so there must be new survivors, right? Well, yes, as a matter of fact there are, useful narrative device! Ellis, Rochelle, Coach and Nick are the new survivors and they’re as amusing as the original survivors, but they can’t bridge the hole left in my heart by the lack of Zoey and Bill. Rochelle is a woman who is female and black, as most black women are, whilst nick is the opposite: a white man. The remaining two new survivors are by far the best two, with Ellis telling completely inane stories a lot of the time, whilst Coach is so badass you won’t be able to help laughing.

So the new survivors are good, but I still miss the old ones. Unfortunately, the same is to be said about the campaigns, too. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the new campaigns, they’re every bit as engaging as the original campaigns were, but with all the new mechanics I do sometimes miss the relatively simple pleasures of L4D. An example is the finale of the first campaign – to finish the campaign you have to fill a car up with petrol, canisters of which are lying around all over the finale area. It’s great fun, but it doesn’t feel like it has the structure of the classic finales and, whilst keeping you moving can be a good thing, at times I do miss holing up in a closet.

Missing the previous game is unimportant though, because it doesn’t change the fact that the new finales are excellent, as are the new climactic moments. Have you played the demo? The alarm you have to disable whilst under attack from multiple hordes? You can look forward to quite a few of those, and they are brilliantly done simply due to the change of pace they provide – instead of carefully moving forward you have to run recklessly to get there as quickly as you can, or you will die. Whether it’s filling the car with petrol or running disable an alarm, they’re almost always as good as the classic finales and climactic moments, even if at times it doesn’t feel quite so involved as they did in the first game.

Hard Rain is getting a special mention, because it’s very different to the other campaigns. For a start, Hard Rain contains some hard rain. You fight your way to the safe house at the end of the second chapter to collect some fuel for your boat, then you’ve got to go back. At night. In a storm. Everytime the storm flares up and the rain gets extra-hard, a horde appears. It also limits visibility, which is a problem when you’re going through a field that is hard enough to see in anyway, and even worse when you’re going through the sugar factory. Witches are attracted to sugar, making both of your trips through this factory quite traumatic if you’ve got bad luck. The first time I went through here, there were 3 Wandering Witches right next to each other – leaving no way past other than running through them like I was being chased by a horny Paris Hilton.

The game is also much more difficult in places. Never in L4D did I play two-player local coop and have to quit at a finale simply because we weren’t getting past it, but I have in L4D2. It’s a good job, then, that there are new weapons to help you through. As well as the weapons from the original with a few changes (the auto-shotgun is now called the tactical shotgun, for example), there are whole other weapons (like the sniper rifle, which is one up from the hunting rifle and the best of the rifles, or the combat shotgun). They all pack a punch, of course, and, as always, require vastly different styles of play.

There are also new items for use in your quest to survive the zombipocalypse. Adrenaline in held in the same slot as the pain pills and makes everything you do, from running to reviving fallen survivors, faster, whilst boomer bile is another throwable item (like molotovs and pipe bombs) and can be thrown at things you want a horde to attack, like the tank (which happens to be an achievement). The defibrillator is used to bring dead survivors back to life and takes the place of your medikit, whilst explosive and incendiary ammo are exactly what they say and take the same slot.

Now we get to new modes, and what a new mode we have to get to – Scavenge is a brilliant experience. Like versus, you will play as both the infected and the survivors, but instead of working your way through the campaign you’re penned into a certain area taken from the campaign and given something to fill up with fuel. Much like the finale of the first campaign, you have to collect fuel canisters from around the area and stick them into whatever needs the fuel whilst fighting off onslaughts of zombies. It’s brilliantly good fun and may well take the place of versus as my favourite mode.

Realism is campaign mode, but with realism – you can’t see the halos that show you where your team mates are, for example, and a Witch will kill you with a single hit. It’s all there to make the game harder. It is a mode, too, rather than a tick box, so you can play Realism on easy if you want to, as it’s designed so you can test your team-playing skills. If you’ve been grabbed by a smoker and the other survivors aren’t near you, you will need to be able to describe where you are very, very well if you don’t want to die at the end of a comically large tongue.

So with 5 new campaigns, two new modes, 3 new special infecteds (and a variation of an old special) and 4 new survivors, what is there to complain about? You’d better be playing the game online, because the AI are absolute morons. If, at any point, Rochelle is stood next to a Wandering Witch, presumably offering her a cup of tea, I am going to be annoyed. And I was. Twice. In a row. So yes, the game is obviously still a multiplayer-mostly game, so you must play online, if not just because it’s more fun, do it because the AI will really annoy you, or because one of the best modes is online only.

Pros:

  • Typically brilliant coop is as fun as ever.
  • The new infected are just as masterfully thought-out as the originals were.
  • The director is pure evil.

Cons:

  • You have to play online, because the AI are morons.
  • I still miss the original survivors and campaigns.

Verdict: Brilliant in almost every way and well deserving of your hard-earned cash, but I do miss Zoey…

Score: 9/10

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –