Review: Left 4 Dead 2 (PC)

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Posted April 29, 2009 by Jay Wheeler in PC, Reviews, Xbox 360

Creating a good game is not that difficult. You need a reasonable amount of re-playability, a dash of cooperative play and lots and lots of zombies. Like its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 ticks all the boxes for a good game. The question is: Have Valve done enough to make Left 4 Dead 2 a great game?

Left 4 Dead 2 puts you in the shoes of one of four human survivors who are slap-bang in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. You and your team of fellow survivors must battle against thousands of infected (the politically correct term for zombies) in an effort to reach the nearest evacuation zone. To make things interesting, some of the infected have learned special tricks that they will employ to separate your party in the hope of a quick meal and a cheap laugh. To overcome this you must use teamwork and strategy to reach safety.

Unlike the previous Left 4 Dead title, the four new survivors are brimming with personality. Nick is a conman with impeccable taste in suits and over a minute of voice clips devoted to friendly fire incidents. Rochelle is a recently promoted journalist sent to Savannah, the location of the first campaign, to produce a story on the odd occurrences that were happening. Coach is a former athlete who, after an injury, became the local high school coach and Ellis is a young mechanic who is “like a five-year-old. With guns.” The survivors will often chat amongst themselves or comment on events within the game.

The overall storyline may be hollow and cliche but it works. It feels as though you are the lead character in your very own zombie flick.

The single player consists of five inter-linked campaigns that include a variety of interesting locations such as a fairground (complete with clowns), a hotel and a mall. Set in the Southern United States, the levels are excellently detailed, offering some unique sights. Gauntlet events, labelled rolling crescendos by Valve, are a particular highlight of the campaign mode. These events are triggered when the survivors interact with a certain part of the environment they need to pass, causing a massive onslaught of the infected. To survive the onslaught the survivors must keep moving through the gauntlet and reach an objective. Fans of Left 4 Dead will enjoy the mix of familiarity and trepidation that these campaigns bring to the table while the frantic zombie action will be sure to keep any newcomers hooked.

Left 4 Dead 2

One of the biggest hypes about Left 4 Dead 2 is the introduction of melee weapons to the survivors arsenal. There are ten melee weapons available to survivors: Baseball Bat, Cricket Bat, Crowbar, Electric Guitar, Fire Axe, Frying Pan, Katana, Machete, Tonfa(police baton) and the Chainsaw. Each weapon has its own unique style when it comes to dismembering zombies and it won’t take you long to find a personal favourite. The good news is melee weapons are not just a sales ploy but a genuinely useful addition to the arsenal. Valve seems to have listened to the community feedback regarding the limited amount of weaponry in the original game resulting in a wider selection of ranged weaponry. Unfortunately, the arsenal still feels limited and in most cases the difference between weapons is mainly aesthetic.

Left 4 Dead 2 introduces three new types of special infected: the spitter, the jockey and the charger. The spitter will spit out a small ball of acid that spreads into a pool as it hits the floor. Any survivors caught in the acid will burn and scream in agonizing pain. The Charger is a wannabe-tank that will charge in a straight line towards the survivors, picking up any survivor unlucky enough to get caught in his path before beating them against the ground repeatedly. Finally we have the Jockey, a midget zombie that can leap on the head of a survivor and steer them away.

Molotov’s, pipe bombs and med packs are identical to those in Left 4 Dead. The new incendiary and explosive ammo offer a tactical advantage in certain situations but require tactical play to be used effectively. Adrenaline shots will give you a short burst of speed and stop any hits from zombies slowing you down which comes in useful when traversing a gauntlet event. Boomer bile is a small vial of boomer puke that attracts infected just like the pipe bomb but with an interesting twist, anything hit by the bile will be attacked by a horde of common infected. The defibrillator is used to shock survivors back from the dead but takes the slot of a health pack when carried.

Thanks to the improved AI Director, which controls pretty much everything within the game, the game play is fast-paced and exciting. The Director will ensure each playing session is unique by blocking off certain paths and changing the spawn points of equipment. The Director also makes subtle differences like the weather or the direction of the infected attack which gives the game a huge re-playability factor.

Graphically the game does just about enough. Whether you decide to play a tune on a zombies head with a guitar or blow off their limbs with a volley of shotgun shells the results are satisfying in a “beach scene from Saving Private Ryan” kind of way. Decapitating a zombie will cause blood to squirt from their necks (and for some reason send their head flying thirty feet in a random direction) and any limbless zombies will continue to hop, limp or crawl towards you. As a nice extra touch splatters of blood will appear around the edge of your screen when attacking a zombie in melee or completely drench your screen if you decide to use the chainsaw.

It’s no surprise that multi-player is where Left 4 Dead 2 really shines. The campaigns are well balanced for Versus play and thanks to the new special infected survivors are far less likely camp. This results in shorter campaigns with more focus on fast-paced action. In the newly added Scavenger mode survivors battle against both the clock and the infected as they rush to collect petrol cans to fill up a generator (why?). Scavenger mode is clearly built for competitive play and it would be a real shame not to exploit the potential. With the right support I can see Left 4 Dead 2 Scavenger mode going very far on the competitive gaming circuit.

Overall 8/10

Is Left 4 Dead 2 a great game? In short, yes. Left 4 Dead 2 is the best cooperative, team-based zombie shooter available on the market. Valve have improved upon the Left 4 Dead recipe and the result is a polished sequel with buckets of potential. If you’re a fan of zombies or just plain old cooperative game-play then this is without question a must buy.

However if you’re not a fan of the original Left 4 Dead then this game is not going to change your mind.


Author

Jay Wheeler



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