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Review: Left 4 Dead 2
by Tom Acres

Game Information

Basic information
Left 4 Dead 2
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Released: November 2009

Xbox 360

First-person Shooter
Survival Horror

BBFC: 18
PEGI: 18+
OFLC: MA15+ (heavily cut)
USK: 18+ (heavily cut)
Quite possibly the most controversial game of 2009 for a variety of reasons, Left 4 Dead 2 is aiming to carry on the momentum gained from Valve’s original zombie hit form 2008. Back then, it was a breath of fresh air thanks to its fantastic emphasis on co-op, brutal and innovative AI, great pick up and play gameplay and some of the best online multiplayer around. Left 4 Dead 2 has all that and a lot more too, but are the new additions enough to warrant you dropping another chunk of cash on this quick sequel?

The first thing that’ll strike you when you boot up Left 4 Dead 2 is just how many game modes there are. I really didn’t know where to start when the main menu booted up. There are 5 new campaigns, each with 5 missions with each mission taking anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour. There’s also a new ‘Realism’ mode which is basically a much tougher version of the campaign game. The enemies become tougher and the HUD is stripped down to the bare minimum so that friendly players don’t glow blue so that you can see them more clearly and that sort of thing. Survival mode is back from the first game which puts players in a confined area of one of the campaign missions and sends wave after wave of zombies after you to see how long you can last. Then the two competitive modes are Versus and Scavenge. Versus is the same as it was in the first game as one team plays as the survivors as they try and complete the campaign whilst the other team plays as the Special Infected zombies. Scavenge is the new competitive mode and sees teams take it in turns as the survivors as they try and collect gas canisters and take it back to a collection site on the map. The other team plays as the Special Infected and have to stop them.

The Campaign mode takes you through the Deep South of America as you visit some cool locations such as a flooded marshland, an abandoned theme park, a shopping centre as well as some other locations that all gave Valve ample opportunity to create some really cool and imaginative set pieces. The best one was probably holding off the zombie horde on a rock concert stage whilst you wait for an evacuation helicopter. All the levels within each campaign are really well designed and are different each time you play thanks to the AI director. This makes the enemies react to things differently each time and also effects their spawning patterns as well as what weapons you can find along the way. It can even change the weather on some of the levels and this can drastically increase the difficulty of the game. Fighting the zombie horde in a swamp during a thunderstorm is both hard and scary. Realism mode makes things even more difficult and headset communication is absolutely vital if you want to survive. Don’t even think about trying it with AI partners!

Once again there isn’t much story going on in Left 4 Dead 2 but the characters are much more interesting. You get Ellis, Rochelle, Coach and Nick and they’re all fairly likeable with plenty of amusing little quips and remarks to lighten the mood of the game. There’s also DLC in the works which will see them meet up with the survivors from the first game so hopefully that will provide some more substantial prose. Still, who really plays Left 4 Dead for the story anyway?

The sole other co-op vs. AI mode is Survival. This was actually DLC for the first Left 4 Dead and it hasn’t changed. If you’ve played Horde in Gears of War 2 or Firefight in Halo 3: ODST then you pretty much know what to expect. The maps are condensed and there are plenty of weapons, medals and leaderboards too. It’s fun, but doesn’t have the lasting appeal of the campaigns or the competitive multiplayer.

Speaking of the competitive modes, this is where I’ve had the most fun so far with Left 4 Dead 2. The main one of these is the Versus mode which is great fun. Playing as the Special Infected in the campaigns is fantastic fun and is arguably a more rewarding tactical experience than playing as the survivors. There are new Special Infected as well as the ones from the first game; so you get the Smoker, Spitter, Charger, Jockey, Tank, Boomer and Hunter. These are all playable with only the Witch being non-playable in any of the modes. The new types for Left 4 Dead 2 are the Spitter, Jockey and Charger. The Charger allows you to charge at your enemy and ram them into a wall before repeatedly pounding them into the ground until their either dead or someone saves them. The Jockey allows you to jump onto someone’s head and control their movement and this is great when used in conjunction with the Spitter. The Spitter can spit poisonous acid on the floor and if a survivor walks into it then they suffer damage over time. Leading a survivor into a pool of acid with the Jockey is fun and satisfying. The old Special Infected are Justas fun to play as the MVP in each round of Versus play gets to take control of the Tank which is incredibly cool.

The final game mode is Scavenge which is probably my favourite and doesn’t require as much of a time commitment to complete a game. Here, survivors try to collect gas tanks from around a map and pour them into a generator to add more time to the countdown clock. It’s the other team’s job as the Infected to stop them and eat their brains. Each team plays both sides per round, and the first to three round victories wins. The short format makes it easy to enjoy in quick sessions, though more than likely you'll be tempted by rematch after rematch. Once again, the new Infected abilities are great for this mode, splurging the generator with Spitter goo is both cruel and satisfyingly fun.

The Infected aren’t the only ones with new stuff to play with though; the survivors have been kitted out with plenty of new weapons to aid them during the apocalypse. There are plenty of new guns, including multiple versions of pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles. The standout addition though is the selection of melee weapons that Valve has supplied for you. They range from the lethal such as the samurai sword and the machete to the useless like the frying pan to the ridiculous like the surprisingly effective electric guitar. These are so much fun to use because they result in the most gruesome deaths in the game. Decapitating zombies is great fun, no doubts about that. The best of the lot is the chainsaw, this makes you pretty much unstoppable until the power runs out because zombies die as soon as they make contact with the whirring blade. Cue a whole lot of blood and a whole lot of decapitated limbs. The Molotov’s and pipe bombs also make a return and are just as lethal as you remember them.

The new Infected and the new weapons really spice up the gameplay and it’s great because the core mechanics haven’t really changed. Obviously the only way to play the game is online with real people. Split-screen and System Link play only support 2 players and the AI of your buddies isn’t nearly as good as that of the zombies. They heal when it isn’t needed, waste ammo and resources and often get lost. If you don’t have Xbox Live then don’t bother with Left 4 Dead 2, and if you don’t have a decent internet connection on your PC then don’t bother either.

With all these new modes, you’re going to be kept busy for a long time. For completionists there are Steam achievements on the PC version and obviously there are Xbox Live achievements on the Xbox 360 version. In a nice gesture, Valve has also added support for Avatar Awards so by completing certain requirements you’ll be able to kit out your Xbox Live Avatar in some cool Left 4 Dead 2 clothing and prop items.

Graphically, Left 4 Dead 2 looks nice but it’s nothing stellar. It’s impressive how many zombies can be on screen at once but it’s kind of disappointing that the corpses disappear after a few seconds. It would’ve been cool to be able to look back after a hectic fight and see the ground covered in blood, guts and zombie limbs but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Weather effects look great though and the Infected and survivor models are especially well detailed. Texture work in the environments are well done but are a bit bland. There’s no doubt it looks better on the PC as well and it runs a lot smoother too. The game’s soundtrack is varied and the voice acting is also very good and there’s a surprising amount of it considering there’s only one cutscene in the whole game (which looks awesome by the way).

Some fans may have been annoyed that Left 4 Dead got a sequel just a year after release, but the simple fact is that it’s a much better game. There’s more modes, zombies, weapons, environments and the graphics are better too. The campaigns are better designed and the competitive multiplayer is excellent. In fact, there isn’t really anything that I could say is wrong with Left 4 Dead 2 apart from that it isn’t very original or innovative (so it won't change your mind about first perosn shooters if you don't like them). It does what it sets out to do and does it extremely well. Also, with plenty of DLC planned down the line, this disc is going to be spinning in your system for a very long time. Simply put, it's a must buy for shooter fans.



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- Tom Acres

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