Sunday, November 22, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 - Review

Score: 9/10

Left 4 Dead 2

PC/Xbox 360

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: Nov 17, 2009

Pros: Campaigns are longer and more open, Great replay value, New weapons and infected fit nicely, One-liners provided by the cast are very entertaining, Realism and Expert mode prove to be a challenge worthy of bragging rights 

Cons: Occasional Laggy Server, Friendly AI remains just as useless while enemy AI has increased

  The first Left 4 Dead was an experience all its own. Never before had a game captured the zombie apocalypse with co-op gameplay so well. Valve announced that almost 3 million copies of the game had been sold, showing the success a simple mod could have on the gaming industry. Despite the boycotts and disagreement upon a release one year after its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 takes what the first game offered and improves upon the formula.


  With Left 4 Dead...there is no real story. The premise is that there are 4 survivors that have teamed together to escape the infected city. That's really about all there is to it. The characters do have their own unique personalities and chime in every now and then to show them.  Other than that don't expect a mind blowing plot twists or unique understanding of where the infection came from, it's a zombie apocalypse and you are not one. Go shoot them and escape.

  The music in the game fits each campaign you are playing through perfectly. The typical Left 4 Dead theme from the first game is played in each level, but depending on the level you are playing on, the style will change. Playing through Dead Carnival stage will loop music fitting of that which you would hear at a circus tied to the classic "horde theme". It provides an entertaining, yet frightening score that intensifies the moment. The classic tank music is cued up upon its entry each time as well, sending the entire party running for their lives. There is also the occasional jukebox that you stumble upon to choose various tracks from while you blast away zombies. The highlight being "Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton, singing about a friend who is a zombie asking for his buddy to let him in to eat him. Its the same guy who brought us "Still Alive' from Portal, so generally its a favorite to play.

  The voice acting is another worthy mention. Though only 4 characters are in this game, they are a colorful cast made even more entertaining by the dialogue through the game. The same dialogue is not repeated over and over and over again, but cues up only on occasion. This encourages you to play through multiple times, just to hear the hilarious conversations your group discusses. The dialogue is fresh, never over the top, and enough to make you stop playing to laugh for a second.

  Time has been taken for each campaign setting in detailing a truly vibrant and colorful environment. From the bright streets to murky swamps, each level has an incredibly polished look to it. The grain filter overlaying the game only amplifies the detail. This time around there are more well-lit stages that are not completely hidden in the dark, showing off more textures than the previous installment.

  Character models are another particular mention. Seeing as there are indeed only four main characters to choose from, it's easy to say they took their time in creating them to look good. Facial expressions and lip syncing holds true, and the detailed look of each character is impressive. Not only did the Survivors get a facelift, but the Infected have as well. All your favorite Infected characters have all gotten a more gruesome and intimidating look to them. Whether it's the stream of glowing spit trailing from the Spitter or the cloud of smoke emanating from the Smoker, each character is much more menacing this time around.

Gameplay is split into different types: Campaign/Versus, Scavenge, Realism, and Survival

  The campaigns this time around are much longer and much more detailed than the previous installment. There are five campaigns to choose from: Dead Center, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, Hard Rain, and The Parish. Each one of these consists of about 4-5 "stages" that the survivors must navigate. The object is to get from one safehouse to the other while surviving numerous encounters with zombies and special Infected. Try and run off and do this by yourself, and you quickly learn how much cooperation is needed.

  Each campaign has plenty of different events and zombies that mix the gameplay up. In the previous installment, there were moments in which you must open a door with an alarm, alerting the nearby horde causing you to defend yourself in a corner until the wave had passed. This is not the case as much in this game, as in multiple scenarios there will be an alarm where the horde will never stop coming until you press a button to turn it off, placed a few hallways away from you. This flips the strategy of hiding in a corner from the previous game, requiring coordination and tactics to maneuver from one place to the next. We literally found ourselves using SWAT tactics on a few occasions, where one party member breaks forward, stops and covers, then continues once someone can cover them. The special zombies also mix things up, some donning bullet proof armor and even some that are clowns who's squeaky shoes alert nearby groups.

  The new Infected are a nice addition to breaking the party up. The infamous corner hiding strategy is completely gone with the appearance of The Spitter, who spits pools of acid that will scatter the party members. The Charger can also bring one party member from one side of an open area to the other, pummeling them into the ground. The Jockey proves the most elusive, with a small size he is much harder to hit and can easily grab a Survivor and steer them away from the group. Combined with the reappearance of the other Infected, there are numerous strategies that can now be considered. Coordination is key, and nothing is more satisfying than when a plan all melds together as the Survivors are pulled away one by one.

  The Survivors will not be completely helpless. Plenty of new weapons and items help them to battle the horde more effectively. Most noticeably is the addition of melee weapons. Taking the place of your pistols, these items are one hit kills to normal infected and can put a pretty big hurting on special Infected as well. While they are a nice addition, you are sacrificing that safety of distancing yourself from the enemy and have more likelihood of getting hit. There's also the addition of a defibrillator to revive dead teammates on the stop and shots of adrenaline to run without getting slowed by being hit. Throw in incendiary and frag ammo with a slew of weapons to choose from, and the Survivors are well equipped.

  My only complaint about the Campaign lies in the AI. While the AI Director is smarter than ever, the bots that you get stuck with are not. They still will not use any explosive items (pipebombs, molotovs) and are slow to rescue you if incapacitated. Though their accuracy is as godlike as ever, they prove more useless than a noob player. Needless to say, if you plan on playing this offline, prepare for some frustrating moments.


  Scavange is a fantastic mode that you should try if you can pull yourself away from the Campaign long enough. You get a slight preview of this in the first campaign. The basic idea is you are trying to collect gas cans scattered across the level and bring them to power a generator in the middle of the stage. Collect as many as you can to extend the timer at the top from running out. The other players must act as the Infected and prevent the Survivors from gathering the gas cans. Roles are switched after each round, and whoever collects the most after 3 rounds wins.

  The mode proves as enjoyable as versus, requiring coordination and strategy to gather the most cans. If a can lays on the ground too long and spitter can actually ignite it with her acid, and she can also ruin your chance to pour your gas can in by spitting right at the generator. Survivors must decide how they will move, all in one group or split into two groups? Each move you make is risky, and with the clock ticking it keeps you moving non-stop. Different maps require different strategies. The Dark Carnival map is flat and must be navigated all together, but eh Dead Center has multiple stories, allowing one group to gather gas cans and toss them down to another group to fill the generator.

  Survival also makes a return, giving you a large amount of items to hole up in a section of each campaign. A timer ticks by counting up how long you can survive for and awards medals if you make it past a certain time. It's not a very rewarding experience and feels sort of tacked on, but fun to play around with nonetheless.


  Realism is another new mode that will make the game much more challenging. Playing through this mode changes a few elements in the game, while keeping the difficulty level the same. In Realism mode, enemies and friends are no longer highlighted in a colored outline, you will no longer find people in closets if they die, and damage is limb based making head shots more damaging than limb shots. When playing through it, you really must rely on voice communication and coordination to survive, as it feels like a much more complex experience. You could be retrieving a pipe bomb and turn around to find your teammates gone and you have no clue which direction they went.

  Left 4 Dead 2 provides a sequel worthy of any gamer's time. The slew of new features have made the game feel like a different experience than the first. The epic campaigns are so enjoyable, that even with only five of them you will play them over and over for those parts you truly enjoyed. With a slew of achievements, and some incredibly difficult segments to conquer, the game provides an enjoyable challenge. With DLC already being hinted at, this will be a game to add to your wish list for the holidays.

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