Game Name:Left 4 Dead 2
Platforms:Xbox 360
Publisher(s):Electronic Arts
Developer(s):Valve
Genre(s):Action
Release Date:11/17/2009
ESRB Rating:M (Mature)
Price:$54.99 (Amazon)
Demo:Download the demo!

Left 4 Dead set the precedent for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. There were likable, ordinary characters, common, believable settings, and lots and lots of carnage. Yet something felt like it was missing from the lack of game types to the inability to play every campaign online. Of course Valve eventually fixed all of this through the free downloadable content (DLC) and fans clamored for more and more. Enter the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2) a sequel released not even one year later. The question on everyone’s mind is: is it worth the asking price?

Okay, okay, I surrender!!!

In short, yes. Valve took everything that worked in the original game and upped the count. There are more campaigns, special infected, and game types set in new locations with a different cast and thematic uncommon common infected unique to a specific campaign. To help combat all these changes we have access to satisfying melee weapons that will dismember zombies, upgraded ammunition types that will stun or light zombies on fire, and more items to help the Survivors. All of these ingredients contribute to a better overall game that will hopefully have its own spotlight long enough to see DLC flourish.

Cast
Again we have a group of four everyman type survivors: Coach, Rochelle, Nick, and Ellis. Instead of just throwing us into the campaign with no explanation our group introduces themselves in the opening chapter and become acquainted as the story progresses. Whether the new cast is better than the old is up to individual preference, but the group is quite funny, especially Ellis with his many random stories usually ending with someone burning. The Survivors are a nice mix for the new setting.Survivor Concept Art

Left 4 Dead 2 really manages to create atmosphere. My favorite storytelling device, the wall writings in safe houses, returns with hints about what happened in each campaign location. While they aren’t as funny as the original’s they are still informative and help develop some back story. This time the L4D2 storyline is comprehensive and continuous in that one campaign leads to the next and the characters even remark about why rescue vehicles need to be abandoned. It’s definitely better than the seemingly random campaigns from the first game.

Campaign
There are five new campaigns set in the southern United States and they are Dead Center, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, Hard Rain, and The Parish. Each campaign is broken up into 4 or 5 chapters each concluding in a rescue. One major complaint is some of the chapters feel too long. Thinking you’ve reached the end of a chapter only to find out there is yet another crescendo event between you and the safe house is frustrating. Sometimes too much is thrown at the survivors and the Director can be quite unfair even on the regular difficulty. Also, the campaigns are less linear this time and while this allows for more freedom it also makes it easy to get lost during a horde attack. This can be annoying sometimes, especially when first playing, but you will become accustomed to the general layout soon enough and get lost less and less.

Zombies + Rain = Screwed

What’s great about the campaigns is they are very unique in setting and Valve really got the atmosphere right this time. The game is much more scary beginning with the first chapter where you will fight through a hotel in flames. As you work your way to the ground level more fire and smoke surround the survivors and the unknown is quite frightening. This is especially true while journeying through the swamp which slows your movement rate and is easy to get lost or separated from your team. The weather effects really shine when the rain is pouring and chaos ensues on another chapter. It’s these moments that make the game so chaotic and fun and necessary to experience with friends. Left 4 Dead 2 is made for multiplayer so I suggest grabbing a group of friends to play it.

Who said clowns are scary?

By far my favorite moments were during the carnival. Dark Carnival is an outstanding level from the mini-games to the clowns with squeaky shoes and the various rides and attractions throughout the grounds. It really feels like you are at a carnival. And the finale is absolutely killer! I won’t ruin the surprise, but THIS is how you make an exit. Hopefully more DLC levels like this are on the way.

Realism
During the Campaign you can play one of four difficulties: Easy, Normal, Advanced, and Expert. The higher the difficulty the more damage you take. If that wasn’t enough there is now a Realism mode that is basically the same as Campaign, except more lifelike in that if you die you won’t respawn in a random closet but rather in the next safe house at the beginning of the next chapter assuming your team makes it that far. Now zombies take more damage and won’t automatically die if you dismember them or shoot them once. Stack that with a higher difficulty like Advanced or Expert and you are in for the fight of your life.

In Realism not having limbs won’t stop them.

Versus
Back is Versus mode where two teams of four players switch between playing as survivors and special infected. Back are the Boomer, Smoker, Hunter, and occasional Tank appearance, but now you can play as the new Charger, Spitter, and Jockey special infected. Each is rather fun to play with and serve unique purposes, but the Charger is somewhat difficult to control and not quite the powerhouse like the tank is. Overall, the new special infected are so much fun to play and I definitely prefer them over the originals.

The game mode hasn’t really changed much, but now both teams get progress updates that state how far the Survivors have made it in the chapter. It creates a sense of accomplishment for the Survivors or urgency for the Special Infected and is quite informative.

My biggest complaint with the game mode is the length. Just like the original, rarely do all eight players stay for the entire game due to the lengthy time requirement or just plain losing. It is rather frustrating to work very hard at gaining the lead only to have the other team quit. This was a problem with the original L4D and even more prevalent now since the campaigns seem longer. Your best bet is to get a group of friends that you know will stick with you, but that still doesn’t guarantee that the other team will stay.

One of the brand new special infected, the Charger.

Team Versus/Scavenge
You can now get in a lobby with a team of four players and search for another team of four for either Versus or Scavenge. This is more of a competitive game type since you know you are playing a full team and not against random individuals that may or not talk. While the concept is good I still had trouble finding matches to play against when I had a full team.

Scavenge
New to L4D2 is the Scavenge game type. By far this is my favorite game type out of the competitive multiplayer modes. The goal is to grab as many gas cans as possible and pour them into a generator. Of course the other team spawns as the special infected and tries to prevent the survivors from doing this. Each game starts with a timer and the survivors gain more time with each can poured. Once the timer expires or the entire Survivor team is incapacitated or dead the round ends and the teams switch sides. Whichever team has the higher score wins. In the event of a tie, the team who accomplished the task faster wins. It’s very frantic and exciting and can be played in short bursts so the mode is more accessible and flexible than Versus.

This happens a lot during Scavenge.

Achievements/Awards
The achievements for L4D2 are well spread out between the different game modes and most can be easily obtained especially if you have a group of friends to play with. Most can be earned during the campaigns and some are campaign specific. Getting all achievements will mean experiencing everything the game has to offer and are well balanced. The most difficult achievements will be surviving all campaigns on the Expert difficulty and one campaign on Expert Realism. Most are fun and will be earned while playing the game.

Along with the achievements are some Avatar Awards. All of these are easy to earn, but the hardest will be winning 10 Versus games due to the time commitment and the other team quitting if you are winning. Otherwise you can unlock shirts and a med kit prop by completing each campaign on any difficulty, winning online games, and killing a reasonable amount of zombies.

Final Thoughts
Left 4 Dead 2 is a better game than the original. Valve managed to improve upon the formula with well designed levels, a more atmospheric setting, and lots of additions that make the game more fulfilling and varied. I’d definitely recommend L4D2 for fans of the original that want new experiences and refined gameplay. While the sequel may have made improvements for existing fans it’s still the same basic gameplay as the original and doesn’t do anything to change critics’ minds. As long as you enjoyed Left 4 Dead and want more of the same you should have a lot of fun with L4D2.

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