Review: Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360, PC)November 18th, 2009 | Written by Josh Schwartzman | Topic: PC, PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
Left 4 Dead 2 revives the zombie apocalypse with a breath of fresh air, new excitement and plenty of nonstop action. Last year’s multiplayer zombie killing bloodfest was plagued with dull level designs, lack of gameplay modes and an affinity for utilizing glitches to achieve victory in Versus mode. Thankfully Valve has fixed all of those problems, to great effect, and made Left 4 Dead 2 one of the best multiplayer games of the year.
Unlike Left 4 Dead that saw you going from one safe house to another and ultimately hoping aboard an escape vehicles, the campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2 all work together and offer a sense of continuity that the original game lacked in the campaign. It is hard to say that there is any sense of a story in campaign mode (other than just killing zombies), but the game does a good job of explaining what happens after you begin a new campaign level and your getaway vehicle from the previous chapter mysteriously disappeared or if things out of your control (like your vehicle running out of fuel) occur forcing you to begin a new chapter to replenish your source of a getaway.
The levels in Left 4 Dead 2 are a lot more vibrant and alive than the previous game and more often than not you will sometimes stop just to admire the decadent beauty in the design. One of the best chapters, titled Dark Carnival, pits you in the middle of an abandoned carnival. What makes this level so exciting to play are the ways for which you can interact with your surroundings. Various minigames, like Whack-A-Mole, Target Shooting and a Testing Your Strength hammer swing are all around and can be played to award you with various prizes. Further on into the campaign you will soon scamper across the tracks of a roller coaster (while functioning) and fight your way through the Tunnel of Love. Its locations and interactions like these that make every campaign fun and engaging to play through.
But the campaigns are not all fun and games as most of them require you to sludge your way through the swamplands of Louisiana or fight through an abandoned steel mill that is filled with dozens of witches. There are dark and terrifying moments in the campaign that will give you chills and the later chapters of the Heavy Rain campaign truly will leave you lost for words when you are struggling to fight off zombies and find your way to safety in the midst of a torrential downpour. All of the campaigns periodically will force you to perform a simple action, such as opening a gate or pressing an alarm that in turn will help you along your way. These new segments however force you to move in order to turn off the cause of the commotion and stop the massive zombie horde from constantly attacking.
The final battle segments during each campaigns last chapter have also been changed to allow a more dynamic and massive showdown. For example one campaign challenges you to run around the map collecting gas cans to start up a car so you and the survivors can make their escape while another campaign has you starting up a rock concert to attract attention of a helicopter so you can get away. All of these instances will force you to work as a team to successfully finish and require you to move around more instead of just sitting in a corner and waiting for help to arrive. Playing through the campaign mode is best when played with actual human opponents, however, as the AI is truly atrocious. They will constantly run off into awaiting zombies, not shoot zombies attacking you until they are face to face with them, and even startle witches just because they thought the current challenge was too easy. It is advisable if you choose to tackle the campaigns to find an online match, as the AI seems to be the only thing from the last game that never truly got a comprehensive upgrade.
But the real beauty of Left 4 Dead 2 comes in Versus Mode, the part of the game which pits two teams of four against each other as they play through the game’s campaign missions. Each team will alternate between playing as the Survivors and Infected and the team with the most points at the end of chapter 5 wins. Playing as the Infected is undoubtedly much better than playing as the humans, and thanks in part to the new Special Infected zombies, attacking helpless Survivors are better than ever. The four previous Special Infected zombies return (Hunter, Boomer, Smoker, and Tank) all with upgraded visuals and sounds. But the new Special Infected zombies make Versus mode even more intense to play. The Spitter shoots an acid spit that decreases a Survivor’s health the longer he stands in it, The Jockey hops on top of a Survivor and steers him into oncoming danger, and the Charger rams at the humans until he grabs one and smashes them without mercy. While some might think the addition of these Special Infected might make the game a little lopsided, everything is surprisingly equal for everyone. The Spitter acts like the Boomer in that it only takes a few shots to kill, the Jockey is limited in its offensive attacks and the Charger goes down in a few short gun bursts.
Besides Versus Mode, Survival Mode returns and lets you play through five different sections of each campaign, totaling to over twenty-five segments. Survival Mode plays out as its name suggests, and players are situated in an area with plenty of health and ammo as they try to survive for the longest time as wave after wave of endless zombies attack them. It’s a nice change of pace away from Versus that requires you to do nothing more but find the best means of surviving. The brand new Scavenge Mode is best described as mixing Versus and Survival together and players are tasked with collecting gas cans scattered around the area and pouring it into a generator to replenish how much time you have left. Unlike Survival, players can alternate between Survivors and Infected after every round and the team that gets three wins, whether by killing all the Survivors or surviving the longest amount of time, wins.
Other than Scavenge mode, there are plenty of other new things that make Left 4 Dead 2 feel more polished and improved. Players can now equip incendiary or explosive rounds to guns to set enemies on fire or make them explode. These are found randomly throughout the levels and can be placed on the ground for everyone to use. Defibrillators are also new which allow teammates to revive dead Survivors, in exchange for a health pack, so deciding whether to carry a health pack or a defibrillator pack could be a life-or-death decision. Boomer bile helps in diverting zombies away from you (similar to the pimp bomb minus the explosion at the end) and adrenaline packs give you added movement and strength for a short period of time, suitable for intense moments when you are fighting enemy hordes, however these adrenaline shots replace pain pills so picking them up could be costly as well.
While there are already plenty of added features and plenty of new Special Infected to please any fan, the melee weapons are surely the one thing that everyone will be talking about. Melee weapons can be used by anyone and replace the handgun in a Survivor’s arsenal. Like the handgun, melee weapons can be used infinitely so you don’t have to worry about them breaking. With over eight types of weapons to use, ranging from a frying pan, axe, baseball bat and even a kitana, knocking back zombies has never been more up close and personal. If you happen to stumble across a randomly spawning chainsaw, you can hold down the trigger and just mow down anyone who comes in your path and sit back and watch the blood spray.
From a technical standpoint you can already notice the difference in the visuals. Each campaign packs a darker and grittier feel and the design in some of the chapters are truly amazing, more specifically the fairgrounds and epic concert showdown during the Dark Carnival campaign. The melee weapons all help in upping the ante with the violence and blood with splash across the screen as limbs and heads are severed off of zombies. The Survivors also have a bit more of a personality than the first game and will often have conversations of the past chapter or current situations. The newly refined shrieks and screams from the Special Infected are welcome as well, and the music always lets you know when danger approaches.
Whether you are a fan or not, Left 4 Dead2 will surely hook you for plenty of hours as it delivers one of the most solid and polished multiplayer experiences of the year. With plenty of new campaigns that should fuel your zombie killing needs and a Survival and Scavenge mode to break up the pace, there are plenty of choices for you to keep coming back for more. Those of you who had doubts about this being just another glorified expansion need to stop yelling at Valve and give Left 4 Dead 2 a try, as it is incomparably better than the first game by a large margin.