Review by Anfronio

"Leave your friends for dead... Again!"

So, one year later, and Valve has released the sequel to the well-received 4-player co-op first-person zombie-shooter (I've used up my hyphen quota for this review).
Is it worth your time? Simply scroll down to the bottom to find a quick, concise summary.

So wait, why are we walking through this swamp again?

For those who haven't played the original game, Left 4 Dead 2 takes place during a zombie apocalyptic outbreak, in which you play as one of four survivors against hordes of “Infected”. Narrative is told simply but effectively through dialogue, setting and graffiti. Left 4 Dead 2 does one thing that the first game doesn't really do at all, and that is, it provides a pretty clear narrative to the story of the survivors. As opposed to Left 4 Dead 1, where the campaigns did not appear to have any clear connections (besides Crash Course), L4D2 chains each campaign together with a single storyline. That is to say, as per usual, you will fight your way through different environments to a ‘rescue' at the end, which will link directly only the next chronological scenario. Also to note is that four completely new survivors have been introduced, complete with backstories and personalities.

This only adds to the experience, especially if you are a fan of gunning down zombies with three other friends, because you'll find yourself being sucked straight into the story and the characters. As for those who may play more of the versus mode, the addition of the story doesn't detract from the game at all. In contrast to L4D1, many settings take place during the daytime; however, the game does well to maintain the atmosphere. By the addition of a fairly solid storyline which follows through five full-length, detailed and complete campaigns, the game manages to establish a very strong atmosphere and remains very true to the zombie apocalypse setting.

Grabbin' the ninja sword of love!

Left 4 Dead 2 is similar to its predecessor in almost every aspect in terms of gameplay. Survivors will be very reliant on each other for survival, and each is able to carry one primary weapon, a secondary weapon, an ‘explosive' weapon, a kit and an ‘endurance' item. The original game had only a few weapons, with some simply being upgrades of others. L4D2, however, adds a larger range and variety of weapons, with different functions. Some seem to be skins of each other with small differences between, but there are still more than in the original game, which is a welcome addition. Melee weapons have also been added which take up the secondary slot. There are quite a few different ones, but in the end it comes down to blunt or sharp weapons. These add a new sort of element to the game, as you can kill enemies with melee attacks as opposed to only being able to shove them back. Boomer bile has been added as an ‘explosive', defibrillators, incendiary and explosive ammo have been added as ‘kits' and adrenaline has been added to the pills slot.

The addition of these new items and weapons adds a great deal of variety to the game, allowing players to formulate new strategies and think about what items they need and what they should leave behind. After a while, this formula will likely sink in, but nonetheless this builds quite well on L4D1's already-formulated item system.

New Special Infected have also been added; the Spitter, Charger and Jockey. In addition, old Special Infected have had makeovers. The Spitter spits an ‘area of effect' acid, the Charger, well, charges at survivors and pins them in his massive arm, and the Jockey jumps on survivors similarly to a Hunter, but has the ability to steer them into various obstacles, say, over a ledge or into Spitter goo. These new Infected change the experience of the game and add variety to the versus mode, allowing for more deadly combinations and forcing players to adapt quickly.

In addition, “Uncommon” common Infected appear throughout each campaign. These are similar to normal Infected, but they have one ‘ability' or special drawback of some kind. For example, some Infected wear riot gear, making them impervious to gunfire from the front, while clown zombies attract hordes due to their squeaky shoes. These Infected do not particularly add much to the game, however, they make each campaign slightly more unique.

New game modes have also been added to the game. In addition to the original three - Campaign, Survival and Versus – two new modes, Scavenge and Realism, are now available. Campaign allows you and three friends to play through each campaign, moving between safe houses and finally to rescue. This is the most cinematic and atmospheric mode. Survival allows four players to hold out as long as they can while being pitted against waves of zombies. Versus plays through the campaigns, but four players also take the place of “Special Infected” and try to stop the other team from reaching the end. Scavenge pits survivors against Infected similarly to Versus, although survivors must ‘scavenge' for gas canisters to maintain fuel levels in power generators, while the Infected try to stop them. Realism is for the hardcore; it is similar to Campaign mode, except visual artefacts such as player and item silhouettes have been removed, Infected take more damage from headshots than body shots, and players can only be revived with a defibrillator. This mode is great for those seeking to prepare for the upcoming zombie apocalypse (trust me, it's coming).

All in all, the original gameplay formula provided by L4D was well-received by the gaming community, and Left 4 Dead 2 simply builds upon that and adds many improvements. The main drawback that I have found is the intelligence of the bots (when playing single player or when there aren't enough survivors in multiplayer), which ranges from ‘eagle vision and cat-like reflexes' to ‘standing there watching you get strangled by a Smoker'.

Admire the view, it could be your last

In terms of graphics and setting, Left 4 Dead 2 looks rather nice. Models of each survivor, common Infected and special Infected are very detailed, as are the environments in which the game takes place. Like L4D1, it has a strong ‘film grain' effect, which helps to enhance the atmosphere and kind of play on the ‘movie' feel that the campaigns have (posters are used for each campaign, and the credits at the end are similar to a movie). The developers have done well to separate the environments of each campaign from each other by using varied environments and settings.

All in all, I have no real gripes with the graphics, as the game looks good, but it isn't amazing. I'd say it's pretty good by today's standards. However, as it is a PC game, you may want to look into whether your computer can handle its graphics as a poor computer would of course prevent you from playing on maximum settings.

Oh, and as a sidenote (and this applies only to Australians/Germans), you may want to consider the game on a basis of censorship. The censored version, which I have, causes bodies to fade away, zombies don't catch fire, they can't be dismembered... And other small details which detract from the overall experience of the game. I regularly play both versions, and I can safely say that there is a fairly definitive difference based on censorship, so if not being able to dismember zombies with a machete is a drawback for you, do a bit of research on what's missing and consider whether this will affect your enjoyment of the game.

Shh... I think I hear my ex-wife

Like all survival horror games (if you'd call it that), sound undoubtedly plays a large role in not getting punched in the face by a mutated bodybuilder. Also, most other things. Left 4 Dead 2 has a very suitable soundtrack for the genre, with different in-game scenarios being personified with individual tracks. If you've played the original, you'll know the music when a horde is about to attack you, or when there's a Witch up ahead. The music and sound, though you may not really notice it, really enhances the feeling of the game. Each of the Special Infected have trademark noises and musical cues which add an almost-spooky atmosphere, foreshadowing impending doom.
As there are four new survivors, each of them have hundreds of lines of dialogue, and they interact with each other accordingly. These give them personalities, preventing the characters from becoming mindless bodies which you control to your whim.
Music and sound is used very appropriately, suiting both the genre of survival horror and first person shooter. FPS players will likely adapt quickly to the different musical cues and sounds make by Special Infected, and the music maintains thick atmosphere.

Pros:
+ Improves on L4D in almost every aspect
+ Three new Special Infected and Uncommon Infected are a welcome addition
+ Two new modes; realism for the hardcore and scavenge for the multiplayer-orientated
+ Extremely good replayability
+ Dedicated support from Valve (through patches and ongoing fixes)
+ Close attention to detail

Cons:
- Bots have not really improved, they still cannot pick up explosives and have slow reaction times
- Some levels can be lengthy and frustrating if your team wipes (forcing you to start from the beginning)
- For those with the censored version, a certain atmosphere is lost

As you can see, I'm having difficulty coming up with cons. So, bottom line, you would do well to certainly consider this game if you enjoyed the first. If you didn't, then it may be worth a download of the demo, who knows, the flaws you initially disliked may be fixed and improved on. For those who haven't played the first game, simply consider whether you're:
- A zombie fan
- A co-operative game fan
- A gory FPS fan
- Someone who wants to try clubbing zombies with an electric guitar
If you're any of the above, you'll definitely enjoy this game.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/02/09

Game Release: Left 4 Dead 2 (AU, 11/19/09)


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