Review by Bkstunt_31

Reviewed: 11/30/10

Stick with your friends... or else!

Ah, Left 4 Dead 2, nothing quite claims the title "frantic zombie first-person shooter" like you do.

Following Valve's success with the first Left 4 Dead, you knew a second one would follow. What surprised most people was how SOON (about a year) the next game followed. That debate aside, Left 4 Dead 2 introduces new protagonists, weapons, zombie types, as well as all new ways to plat the game. Here's a look at Left 4 Dead 2:

Story: 6/10

Admittedly the weakest part of the experience, the story in Left 4 Dead 2 is decidedly lacking.

"But Bk, don't they cover the story in the first one?" Well, good question, but the answer is still no. Before you even start the game, you are essentially shown these four new survivors fighting their way to a mall roof-top. Once you do start the game (assuming that you play the campaigns in order), you will meet the survivors and travel with them on your way from one escape method to another, eventually deciding to search for military rescue in New Orleans.

So, how did this zombie disaster happen? Well, the game doesn't really tell you. The game is actually very short on almost any form of a "story", save for entertaining and well-done dialog at the start and throughout the campaigns, but you'll never really get any back history. By examining your surroundings, you will learn a number of things though, such as the fact that the government has a special branch (named CEDA) that was responsible for stopping the infection, and that they would often treat it as a widespread flu-like problem. You'll also get to read previous survivor's tales as well, which are entertaining. The lack of a story isn't too surprising though, considering the first Left 4 Dead actually had even less info and dialog.

I will note that there is a LOT of info about the Left 4 Dead series, including back-ground history and expanded stories (including comic books), to be had by visiting the Valve website. While that's cool and all, it doesn't change the fact that the story in Left 4 Dead 2 is decidedly weak. This is of course compounded by the multi-player focus of the title, which admittedly makes it harder to craft a more immersive storyline, but doesn't make it impossible.

Game play: 9/10

What Left 4 Dead 2 lacks in story, it makes up in game play. Like I said earlier, the Left 4 Dead series is a first-person shooter, where you will make your way through different maps with three team-mates and fend off zombies. You'll usually move towards a safe room for 2-4 maps, depending on the campaign, and than finish the campaign with a finale which throws massive amounts of zombies at you.

Now, your most important weapon is team-work. The zombies you'll be fighting aren't your regular shuffling variety, but instead once they know you are there will sprint for you and claw at you as much as possible. They aren't really a threat, though, as a few well-placed bullets can easily take them down. No sir, the biggest threat is the special infected. Here you'll find variants of zombies with special abilities, such as ones that can incapacitate you such as the Hunter (who can pounce on you and take you out of the action) or the Smoker (who can tie you up with his tongue). The only way to get out of these special infected's grasp is to be rescued by your team-mates, which just further emphasis teamwork. In fact, the game also encourages teamwork, as the game's AI (aptly named the director) will often target lone-wolf type players. Add in the crescendo events where a massive amount of common zombies aim for you and the special infected tank, which requires EVERYONE to take it down and you'll quickly see what I mean.

Of course, you have a few tricks up your sleeves as well. You'll find several different types of weapons throughout the game, as well as many different secondary weapons to choose from as well (everyone will have a favorite gun). There are also ammo rounds that you can find and deploy to your team which will make your rounds set people on fire, explode, or give your gun laser sites. You'll also be able to heal yourself or others with health packs, pills, and adrenaline shots. And last but not least, you can find a few different throw-able weapons such as molotavs, pipe bombs (which beeps and attracts the horde), and boomer biles (which is essentially the puke from the special infected boomer, which also attracts the horde).

The main campaign maps are fairly lengthy and are extremely fun to play through (provided you have good teammates). There's nothing like making your way through a map tactically and seeing how good you can do. There are also four different difficulties to choose from, and the higher ones make it extremely important to NOT shoot your teammates. Personally, I think twitch-reflexes will help you out a ton and can make the difference between being caught by a smoker and pushing onwards with your teammates. It's also almost a virtual guarantee that no single play-through will be the same thanks to the addition of multi-player and the game's AI. Overall, with a good squad of players (avoid the greifers) by your side and a fast trigger-finger, Left 4 Dead 2 is extremely fun.

Graphics: 9/10

Hmm, where to start? The character designs (and personalities) are well designed. I was most impressed with the map and level designs, though. The path from the starting point to the safe room is varied nicely and will often force you through many scenic locales. And talk about options! You'll often get to choose multiple paths through areas, and many areas also have small paths for you to explore. Why go out of your way to explore when you're fighting for your life? Well, the AI often puts items in out of the way places!

Enemy designs are well-done and the common zombies are nicely detailed and varied (you're bound to see the same ones, though, due to how many zombies they throw at you). The special infected are especially detailed and perfectly grotesque looking. It's also worth noting that when you shoot these common zombies, they will often react to your bullets and vice-versa. For example, shooting a zombie in the gut might make them grip their stomachs, or shooting them in the head may blow a hole straight through it. I have also seen a fair amount of glitching in the game, as well as several "tricks" that people use to help them by playing around with the game's physics engine, but these are few and far between.

Audio: 10/10

The music in the game is fairly interesting. Each campaign has it's own theme that usually plays at the start of the campaign. You'll be treated to a variety of instruments such as fiddle's, banjo's, and steel guitar just to name a few that they use at very key moments to build suspense (their timing is excellent). Besides the game's theme songs, the music is often dictated by the special infected and any crescendo events.

This is why the music is a major component of the game: you can predict what is going to happen based on the music. For example, you can predict and get ready for any crescendo events by keeping your ears open, and each special infected creature makes a distinctive noise well before you can actually see them. The NPC teammates (if you have any) will also point this out by shouting things like "There's a hunter around here!" or other helpful things like "Gun's here!".

There are also songs from the fictional band "The Midnight Riders" in the game (primarily in the "Dark Carnival" campaign) and the exceptionally good song Re: Your Brains from the talented Johnathon Coulton that you can get to play in one of the game's many jukeboxes. All in all, the audio in Left 4 Dead is beyond reproach.

Re-playability: 10/10

Now granted, when I said earlier that it's almost a virtual guarantee that no single play-through will be the same, they do become similar over repeated play-throughs. Thankfully, Valve's got your back. Not only have they released a few new maps (for free, on PC), but the community has made several that you can download and play through. There are also a variety of different modes to play through too, such as Vs. mode where a team of four survivors play a campaign but instead of an AI controlling the special infected, four more human players do. They also have a scavenge mode (where you collect gas cans and can also be played by up to 8 people), a survival mode (hold out for as long as possible), and a realism mode (which turns off the survivor high-lighted outlines).

Still not enough? Well, there's also those four difficulty levels and a weekly mutation mode, which adds certain effects to the game to spice it up (such as giving every player a M60 with unlimited ammo). Oh yeah, and with steam you also can keep track of friends and easily set up a microphone for more personal zombie-killing fun. Trust me, you can play this game for a LONG time.

Also, for those who are wondering what the difference is between Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 the simple answer is that Left 4 Dead 2 is essentially Left 4 Dead 2.0. They add in a lot of new weapons, quite a few new unique zombies and special infected, and a few new items. It's an upgraded game that uses the formula of the first game.

Overall: 9/10

While it may not have much of a story, Left 4 Dead 2 delivers in every other important category. Plus, at the time of this writing, it's also very affordable. I know that it's on the Xbox 360 as well, but if you use Steam (Valve's virtual game distribution system) at all, I would definitely recommend the PC version. Have fun and keep playing!

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Left 4 Dead 2 (US, 11/17/09)

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