The Difference a Year Can Make
When Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2) was unexpectedly announced at this year’s E3, the cries of outrage were almost deafening. The common resounding complaints were that Valve was just trying to quickly cash in on the success of the first title, it wasn’t a true sequel, and instead of boxing another game everything being put into L4D2 should have just been made into DLC for the original. While I can understand the feelings of apprehension at being faced with buying a sequel so close to the original title’s release, after playing the game for a good amount of time I can say that L4D2 needed to be a sequel and deserves its full price tag, even more so than the first L4D.
Perhaps all of the rabid fans of the first game, myself included, who are lashing out and threatening to boycott L4D2 have simply forgotten what a laughably incomplete package the original title really was. On the disc you were given four campaigns and only two of which could actually be played in Versus mode. That’s it. It wasn’t until months afterwards that the other two Versus campaigns and Survival mode were made available through a free batch of DLC. Now I’m not trying to bag on L4D because it is still one of my favorite games of all time and I’ve spent more hours playing it than perhaps any other game before it, but even I thought the game felt incomplete.
This is one of the major areas where L4D2 outshines the original. This time around the disc comes overflowing with content including five campaigns plus their Versus counterparts, a host of survival challenges, and the all-new Scavenge mode. And those are just the modes, not to mention all of the other vast improvements made to the gameplay itself to make the sequel feel much more varied and complete.
That being said, the basic core of the L4D experience remains intact. Players control one of four disparate zombie apocalypse survivors trying to make it from one end of a map to the other without being killed by hordes of fast running and sometimes mutated infected. To do this, all four players need to work together and cover each other’s back. This often includes freeing teammates from attacks, helping out whenever someone gets overwhelmed, and even selflessly giving up health items when it could mean your own untimely demise. But even though this game shares the same concept as its predecessor, almost everything is done much better this time around.
To begin with, there is actually a coherent story tying this game together. No more questioning how your characters got where they are or why they never arrive at their next destination in the vehicle they left inside like in the previous campaign. Instead, when you finish the first campaign flying out of a mall Dukes of Hazzard style in a stock car, sure enough you begin the next campaign standing around the very same stock car, minus the fuel which has burned away leaving it and your group stranded. All of the campaigns tie together similarly and, as such, feel much more like a complete narrative rather than just a few separate incidents starring the same characters.
The campaigns themselves are also much more varied than in the original L4D. While fighting your way to New Orleans, you’ll find yourself battling the undead in a variety of settings such as a city, small towns, a sugar mill, a mall, swamps, a carnival, a cemetery, and on a bridge. These different settings are a far cry from the drab cities and few outdoor excursions that make up its predecessor. Perhaps my favorite of the lot is the carnival, complete with abandoned rides to make your way through and games that you can play to take your mind off of the zombie that is probably about to start gnawing on the back of your head any minute.
Besides just the more diverse environments that you’ll make your way through, the basic objectives of events in the game are very different. Instead of just hunkering down in the best position you can find until rescue comes, you’ll often be tasked with finding a switch or making it to a specific destination in order to stop zombie hordes from attacking. For example, in a part of one level you’ll need to grab a six pack of soda from a nearby convenience store and deliver it to a well armed recluse in order to have him blow open your escape path. Keep in mind that the player carrying the soda is unable to use their firearms and there are hordes and hordes of zombies standing between you and your delivery destination.
Luckily, despite having arguably more difficult objectives throughout the game, Valve didn’t leave the survivors out to dry. There are so many additions to the items and weapons that survivors now have access to, it would be difficult to name them all, but I’ll give it a go. First off there are a ton of new projectile weapons including several different kinds of shotguns, rifles, uzis, and even a new magnum pistol and grenade launcher. You’ll find these scattered about every level, making switching between weapons and tactics throughout levels much easier and more worthwhile. For your main weapons you can also find explosive and incendiary rounds that can add their benefits to one clip worth of bullets for all four survivors. Explosive rounds do more damage and can stagger some enemies while incendiary round will catch anything shot by them on fire, which can also be spread by zombies bumping into one another.
However, if you’re looking for a more hands-on approach, then the all-new melee weapons and combat may be more your speed. Whenever you find a melee weapon, you can substitute it for your pistol(s). Then everything from a crowbar to a guitar can be swung with no cool down meter to worry about. In fact, every melee weapon besides the chainsaw, whose attacks are limited to the amount of fuel left in its tank, can be used infinitely without fear of breakage or a finite number of uses. This adds an entirely new dynamic to the game, as hacking your way to a safe room through a horde of zombies just wasn’t possible previously.
Melee weapons also come in handy when surrounded by enemies since you can spin in a circle while swinging wildly without having to worry about running out of bullets or having to reload. Although it doesn’t really make any logical sense, you don’t have to fear not being able to help out teammates once downed when carrying a melee weapon, as you’ll still somehow have a pistol with which to take pot shots at attackers in these situations.
There’s even more variety to be had in the health department in L4D2. Whereas last time around you were limited to health packs for massive life regain and pills for quicker, smaller, and less permanent health boosts; you’ve got a few more options here. In addition to pills and health packs, you’ll also find adrenaline and defibrillators. The adrenaline is somewhat like the pills; giving you a quick, small boost to health, but in addition they allow you to run and reload faster as well as run virtually unimpeded through zombies who would normally grab hold and slow you down. This can often be the difference between making it to the end of a level and winding up being zombie food. Of course, even if you die, as long as you have a teammate who is still up and has a defibrillator, you still have a chance. This item allows you to essentially resurrect a fallen teammate with half of their health as long as you can find their corpse, all without the aid of using the infection. Again, this new item can completely change the outcome of a level, allowing you to snatch victory from the brink of defeat.
On the other side of things, there have also been some twists and new additions to the opposition. For one, witches can now be found walking around instead of always being hunched over crying. This makes them much tougher to pick out of a crowd of infected. There are also three new special infected that you’ll need to worry about in the form of the Spitter, Charger, and Jockey. All three of these new foes are specifically built to help separate well functioning teams in order to add tension to the game. Spitters lay down a decent-sized pool of damaging acid, Chargers plow through the Survivors while keeping the last one hit as a punching dummy, and the Jockey hops onto a single team member and then gains contested control over their movement. These new infected not only make going through the campaign more challenging, but they also add some much needed diversity and spontaneity to the Versus mode, which previously only allowed for Boomers, Hunters, and Smokers.
These new additions to the infected are also put to good use in L4D2’s new Scavenge mode. I have to believe that this is the mode many L4D players have been clamoring for. This mode pits a team of four survivors against a team of four infected, much like in the Versus mode, however, the goal is no longer to make it to the next safe room or extraction point. Instead, the survivors will be tasked with feeding gas cans into something that needs fuel, be it a car or generator. Gas cans are located around the map but require some travel to get to and there’s a clock constantly ticking down, which can force teams to split off into pairs in order to retrieve the fuel that is necessary to extend this time limit. However, at the same time, the four infected players are doing everything in their power to make sure that the gas tank and timer runs dry. After the time limit runs out, the teams switch and whoever collected and poured the most gas tanks at the end of each round wins (in a single round, best of three, or best of five situation). This mode essentially allows players to get a quick fix of Versus mode without having to sign up for an hour or longer Versus campaign play through.
With all of the great new additions and tweaks for the better found in L4D2, the game has easily earned the right to be a real sequel as opposed to being thought of as little more than an expansion pack. With more modes, weapons, health items, special infected – you name it! – L4D2 feels like a massive upgrade from the original L4D. There is no longer time for idle threats of boycotts and should’ve-beens because now is the time to pick up a fantastic sequel to a great game and spend countless hours dismembering zombies while loving every minute of it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
This game looks significantly better than the original with more varied environments and zombies, better animation, and more detailed damage being shown on the infected. 4.5 Control
Everything still works as it should, no real problems in this department. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
You can expect some more great voice work as well as updated infected noises and a soundtrack that really fits the setting. 4.8 Play Value
With five campaigns fully equipped for Versus, a host of Survival challenges, and the all-new Scavenge mode, there’s way more content here than in the original, which has already been played by many for hundreds of hours. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.