Few games this year seem to have been more contentious than Left 4 Dead 2, announced at E3 2009 to what seemed to be a reaction of joy from one section of the crowd, and calls for boycott from another. The key concern from those who were not happy about the announcement was over the short time between the original game, released last year, and this title. The worry was that it would essentially be a full price expansion pack as opposed to a proper sequel (Even though the distinction between the two is hazy at best). So how does Left 4 Dead 2 compare to the original? Is it a full sequel or just an expensive expansion pack?
So what has Valve done to make Left 4 Dead 2 stand on it’s own a proper game in it’s own right? Quite a lot actually, true there is no drastic overhaul of the Left 4 Dead formula but Valve have thrown a huge amount of new content to make the new title worth it. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the original game you play as a survivor in a zombie apocalypse and you have to shoot your way through the zombie horde and escape with your life. Whilst the original had plenty to do Left 4 Dead 2 packs in so much more content.
First of all it features 5 completely new full campaigns that can be played bothsingle player and co-operatively with 4 other people online. Each campaign takes around 1 hour to play through, which may make the game sound very short, but don’t be fooled. Valve are quite possibly the champions of level design, each map in the campaigns is very well thought out and visually interesting so you won’t get bored seeing them numerous times, also like the previous game it features an AI director, which customises each play-through based upon how well your team is doing to ensure that each time you play the game is unique. Also the AI director has been updates to alter lighting and weather affects, whilst the first game only took place at night time this game has some campaigns in the day and one in particular, Hard Rain, has a brilliant weather system which changes rainfall and visibility based upon how well you are doing in order to make it harder to fit your play style.
Of course as well as having new maps there are also new zombies. Each of the campaigns have their own ‘uncommon common’ infected, these appear more often than the special infected and do different things but are, for the most part, as vulnerable as a standard zombie. To go down the list there are clown zombies, who attract all nearby zombies, Mudmen who hide under the swamp water to ambush you, CEDA agents who wear bio-hazard suits and carry around jars of boomer bile and Security guard zombies who are armored and can only be hurt from behind. Also there are three new special infected, all of which seemed to be designed to split your team up. First is the Charger who runs through the survivors and knocks them aside whilst picking up and running away with one survivor to take them away from the others and does severe damage bashing them into the ground. Then we have the Spitter who, funnily enough, spits a hazardous pool or acid at the survivors causing them to scatter to not get damaged. Finally there is the Jockey who leaps on a survivor and can guide them away from the team and into harms way. All these things put together shows that even in just the offline component, which is only one of four modes has a lot more to offer than before.
To add even more to people who have spent a lot of time playing the original Left 4 Dead and have managed to get very good at it a realism mode has been added. This is a new selectable difficulty which changes many things. First of all the only way to kill a zombie is with a head-shot so you’re going to have to learn to be much more accurate, also there are no messages on screen or any outlines so it can get hard to tell where things like weapons and ammo are as well as telling friend from foe when the zombie horde descend upon you. These changed at first appear slight but drastically change the game into what can be at times frustrating but an incredibly fun mode especially for the more masochistic among us.
Making a return from the last title is the Survival mode, this is very much the same as it was before. It uses the new maps and the new zombies of course but still retains the same basic game-play from the previous game. For those who have not played Left 4 Dead survival mode you are placed in a map where there is no way out and no end what you have to do is survive for as long as possible as wave after wave of enemies come at you. Strategy is key in this mode and it is just as fun as before. Also versus mode is carried across and handles much like it did in the first game. This four vs four competitive multi-player mode pits a team of survivors against other players who play as the infected. It is a lot of fun to play as the infected and creates a whole new style of play as you have much less health as a special infected but can re-spawn so you do have to work together to win the round. Of course you can play as one of the three new special infected as well as any of the original special infected. This mode is still as fun as before.
Valve have added an entirely new competitive multi-player mode into the mix, scavenge mode. This mode is prefaced in the first campaign finale where the survivors have to collect fuel tanks to fill up a car to escape. This is the premise of scavenge mode but uses the same multi-player setup with two teams of players, one survivors, one infected, against each other in a short and fun multi-player mode. One problem that the traditional versus mode runs into is that it takes place over the course of a campaign and so does require players to be involved for around an hour or possibly up to two hours, which shuts out people who just want to kill ten minutes or so in a quick multi-player game. Scavenge resolves as it is a time based game where the players take it in turns between survivors and infected and initially have ninety seconds to gather fuel cans with thirty seconds added to the timer for each fuel tank added. This makes it perfect for those who just want to jump in for a quick game to just play a few rounds in scavenge mode.
So is Left 4 Dead 2 worthy of being considered a full sequel in it’s own right? Of course it is. Valve have added so much to the game all the changes that are made are excellently done and add so much to the game in terms of game-play. If you’ve never played Left 4 Dead before there is so many different modes and each difficulty plays differently and the AI director ensures you never have the same experience twice. If you are a Left 4 Dead veteran there is easily enough new content to justify the upgrade.
GRAPHICS: 5/5 – Top notch not only are the levels all detailed and really interesting the game also manages to put literally thousands of zombies on screen as well.
SOUND: 5/5 – Also top notch a lot of the sound is very subtle but absolutely incredible, the sounds of the zombies as well as the Louisiana-inspired music complement this game perfectly.
GAMEPLAY: 4/5 – You point your cross-hair at a zombie, you shoot the zombie. The game controls as you’d expect and does it very well nothing groundbreaking but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
LONGEVITY: 5/5 – The game is designed to be played online, there are loads of different modes, plenty of maps and so much time to be spent, each play-through is different but if you are not connected to the Internet, you will only get 1/5th of the game.
OVERALL: 5/5 – Amazing, takes one of the best games of last year and improves on it, I will be playing this game for the next few years (until Left 4 Dead 3 comes out) just about everything in the game is perfectly designed and perfectly balanced. It is worth noting that if you do not have online access you will only have access to 1/5thof the total content. It is designed to be played online with friends so if you have internet access and have friends then you need this game.