Left 4 Dead 2 has been the center of more than its fair share of controversy. From the announcement that the game would be full retail price instead of DLC to numerous other complaints fans had about revisiting the fast-paced zombie action before support for the original game had dried up is all but moot at this point. Left 4 Dead 2 is here and even though it doesn’t change much from the original formula it still retains that twitch style of action that caused gamers to fall in love with the original. Whether you feel like the game should have been DLC or that the new offerings justify the purchase, one thing is for certain, there isn’t a better zombie smashing, co-op style game on the console.
The layout of the narrative remains the same this time around with a few notable additions. The game still plays out like five mini-sequences that make up the overall campaign experience. Much like the first game the story is told through conversation between characters and of course the writings on the walls. While not the most inventive or immersive form of storytelling, you cannot help but stop and read all the text scattered throughout each environment. The levels now also feel more interactive due to the fact that mowing down hordes of zombies is not your only task. Objectives are now presented to the player such as delivering items to areas or even refueling a stock car to make your escape.
This is also where the game shows one of its glaring weaknesses. L4D2 is strictly a co-op game and if you don’t intend to play online or at least via splitscreen, this is not the game for you. Sure there is a single player mode where you can work with the AI bots as your teammates, but seeing as they randomly run off and never offer to do the objectives in each mission, the game loses most of its charm in the process. The idea of L4D2 is survival and teamwork, and unless you are collaborating with a group of human players most of this is lost in translation.
While I did enjoy playing through the game I couldn’t help but feel like this is exactly what the first game should have been. Everything that was wrong with the original has been fleshed out, fixed or simply omitted from the game. This is a prime example of taking a great idea and refining it, but most of the time that doesn’t carry with it the same price tag. It is a fine line to walk, but if you are a fan of the zombie-slashing action of the first, there is likely more than enough here to warrant shelling out the full price of admission once again.
The new additions that separate the sequel from its predecessor begins with the addition of melee weapons. The fresh feeling you get from decapitating a zombie with a katana blade is as glorious as you would imagine. There are items scattered throughout the entire levels, and they do plenty of damage to have fun with. I played through several levels entirely using only melee weapons and it is indeed satisfying. This also gives you a much more viable option when the bullets run dry and you are stacked up against a seemingly endless horde of rushing zombies.
The other additions are expected of a sequel such as new enemies. The witch now wanders around during the daytime hours. The new Jockey will hop on your back for a ride across the level and what game is complete without zombie clowns to create the ultimate nightmare scenario. The new enemies really do a nice job of deviating the gameplay and keeping things from becoming tedious, much like the Director 2.0 which like the first game changes things up depending on variables within the game making each session feel like a new one.
Each of the five missions is also much more realized than the first game. The swamp lands are genuinely creepy, especially when you have a good sound setup and you hear enemies lurking beneath the water just waiting to pounce on you. The Dark Carnival level is certainly a personal favorite as it combines two of the world’s creepiest ideas into one haunting nightmare. Again the level design and layout just feel so much more refined this time around giving the game that polished look. Everything is just so much more exciting this time around and if you are a diehard fan of the original then it is a must buy.
Of course what would a Valve sequel be without tons of new modes and features? L4D2 brings back the traditional co-op mode that had everyone so hooked out of the box last time as well as Survival mode for all the maps right from the start as opposed to waiting for DLC like the last game. There is also a new Realism mode that tests your skills more than ever; making each head shot the difference between life and death. This mode also removes all the notations to health and ammo making communication the key to victory. L4D2 is definitely not the type of game anti-social gamers will want to be diving into as it requires constant communication to survive the zombie onslaught.
As far as the visuals and audio are concerned things still look very much like the original game. There are some standout performances though. For starters the zombie animations and death sequences are much more gruesome and realistic. Fans of decapitations and dismemberment in games will be pleased at the level of detail Valve has poured into making this one of the more mature experiences out there. The sound is equally impressive as your teammates ramble on about the events and hearing the various sound cues from the different zombie types is still just as creepy as it was in the original game. Witches eerily shriek in the distance while clown zombies attract hordes by squeaking their noses, which by the end of the carnival level will be one of the most terrifying sounds you hear.
Left 4 Dead 2 is not going to win over any new fans nor is it trying to. This is a polished, more feature-filled version of the original game that adds enough new to make it worthy of purchase by fans of the series. Melee weapons, new modes and new zombie types make this a must have for those that adored the original game. If you are still on the fence this is the version to get, however if you simply did not enjoy the original game this will not change your mind. Left 4 Dead 2 is unapologetically the same experience amped up to eleven. The real question is are you man enough not to scream when the clown zombie is rushing at you?