Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead 2 doesn't reinvent Left 4 Dead's wheel so much as it retreads it

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Electronic Arts Australia Left 4 Dead 2
  • Electronic Arts Australia Left 4 Dead 2
  • Electronic Arts Australia Left 4 Dead 2
  • Electronic Arts Australia Left 4 Dead 2
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Incredible cooperative and competitive multiplayer is brilliantly designed around the new maps, modes and enemies

Cons

  • Wretched single-player AI makes solo game worthless and the original game's charismatic subtleties will be missed.

Bottom Line

The original Left 4 Dead made surviving a zombie outbreak more fun anyone thought possible. The formula was dead simple -- four survivors against an unending horde of infected -- but the stellar map designs and perfectly balanced combat made for some genuinely tense moments. It quickly became an online staple and now, the sequel is here to offer up more opportunities to hunt down the infected horde.

Would you buy this?

While most games come with both a multiplayer and single-player component, the fact is that they're either one or the other; both modes are often included to fill out the feature list but often a game is either a single-player game with a multiplayer mode tacked on or, as was the case with Left 4 Dead, a multiplayer title whose single-player component is nothing more than an extended warm-up for the online festivities. In the last year, I've logged close to 150 hours of Left 4 Dead multiplayer and 99 percent of that time was spent kicking ass in the eight-player competitive multiplayer mode, Versus. It completely sucked me and three of my friends in and we played it exclusively: any mode that didn't let us strangle survivors as a Smoker or punch war veterans off hospital rooftops as a Tank didn't exist in our minds.

It was blatantly obvious from the get go that Left 4 Dead was a multiplayer game to its very core and while playing through the single player campaign offers up some interesting moments, trying to survive the "infected" apocalypse alone is ill-advised not only in real life but in the game as well. It's a fact Valve takes to heart with their sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, a title that doesn't reinvent Left 4 Dead's wheel so much as it retreads it. L4D2 feels incredibly similar to the first one: You start each campaign, which is presented as a "movie" that breaks its scenes into playable levels, as four everyman survivors of a infected outbreak. You're given a bevy of guns with which to blow away hundreds of undead goons in an attempt to escape to safety. The biggest addition comes mainly in the form of melee weapons which now allow you to physically dole out punishment to your enemies; unlike the original where you could only shove an infected enemy away, you're now given access to katanas, cricket bats, and chainsaws for close-quarters combat.

The new special infected units also add some much needed variety to the gameplay. You'll see the return of the wily Hunter, the barfing Boomer, the behemoth Tank, the spooky Witch and the sticky tongued Smoker but they're now joined by new infected who seem specifically designed to help separate and segregate the survivors. The lanky Spitter launches green gobs of pooling acid that only an idiot would run through; the chimp-like Jockey hops on your head and drives you like a stolen car; and Chargers plow through crowds before smashing survivors like he's tenderizing a steak. These baddies provide a unique and unpredictable challenge for you and your posse, not only because the combinations of their attacks are so potently lethal, but because the enemy A.I. brilliantly blends their abilities. During one memorable match, a Boomer blinded my entire team with vomit, allowing a Jockey to easily steer me into an acidic death. That sort of coordination and teamwork makes surviving until the end of level safe house far tougher and much more thrilling.

Unfortunately, the survivor A.I. isn't nearly as brilliant, which is ironic: somehow, the mindless infected are far smarter than the supposedly human survivors. It truly is atrocious, and during my time with the single-player mode -- I played it in the name of due process but again, you're wasting your time if you're not playing this game online -- my computer allies regularly trailed behind, got lost, ignored me when I was mauled, and refused to pick me up when I was incapacitated. Thankfully, Valve put a ton of effort into revamping the game's online offerings: the new maps are full of nooks, crannies and shortcuts that clever players can exploit, and new modes such as the brilliant Scavenge, a terrific take on the tried and true capture the flag concept, shine: The time-based mode has survivors attempting to capture combustible containers of gasoline that they use to keep a generator running; each container adds time to a ticking timer and it's the infected's job to stop them from keeping the lights on. It's a creative twist on an old gameplay idea, and the frantic chaos makes the short and punchy rounds incredibly entertaining.

Leading up to the launch of Left 4 Dead 2, angry Internet boycotters condemned the game for being a quick cash-grab on a successful new IP but after getting my hands on the actual product, it's clear that was just unnecessary hysteria. Frankly, I'd be satisfied just playing multiplayer in the five new campaigns, if only because the levels in each "movie" are longer and larger than any in the first game and give you more options to explore. I will miss the maps from the first game, though I'm guessing they'll eventually be released as DLC, and I will definitely miss the original survivors who were actually charismatic and memorable -- aside from the overzealous Ellis, the new survivors are all uniformly bland. Coach, Nick and Rochelle barely qualify as characters since there is nothing to define their individual personalities. Instead of Francis' senility or Louis' non-stop panic, you're left with a cast of mostly forgettable characters. The crew plays the "straight men" to Ellis' enthusiastic "funny man" role, but it falls completely flat, usually because they monotonously tell him to pipe down during one of his potentially hilarious stories. I'll miss the charming funny narrative subtleties, too -- where spray-painted walls told funny stories of other survivors, the graffiti in L4D2 rarely conveys anything beyond "We are going to the mall." But honestly, I got over these issues fairly quickly because, after all, who has time to think about the past when you've got an army of bloodthirsty infected charging towards you?

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