by Chris Brown
Released last year from Valve, the first Left 4 Dead quickly became my favorite multi-player game of 2008. At the E3 Expo this past June the announcement for the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, caught me by surprise and glee. Valve is not a company known for speedy sequels with fan-favorite Half-Life 2 episode 3 being the leading example. The video game corner of the internet seemingly caught fire debating whether the sequel was coming too soon, or if it should even be treated as a full-fledged sequel. Valve spent the past few months defending the game, and now the proof is indeed in the pudding.
The short answer is yes, Left 4 Dead 2 is much more than just an extension of the first. For one the engine that drives the game appears to have had a makeover. While run-down buildings, swamps, and a creepy amusement park may not necessarily qualify as ‘beautiful’ the graphics do show a marked improvement over the first game. In many ways Left 4 Dead 2 feels like the game Valve wanted to make, while the first game was the experiment. The game is harder than the original mostly because the safe places to hole up with the four survivors, backs to the wall and guns a ‘blazing are gone. In Left 4 Dead 2 there aren’t many safe places. Players must learn to not only defend themselves but each other to a greater degree than the first. Thankfully the game designers have equipped players with new weapons, tools, and things that go ‘boom’ to keep one another alive…at least for the the time being.
All five of the movie scenarios in Left 4 Dead 2 are set in the Southern United States. Each five campaigns are slightly more linked to one another in the sequel as one escape leads to the next’s fervent march toward rescue. These new maps and scenarios were a little disorienting at first but it doesn’t take long to pick up on the path players must take to find a safe house and eventual rescue. There are four new characters, which so far aren’t as iconic as the ones in the first game, but I dare you not to spend time in a safe house just listening to new character, Ellis, recount hilarious stories about his buddies or all the things he loves (a striking contrast to Left 4 Dead’s Francis character who hated practically everything). These four characters have new weapons and familiar favorites with a few twists thrown in. For instance, sprinkled in the maps are explosive rounds or incendiary rounds for the weapons. A big inclusion in Left 4 Dead 2 is melee weapons such as baseball bats, crowbars, even frying pans. The melee weapons are invaluable additions to the game play as characters do not tire when using them. When hordes of the infected attack having a machete or katana to dispatch them will keep you alive and bring an ounce of joy. These weapons are also very important when players must get to designated areas quickly to turn off infected-baiting alarms. The new additions to Left 4 Dead 2 don’t stop at new weapons and characters. Also in the sequel are new special infected which include a Spitter, a Jockey, and the Tank-like Charger. They all have their special abilities to make players dead quick. They join the special infected from the first Left 4 Dead who now come in both infectious genders this time out. Also returning to Left 4 Dead 2 are witches who now can walk portions of the maps, and of course Tanks continue to do what they do best, kill Survivors (and somehow attract Survivor’s molotovs it seems).
Like the first Left 4 Dead, the sequel has a campaign mode that a player can play by their selves or multi-player with players from Xbox Live. These campaigns can still be played on an Easy, Normal, Hard or Expect Difficulty. A word of caution, Left 4 Dead 2 is much harder than the first game. In many regards, Normal is the new Hard setting. For those skilled players craving even more excitement from Left 4 Dead 2, there is also a Realism mode of the campaign which can also be played on Easy, Normal, Hard or Expect. In the Realism mode, weapons and other players do not glow, which may means if a player doesn’t stay with the group they might wind up as fast food for the Infected. Also in Realism mode the zombies are harder to kill with melee weapons and take more bullets to put down unless they are dispatched with a headshot. I found this new addition to be a fun and exciting twist to how myself and my online friends play the campaigns. In addition to the five campaigns, Left 4 Dead 2 also has two ways to play against other players. Versus from the first game is included in the sequel, and a new game type called Scavenge joins the mix. Scavenge is another example how Left 4 Dead 2 is the game Valve always wanted to make. While a match in Versus may take an hour or more to complete, a Scavenge match can take anywhere from five minutes to thirty minutes depending on the game settings or skills of both teams. In Scavenge two teams of four battle one another. One side are the Survivors who must search a game map for gasoline cans to fill a generator. There are sixteen gas cans in the map to fill the generator. Survivors are given a limited amount of time to gather gas cans and if a can is poured into the generator the Survivors are awarded more time. However complicating their survival is the other team of Special Infected who are out to prevent or kill Survivors from pouring the gas into the generator. For every gas can poured into the generator the Survivors get a point. These cans can also be ignited from gunfire or Spitter spit (only after a Survivor drops a gas can). If time happens to run out while a Survivor has a gas can in their hands, then the game enters into overtime that will last until the Survivor empties the gas into the generator or drops it. Survivors can also be killed by the infected or Special Infected players. When time runs out, the teams switch and the other team tries to score their gas can points. The team with the most round wins based on points wins the match. Scavenge has become one of my favorite game types to play in Left 4 Dead 2. I appreciate the various strategies in either collecting the gas cans or taking the survivors out. The battle is fast and furious and the maps in which Scavenge is played offer countless ways to master them.
Versus is a team versus team through any of the five campaigns of Left 4 Dead 2. When a Survivor team reaches the Safe Room or is killed by the Special Infected team the round ends and points based on distance and health of the players are awarded. The Special Infected can also get points for every time they incapacitate the Survivors. The team with the most points at the end of a map starts the next round as the Survivors. Versus can be a game that can take a long while to finish, but like the first game is an exhilarating way to experience these maps especially through the eyes of the Special Infected. Versus does have some problems that might need a patch down the line. I’ve found that something needs to be done about how many times a Spitter can be used as a Special Infected. It’s spit is too powerful for a character that is constantly in the mix. Also a problem from the first Left 4 Dead which continues in the second is how far a Boomer can spew bile. The physics seems a bit off in that a player can be seemingly far away and still get covered or a player can be close and won’t get a drop of infected-attracting bile on them. Also at the time of this review there was Dedicated Server lag for anyone not on the West Coast of the U.S. It appears that the Dedicated Server lag is an issue that Valve is aware of and will hopefully have a solution for sooner rather than later. Thankfully, players can also host a local server which will clear up the dreaded lag if the host has a good connection.
It should also be mentioned that if players have a usual bunch of infected-killing machines on their roster, you can now face off against other dedicated players in a Team Challenge match. This is different from starting a public room of Versus or Scavenge in that your team of four are randomly pitted against another team of four in a game. There’s no lobby insult-lobbing, it’s just down to battle for ultimate Survivor supremacy.
The game’s achievements are well-thought out. Some achievements will come fast, other requires several hours of game play. The hardest ones always seem to be the ones requiring Expert and Realism play. In addition to achievements, there are also a handful of Avatar awards that upon completion will giving your Xbox Live Avatar clothing or items such as the much ballyhooed red med pack.
All in all, Left 4 Dead 2 has enough new and challenging parts under the hood to count as a full-fledged sequel. I found the maps in Left 4 Dead 2 to be superior in layout and design than the ones from the first game. If you are a fan of frantic multi-player experiences either co-operative or versus, Left 4 Dead 2 offers hours and hours of fun, challenge, and thrills. It continues the success of the first game and builds upon it. Left 4 Dead 2 will likely be my favorite multiplayer game this year and into the next. There is a story in Left 4 Dead 2 that is threaded throughout the game. It doesn’t have a traditional narrative, but it’s a story that has to be discovered in dark corners, on safe house walls, and in the short cut scenes that start and end each campaign. Personally I like this style of storytelling that lets the player explore and develop their own narratives, their hypothesis, and shape how the story speaks to them. Left 4 Dead 2 remains a franchise that hopefully will offer up additional stories in downloadable content or in future retail releases.
Left 4 Dead 2 is rated M for Mature and is on store shelves now. Electronic Arts provided copies of Left 4 Dead 2 to The Married Gamers for the purposes of evaluation and review.
Married Gamers Rating: A