Review / Left 4 Dead 2 (PC)

It’s probably between retrieving some guy’s soft drinks from the local store to get him to blow up a barricade that’s impeding on your path to the mall and going into the mall itself while a special infected is humping your head that one realizes that Left 4 Dead 2 changes almost everything found in its predecessor. The most notable aspect of the game is that there’s an abundance of options. So many that you will find yourself choosing whether to grab a melee weapon and attempt to whack the incoming Tank with it or actually help your team by using a weapon that will actually take it down.

The name of the game is simple, survive the zombie outbreak as a group of survivors. Get from one safehouse to another until you’re rescued all while trying to avoid the many common and special infected. With four new survivors, new infected, several new weapons and more campaign action, Left 4 Dead 2 is a compelling offer.

The South is where we stage our escape in Left 4 Dead 2. With rows of cornfield sitting outside of an industrial farming facility and a little bit of rain, one might think this is Left 4 Dead all over again. That’s until you notice it’s raining and it’s raining hard. Thunder claps in the distance, distorting your group’s ability to determine what exactly is growling amongst the corn stalks. It’s a situation that makes you nervous. The rain has been pouring so hard that it’s created a miniature swamp out of the once dry fields, slowing the pace of you and the rest of the survivors. If that’s a Tank breathing in the distance, then we’re going to need to take shots of adrenaline and pick up the pace if we intend to take it out.

With so many things that hinder the progression of the survivors, it’s safe to say that the level design in Left 4 Dead 2 is one of its biggest improvements over the original. No longer are players given the option of speed running and corner-camping through an entire map. Valve wants the survivors on their feet and worried about, well, their survival. The swamps of the South aren’t friendly to those who tread its waters. Forget trying to keep your clothes clean, surviving will mean traveling through the muddy terrain. It will also mean walking at a slower rate, emphasizing a greater need to stick together as a team. It also doesn’t help that the game’s improved AI Director now controls the weather. The latter stages of campaign movies like Hard Rain will cycle through light and heavy storms, forcing players to calculate their moves carefully amidst the haze and rain.

Accomplishing events won’t always mean turning on an alarm and grouping together in a tight corner for damage-minimizing, now it means being on your feet. Surviving another area means finding gas tanks all around a mall and using them to fuel a display car. It means roaming multiple stories of a consumer building where zombies are constantly after you and special infected are setting up their traps. It’s actually a fun albeit nerve racking event, so it’s no wonder why Valve made a separate game mode of it called Scavenge.

While the changes may sound more difficult, it’s not as if you won’t be left without some equipment throughout these levels. While pills and pipe bombs make a return, players now have the option of using items like the Boomer Bile jar. It’s exactly what the title implies, a jar full of the vomit that would otherwise be ejected from the mouth of the Boomer. Throwing it and splashing its contents means spawning a new wave of common infected and while it can be thrown on the ground to attract the existing infected, it’s primary benefit is in splashing the liquid on other infected, which means players will be able to make it rain bile on a Tank, having it worry about the common infected bashing on it as well as the survivors. Other items like the adrenaline shot, make you slippery in a way. While affected by it, survivors will not have to worry about being latched on by common infected and it will even increase speed in areas that slow your movement down. Of course, the survivors still have an array of weapons available to them, with the Desert Eagle making an appearance in the game as an alternative to the rest of the pistols. More assault rifles give a level of variety that the original Left 4 Dead struggled to deliver. The grenade launcher is probably the most addictive of all of them which, like the rest of the weapons, are able to be modified with incendiary or explosive ammo packs that burn any infected on contact or knock them back, respectively.

It’s really not the guns that are the center of attention but rather the melee weapons. Replacing the pistol slot of your loadout, melee weapons range from a cricket paddle to a chainsaw (which is limited by the amount of battery life in it). Each weapon requires that you get up close and personal with your infected foes. Slashing down the violent horde with a sword means watching body parts fly from their limbs. Though they can be fun to use, their viability is not very high considering that you do have to go within melee range of the infected who, at the same time, are within striking range of your body. Regardless, bashing your way through a horde mixed with the sounds of swings make it a satisfying experience. There are plenty of melee weapons spread out along each area, giving survivors some new and often humorous ways of escaping.

The new survivors, who go by the names of Ellis, Nick, Coach and Rochelle, are a fairly likeable group of people who have the similar type of synergy that worked with the original cast of survivors. None of them are too unique to the point where they’ll receive the same reaction as Louis and pills or Francis and his extreme dislike for everything, but the wit of some of them will be enough to make you smile. The new cast needs some recognition as well as every campaign is connected. There’s continuity, giving some level of story to how these four survivors found each other. Though it still relies heavily on the player reading safehouse writings for the background story, the fact that the campaign movies are somewhat connected is an improvement.

Though there are plenty of new things to go around, that’s not to say some of the old things haven’t returned. All of the special infected of Left 4 Dead have made a return with new looks. The Hunter shows more skin (if you’re into that), the Tank is pinker than usual and the Boomer’s female counter-part finally makes an entrance. They’re also joined with some new faces that not only change how players will have to utilize the special infected but also how they overcome them as survivors. The Spitter is a new special infected who literally spits goo of acid, damaging anyone who stands on it. The Spitter is an effective solution to the corner-camping of the original Left 4 Dead, forcing survivors to remain on their feet. The Jockey jumps on survivors allowing him to take a substantial amount of control of the survivor, pulling him or her away from the group. The Charger is capable of pummeling any survivor that is in his way. He is a mini-Tank in a way, his charge knocks back everything with his target remaining firm in his grasp as he lifts it up and down from the surface. It puts a new spin on Versus mode that will require plenty of new strategies from players.

Those who enjoyed the player-vs-player mode will be happy to know that all the campaigns come Versus ready. While winning a game of Versus in the original game was calculated based on the average distance traveled, the amount of health each survivor had if they made it to safehouse and how many survivors actually made it, Left 4 Dead 2 removes a few of that. The road towards victory in the mode is now measured through the group’s average progress through the map which grants a score bonus if the survivors made it to the safehouse. With more tools at the disposal of those who play on the infected side mixed with the way the maps are developed, it will be a bit harder for survivors to get through individual maps. What still remains the case in the mode is that when a team has less than four players, the absent players are replaced by bots on the survivor side which are far from reliable and rather stay in certain spots for longer than they should instead of staying with at least one person on the team, often forcing the team to play babysitter for the bot until a player takes the open spot.

Players aren’t just restricted to the same campaign procedures. Realism mode, a new mode in the franchise presents an even greater challenge for players. With player glows removed, forcing players to either keep close to their friends or remain in constant communication, survivors are given more things to worry about. The mode also puts a greater emphasis on headshots, so it’s a mode that will not only require some more teamwork but a little more skill from individual players. It’s a great alternative to simply playing on Expert. If players just want to skip all the traveling that the campaigns force them to do, then the familiar Survival mode makes a return, which allows players to experience the mid-level events of Left 4 Dead 2 without actually having to go through the campaign. The amount of game modes available to players is sure to make this installment more addicting than the first.

Overall, Left 4 Dead 2 is a huge leap forward over its predecessor in that it’s a complete package. In many respects, it’s what the original Left 4 Dead should have been. It should have had this much variety and the very presence of Left 4 Dead 2 almost trivializes the need to play the original. There’s just more of everything. More weapons, more infected, more campaigns and more game modes. If you’ve grown tired of the Left 4 Dead formula, make no mistake, Left 4 Dead 2 is more of the same, but if you’re itching to know how it feels to bash a zombie in the head with a frying pan, that game has arrived.

+ Improved game design and campaign events
+ More weapons, campaign levels, methods of surviving
+ Feels like a complete game

– Lack of a concrete story mode
– Bots are still a detriment
– New cast of survivors not as awesome as the original