More zombies please, we’re British
Get your friends online, turn down the lights, as those darned infected are back with a vengeance! Valve have released the sequel to last year’s hit, Left 4 Dead, amidst controversy, boycotts, and rabid fan-boy enthusiasm, and once again turn gamers loose in their post-apocalyptic world.
L4D2 is a co-operative first person shooter, set this time in the deep south of America, with a group of four survivors of a worldwide infection trying to fight their way to safety. The basic gist of the game is to get yourself and your three partners to safety by fighting through waves of infected (i.e.: zombies), ranging from hordes of regular shamblers, up to deformed, hulking Tanks. The other players can be controlled by the computer, but this type of game really comes into its own when played with friends alongside you, working as a team and screaming instructions at each other. There is also a Survival mode, where the idea is for you and your chums to last as long as you can against increasing hordes of bad guys, and a versus mode, which allows one team of players to control the survivors, and the other team try to take them out as special (or “boss”) infected.
The main action is controlled by an AI “director”, which controls the action via spawning infected, weapons, and health more or less liberally depending on how you are getting along. In practice, this means that if you are plowing along merrily with a medikit on your back, expect the bigger and nastier zombies to appear more often, and your ammo to run out that bit quicker. This adds a nice dynamic to the game by taking the ability to “learn” a level away from the player, as each time you play, your confrontations will pan out differently.
The basic gameplay of L4D2 is great. When played with friends, games quickly become hectic, and you really do find out more than you meant to about how your buddies would respond in an apocalypse. Nothing starts an argument quicker than being left to bleed to death as your so-called friend waltzes away to the rescue chopper by using you as a distraction, and nothing feels greater than picking your pal up from a swarm of infected that have him pinned down. The level design is very nice too, with each campaign following a theme (run down carnival, shopping centre, etc.) which is reflected back in the variety of infected that populate it (the first sighting of a zombie clown provokes a laugh in everyone I have met so far). The lack of a direct script also means that you create your own story, with the memorable moments being created amongst the players, and tending to be specific to each individual game (“Dude, remember when I saved you from the Tank with 3 health left?”).
If you have yet to get a Left 4 Dead game, L4D2 is the far more attractive package
Graphically, L4D2 looks nice for a Source game, but the engine really is starting to show its age. However, the lighting effects from the flashlights are as good as ever, and detail is still pretty good on both character and level models. The animations are very good too, and the large hordes of infected that can rush you show no signs of slowdown, even during the most hectic moments. Added to this is Valve´s great voice and effects work, which does bring a lot of life to the main characters, with banter flowing back and forth between them, and the sounds of the infected working as a simple radar for players to take advantage of.
In terms of advancements from the first game, I do feel that Valve has let themselves and their fans down somewhat. The new guns all behave more or less the same as the (included) previous models, so we essentially still have 2 types of machine gun, but with additional skins for each. There is no noticeable difference in function or power between the newer models and the old, which leaves me asking as to why they were really included. There is also now the ability to pick up and use a variety of melee weapons, but as these replace your main gun and are slow to fire, they become a gimmick that quickly wears thin.
More boss infected were also included, such as a jockey that jumps onto a player and steers them towards enemy hordes or environmental traps. There is also a Spitter, which creates areas of toxic goo that deplete the health of any player who strays into it, and a Charger, which is essentially a living battering ram that charges players into trees and walls for a high damage attack. Again, I don´t really feel that they bring much more to the game, and it is a good thing that the five boss characters from the first game were brought over too. The Witch has also been upgraded, and is now a moving character on several campaigns, making her even more dangerous than before.
As a huge fan of the original Left 4 Dead, I had high expectations of L4D2. After all, Valve are renowned for only charging for full games, not expansions, so I put my trust in them to have some great new ideas to add to the proven formula. As videos trickled out on the web, my excitement only grew as I lapped up videos of new enemies, new weapons, and more, secretly feeling that there one a couple more big tricks up L4D2 sleeve to be saved for launch day. Unfortunately, it seems to me a lot of what was shown was some kind of justification for packaging the game as a new release, as the few new ideas on offer were either poorly executed, or just plain pointless.
The truth is, if you have yet to get a Left 4 Dead game, L4D2 is the far more attractive package, with all of the features of the first game with extras thrown in. Survival mode is packaged in from launch, and the “realism” mode is essentially a ridiculously hard setting to be toyed with too. Owners of the first game are likely to be frustrated, however, as apart from new levels to stomp around in, L4D2 really does bring a polished “more of the same” feel, which makes it feel more like the kind of free expansion Valve normally gives us, instead of a full priced game. I don´t feel that the price tag can be justified by the product for the majority in this category, although it is fair to say that their decision makes the original L4D look like the unfinished product. Owners of the original can basically knock two points off from my final score.
As a standalone game, though, L4D2 really is another very enjoyable, expansive multiplayer game. The variety in the missions, the quality of the voice work and the sheer fun factor really do show that Valve know how to craft their products, and L4D2 sits proudly on the shelf alongside many of their other games. The feeling you get that you are creating your own tale within the game is also something that very few other games can match, and therefore I can recommend this to most people who enjoy action games.
The Bad: No real change from L4D, so feels more like an expansion than a full
title; new weapons and melee don’t really add anything