(Old review – from the original HNTDAAB)
Year of Release: 2009
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Remember almost a year ago? Valve had just released a certain Zombie shooter, which the critics had loved and everyone was spending their evenings running around a north eastern USA infested with zombies. After a year and constant tweaks by Valve, many people are still playing it. Enough people to blow a gasket and attempt a boycott of the rather rapid sequel.
Instead of being set back in the area around Pittsburgh using several of the horror staples such as farms, airports and hospitals, the new game is instead in the Deep South, in a sprawling line from Savannah, Georgia to a finale in New Orleans. Along the way, you’ll trek though a mall, fight through a zombified fairground, have a walk through a swamp filled with mudmen and move through flooded village in order to find vital gas. The game also has a new set of characters to play as, replacing Bill and Co. with Coach, Nick the gambler, Ellis the Southern mechanic and Rochelle the stuffy broadcaster. One of the good things about the plot this time is the fact it actually follows as opposed to being 4 randomly stuck together campaigns. It’s also funny to listen to some of the new dialogue, as the characters (although lacking some of the same personalities we loved in the first game) are designed to play off each other with Ellis being the main aim of the contempt, while Nick acts as the main source of sarcasm.
Based on the gameplay, Left 4 Dead 2 has refined a lot of the main features of the original. The whole setup of running into an area, stopping and shooting the hordes of zombies before carrying on still carries on being brilliant, especially with 3 of your mates. Special zombies still turn up, hordes still pour out at various intervals and all the time an evil all knowing AI director is controlling proceedings like some kind of sadistic crazy film creator. However a few minor things have been tweaked with a new version of the evil mastermind. This time around, the director can change the layout of levels, the weather and unleash new special events such as a crippling fog that appears in one of the later campaigns. The director also seems to have a mean strike a mile wide, as hordes and crazy combinations of special seems much more common than in the original. Part of this is the new special zombies, which are designed to break apart tactics that were considered cheating in the first game. Spitters throw burning goo to force people to move away from where it lands, while the Jockey allows the zombies to split one person away from the rest of the group and take them into a crowd of gibbering infected. Finally, the Charger is another method to split up the pack, by grabbing someone and running away with them before bouncing them up and down. These new specials make for some interesting combinations if used with the old.
Additionally a major flaw of the original game, the lack of weapons, has been fixed. There is a smattering of new firearms available at various tiers. Available from the start at many points are all of the original weapons as well as two new ones, a chrome shotgun and a silenced smg. Both of these have subtle differences from the first games guns, but the real surprise comes later on in the tiers. The new desert combat rifle is a 3 round burst weapon, ideal for longer range while its counterpart is the AK47 (mysteriously appearing in the Deep South by methods unknown) which loses accuracy at longer ranges. The automatic shotgun now has a new friend, the combat shotgun which fires a little faster than the original. Finally, there is now a better version of the sniper rifle with a larger magazine which is closer to the assault rifle than the little pea shooter of a hunting rifle. On top of this there are two other new firearms. To replace your pistol is a desert eagle, which can’t be dual wielded but can rip arms and legs off. Occasionally, you may also find M79s lying round the map. You can’t refill the thirty rounds its starts off with from any ammo pile, but for any finale its ability to destroy entire crowds of zombies with a single shot. There has also been a shift in the items. As well as the pills (PEELZ HERE) and the med kits, there are now defibrillators for reviving dead players as well as adrenaline shots, allowing players to move fast and provide the same health boast of the pills. And now you can throw boomer bile at people as well, although it does deprive you of a Molotov or pipe bombs. Instead, boomer vile attracts zombies to anyone it hits and makes them attack it. Use it on the tank and sit back to watch.
Of course what everyone is really excited about is the melee weapons. With cricket bats, crowbars, police batons, machetes, samurai swords, frying pans or even guitars you can now have the true zombie film experience and go in swinging. They are all great fun to use, if a little overpowered. They also make great use of Left 4 Dead 2’s new gore system, which means zombies can now loose limbs and expose internal organs. The chainsaw is the king of the melee weapons, and is as horrible and gory as you could possibly imagine.
But co-op isn’t the only mode. As well as the singleplayer, versus mode returns (on all campaigns from release) as does the DLC added Survival mode. These have both seen some refinement and slight touch ups and the new specials now make versus even more mental than it was before. A new mode has also been added based off the finale of the first campaign. In scavenger mode, the survivors have to fill up a generator with gas cans lying around the map. Unfortunately, the zombies appear to recognise the plan and so will do everything possible to kill the survivors in as short a time as possible. This mode is brilliant for a quick competitive blast (as opposed to the bite size co-op of survival and the mega-length versus of co-op campaign) and it much more interesting than survival ever was for me.
Left 4 Dead 2 still uses the same Source engine as Left 4 Dead, but with a few incremental upgrades. The game looks a lot better with little or no loss in framerate, with some of the weapons and items having seen some improvement. The zombies also look more revolting than before, with blood and inchor pouring out of them. The smoker seems to have had a lot of work done on him, while the new Spitter is the most horrifying zombie you will ever see apart from the female boomers. The sounds are also pretty good, with the new character’s dialogue being some of the snappiest and most human I’ve seen in games ever. The sounds for the weapons are as satisfying as ever, with the frying pan providing the most mirth. But what really impressed me was the new level design. Valve have made a selection of perfect maps designed for zombie killing and each campaign is around a specific theme which goes all the way from the incidental music announcing an attack of the horde to the finale.
Post release, Valve released a DLC pack that brought the two sets of survivors together. Its shorter than the rest of the campaigns but it is great fun. The added M60 and golf club are both great weapons as well. Its a bit of shame that the same survivor dies each time, but its still a great thing to get for free. They are also (as of 09/09/10) planning to add another pack that includes a brand new campaign as well as a new converted version of Left 4 Dead’s first campaign, No Mercy. This is just what I’ve been wanting – the conversion of the original’s levels up to the new tech and weapons of the sequel.
The main flaw of Left 4 Dead 2 is the fact it is just a lot more Left 4 Dead. If you didn’t enjoy the last game, then this won’t bring you round. However, if you loved the first game or want to get into the co-op sensation that is one of Valve’s major triumphs then this is something you may want to pick up. Valve are the new kings of how to make killing zombies brilliant.