Left 4 Dead 2
This is an unusual prospect for Valve - a full sequel, actually featuring more content than its predecessor did at release, being put out only a year later. Given that the Half-Life 2 episodes were supposed to be a quick way to continue the story yet we're still waiting for so much as a teaser trailer for the third one five years later, it definitely seems kind of weird. Still, the game is here, and improves on the first in a lot of ways. I wouldn't say it's better, because a lot of it comes down to personal preference. The new campaigns and characters are interesting, and the expansion of abilities to go along with the myriad new ways the ravenous zombie hordes and AI Director can screw you over are nice. It's the sort of sequel that sort of makes playing the original obsolete, though you can still make an argument for the things that make either unique creating a stronger experience.
The new survivors are a likable group, although maybe less even than the original group. Those guys all had some good lines and didn't stand out too much individually, whereas in the new game Ellis and Coach are clearly the "funny ones". Nick has an occasional good zinger but is generally just kind of a jerk, while Rochelle is hardly noticeable. There's an increased sense of story as more things like how they all meet and what connects each of the campaigns together are made obvious through dialogue, to go along with the background details that filled in so many gaps the first time. For some reason though it seemed like the grafitti was more functional instead of entertaining this time, painting a picture of the infection spreading rather than making you laugh. Speaking of the campaigns, they felt pretty good the first time or two through. They didn't have as much time to be refined as the first game's, but they still have a high standard of quality in terms of variability, memorable set pieces, and setting themselves apart.
The new special infected feel a bit less iconic and even a little like rehashes, filling similar gaps to the returning ones, although they are all designed to help split the players up more, which is the key the game uses to up the challenge for experienced players. New scenarios that force you to run somewhere to escape a never-ending onslaught of enemies do this too, and really shake up the feeling of going through. Besides the special enemies, there's a new kind of foe called uncommon infected that act more or less like the standard kind but look unique and have special properties based on which campaign you're playing that help give each one more of a unique feel. You just generally feel less safe, and the game honestly seems to be trying a bit harder to spook you once in a while. An unexpected charger appearance can be startling, especially the first couple times, and special events like the increasing thunderstorm in one area were a bit unsettling. There's tons of new ways to fight against the zombies too, with a bunch of new weapons including a whole class of melee tools that can replace sidearms and are a hell of a lot of fun to bash faces in with, new options for each equipment slot, and a bunch of little things like the pipe bomb now causing its victims to go flying through the air gloriously.
I haven't had enough time to really tell if this game will stand up to months of replaying like the first did, but I see no reason why it shouldn't. The co-op has more opportunities to change from game to game, versus is still a bunch of fun (though the new infected might take even experienced players a bit of getting used to again), and the new scavenger mode is a blast too. Obviously, the game doesn't match the original's impact after having played it off and on for a year. The new southern setting has a lot of personality (I love the way that comes across in the music especially), but personally I prefer the original game's cast and think its areas were maybe designed a bit better. Still, there's plenty of game here to dive into and it's totally worth it if you're a fan of taking on hundreds of the undead with a few of your friends.