Last year, I wrote that Left 4 Dead was a fun title that was high on quality, but low on quantity. It was a "one-trick pony" that provided a highly exciting four player cooperative experience, but not really enough of anything else to justify its hefty price tag. With Left 4 Dead 2, I was hopeful that we'd get a game that could fill the emptiness left by its predecessor. And while Left 4 Dead 2 does have more content than before, it's simply too little, too late. It feels more like an expansion pack than a full sequel, making its $60 admission fee that much more painful.
It's only been a year since the original Left 4 Dead was released (a surprisingly quick turnaround time for Valve), and it's pretty obvious that not a whole lot can be altered in a year's time. The core of Left 4 Dead 2 is essentially unchanged from last year's model. The controls are still great, fighting off hordes of zombies is still a blast, and this remains one of the purest cooperative experiences out there. Not many games make you rely on your teammates so fully, which is what gives the Left 4 Dead franchise its distinctive vibe. And Left 4 Dead 2 has only upped the ante, with some new zombie types to give you all new headaches. The game also feels a bit harder than the previous entry, and you'll need stellar teamwork to survive the higher difficulty settings (like the new "Realism" mode). These are the things that made the original fun, and Left 4 Dead 2 replicates each of its successes.
The other side of the coin is that many of Left 4 Dead's problems haven't been fixed over the past year. Namely, the issue of content. Sure, Left 4 Dead 2 is a bigger game in the way of pure numbers- three new special infected, one more campaign, the addition of melee weapons, and so on. But these things don't really add to the experience in any meaningful way. It feels more like they were added simply for the sake of pumping up the numbers, so that Valve could claim that their game was bigger. It just feels cheap, which is exactly my problem with Left 4 Dead 2. It feels like an overpriced expansion pack or remake- this is not a full fledged sequel by any stretch of the imagination. The only notable addition is the new Scavenge mode. And while this is a fun mode for sure, its downright scandalous that, given a year's time, this is all Valve could come up with. Left 4 Dead 2 adds this minor new trick to its repertoire, but otherwise does nothing to expand upon the original.
Before playing Left 4 Dead 2, I heard that it was everything the first game should have been. While I fully agree, I never read that as a compliment. This is what the first game should have been- not the second game. That's a subtle, yet important distinction. Left 4 Dead 2 offers the same kind of thrills as the first, and should appeal to die hard fans who want more, or even those who skipped out on the original. As for everyone else, Left 4 Dead 2 will feel like nothing more than an overpriced expansion pack.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.