It's Dangerous To Go Alone. Take This Chainsaw!
When you talk about Left 4 Dead, some people start saying stuff about 'BRAINSSS' or the walking dead, and at the core these people just don't know what they're talking about. While yes, the 'zombie apocalypse' has occurred, the enemies in Left 4 Dead are not after your brain and certainly aren't undead; they're normal people infected with a virus similar to the one from 28 Days Later. Left 4 Dead 2 takes place soon after the events of the first but in a new location, starting off in Georgia and ending on a bridge in New Orleans.
Mirroring the original Left 4 Dead, L4D2 allows four new hapless survivors the chance to make their way through hordes of infected folk, just searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. In the primary game mode, Campaign, you'll take a Gambler/Con Man (Nick), Mechanic (Ellis), Football Coach (Coach), and a uh... Girl (Rochelle), through 5 completely separate yet intertwined, new campaigns all with a bit of Cajun flair. Fans of the first, fear not! The southern fried survivors are just as, if not more lovable than their Northeastern counterparts. With the exception of Rochelle, each of the characters are well thought out and quirky enough to make you forget about 'Lois' and Francis. There's a much greater sense of interdependence between each campaign as well. For example, after completing Dead Center, the game's first campaign, you'll take a fueled stock car on the road and when it runs out of gas, that's when Dark Carnival picks up. The story here isn't a huge driving point, but it's nice to see them add more continuity.
The Campaign mode may be played with bots or with up to three other friends and has multiple difficulty levels. Generally each of the campaigns have removed much of the claustrophobic feeling that existed in the first and opt for much more open areas to fight in. Each campaign also has a new 'uncommon' infected character that helps keep things a bit different. While none are a huge challenge, the variety is a welcome addition. There's also a new Realism mode that'll allow for each difficulty level to get just a bit harder. Realism removes the outlines around all weapons, pickups, and characters, unless you're literally standing right on top of them, as well as forces the use of defibrillators and makes head shots the quickest way to take down common infected. Additionally, Witches will be more prevalent and will now be one hit kills.
In case you have no clue what a Witch is, she's a very sad girl in tattered clothes that will either wander around the level with her hands over her face crying, or just kneels down being all verklempt. She is one of several special infected types that are out to make the survivors' day very bad and if you get too close or shoot her, she comes after you with a vengeance. Back also from the previous game are the Hunter, Boomer, Smoker, and Tank but this time they've brought friends. The virus has mutated further and formed three new types of bad guys to deal with. First up is the Jockey, a maniacal hunchback that would love to hop up on the shoulders of a survivor and steer him off a cliff or through some flames. Next is the Charger, who's comically tiny left arm is offset by his oversized right. As his name states, he charges straight ahead then bashes the survivors into the ground with his 'good' arm. Finally, the Spitter. Gone are the camping tactics that survivors used to use, as the Spitter has a line of sight projectile that will make standing still for too long a very, very bad thing, coating the ground with a pool of acidic goo.
There are plenty of other additions to the game as a whole as well. The inclusion of melee weapons seems almost like a no brainer, but you don't quite understand how satisfying they are until you grab the nearest crowbar, katana, or baseball bat and start swinging for the fences. Yes, there is a chainsaw too, and while it does run on gas and will eventually stop working, it is completely awesome. While opting for a melee weapon forces you to drop your pistol (or dual pistols), they're certainly a suitable replacement. There's also a plethora of new usable items as well scattered throughout the maps. You'll find things like the aforementioned defibrillator, ammo upgrade boxes that provide explosive or incendiary rounds, adrenaline shots, boomer bile, or even laser sight upgrades for your weapons. Tons of new stuff to play with, some taking up a specific slot in your inventory which will get you to ask questions like "Do I bring the health kit, or defib?" More often than not, all the pickups will be scattered throughout the maps more randomly instead of just coming upon a table with a bunch of weapons on it, so you may just find an AK-47 lying around and no accompanying shotgun or rifle next to it. All of these additions cause the strategy of the survivor to change, and possibly take pause when you really should keep moving.
The hallmark Versus mode is back and better than ever. Out of the box, all five campaigns are setup for Versus play and with the exception of the Witch, all of the special infected are playable. This mode allows for eight players (four on a side) and is setup similarly to Campaign where the Survivors slug through the levels of a particular campaign trying to reach a safe room, and the Infected try to stop them. Once the survivors either die, or escape, the teams switch sides and you'll play the same board again from the other viewpoint. There's no character selector on the Infected side, instead each time you spawn you are randomly assigned a new role to play. Having six special infected helps add to the chaos as the Survivors can never be quite sure what'll be coming at them. Some other minor, but lovely additions also come in the form of progress markers. As the survivors progress, they'll be informed at quarterly checkpoints how much longer they have to go with a ding and a message, or you can pop open the scoreboard at any time to see a progress indicator. If the survivors get wiped, you'll also get a quick look as to how far each of them got before dying. A simple but elegant and useful touch. They've also lessened the point reward for having survivors escape a level, which would often cause one team to just stop caring if the gap got too wide.
A common issue with Versus however is the length required to play. To go through an entire campaign it would often take an hour and a half to two hours. While the first game introduced Survival mode (cooperative only) and Crash Course late in the lifecycle to try and appease people who wanted a quick experience, it still didn't really lend itself to quick games. That is remedied now with Scavenge mode. This is a very short mode and can be played in either Co-op, or Versus. Survivors are to run around a map looking for gas cans to help fill up a generator. Each gas can poured in adds 20 seconds onto an ever decreasing timer which starts at 90 seconds. The goal here is to keep the generator going for as long as possible while fighting off infected. Not only does it remedy the time requirement issue, but it's extremely entertaining.
Along with all the other new stuff, the visuals have improved and things have gotten a whole lot messier and grittier. Playing the normal version, I can see now why certain countries required Valve to produce a censored version due to the amped up violence. Not only do players get covered in blood while smacking infected in the head with a crowbar complete with meaty sound effects, but there are a lot more gibs everywhere. Previously, when throwing a pipe bomb to attract the horde the group of infected would blow up in a fine mist of blood. Now, you get chunks of people flying. The watermelon busting sound of a baseball bat upside someone's head, the death gurgles, screams and more... this is not for the children.
The few issues presented in the first game have been thoughtfully repaired and improved upon in just about every way possible. Not only is the formula created by Valve and Turtle Rock still relevant and entertaining, but they have basically perfected the zombie apocalypse. From the new cast of engaging characters to the polished campaigns and new modes, Left 4 Dead 2 is an incredible multiplayer experience from top to bottom with everything a true sequel calls for.
Oh, and if you call it an expansion, you get a smack.
- Tons of new content and plenty of refinements to what made the original Left 4 Dead's formula so great.
- Just about all of the melee weapons are very gratifying and the chainsaw is the bee's knees.
- Nearly endless replayability.
- Aside from being pretty decent shots, bots are still pretty worthless.
- There's really no point in playing alone.
- Pub griefers.