theuselessgod's Left 4 Dead 2 (PC) review

A solid, superior sequel.

The Short

Pros

- Same addicting four-player madness as Left 4 Dead but with more weapons, zombies, and options

- Scenarios have more of a theme to them and follow a unique style

- Set in the south, the game has a cool "bluegrass" twang about it

- Everything new is an improvement, to more guns, attachments, and more

- New Special Infected are cool and a blast to play in VS mode

- Scavenger mode is a lot of fun

- Overall, does exactly what a sequel should: improves heavily on the original

Cons

- New characters aren't nearly as endearing as the first batch

- Upped levels of gore are appreciated, but not for the squeamish

- The new Special Infected can make the game substantially more difficult

- Coming out only a year after the first game, this does kind of feel like its features should have been in Left 4 Dead

Another day, another wave of zombies to gun down

The Long

After Left 4 Dead sported a runaway success, Valve decided to roll with it and actually make a game on a decent timetable. Left 4 Dead 2 came out only around a year since the first game, which pissed a bunch of games off for some reason. This was the first instance I can remember of a widely publicized "boycott" of the game, though most of the boycotters ended up getting it on release day anyway (as evidenced by their Steam accounts). Mostly they were mad because they felt that Valve cut features from the first game and were now patching it together in the sequel, and that somehow because of this that diminished the value of their first game that they'd bought and obviously loved. Because if a company makes a sequel, automatically the first game is totally useless and unplayable. It might as well just erase itself and all the fun memories you had from both your Steam account and your brain.

Because that makes perfect sense.

Anyway, they were wrong regardless: Left 4 Dead 2 is an excellent sequel on all fronts. It improves substantially on the original game, while still having its own flavor and style to keep it distant and distinct. Basically, both these games can exist, and there is a reason to own both. So no whining. And on with the review.

This game is significantly more bloody and gory than the first one.

So at its gooey core, Left 4 Dead 2 is basically the same game as the first one. You and three buddies (because playing with bots sucks) have to get from point A to point B while not getting brutally ruined by the boatloads of infected zombies along the way. You find weapons, share health, watch each other's backs, etc. etc. So what is different here that would merit a sequel? A lot, actually.

First off are the missions, which are much better than the first four in terms of theme and setpieces. There are five on disc this time around, with more added on to free DLC if you are on PC (and paid on Xbox 360...boo Microsoft!). What makes them neat is how they incorporate new things. My favorite is "Hard Rain," a mission that involves going to a gas station out in the boonies on foot and then hoofing it back the way you came. The trick is that on the way out its nice and sunny, and on the way back you are in the middle of a crazy monsoon. You can hardly see a few feet in front of you, can lose your buddies easily, and with the darkness of night it can be very, very bad if you wander off just a little. You've (luckily) seen the whole area going one direction, but going back can be a challenge.

It's little tricks like this that make the missions unique and also add a bit more flavor aside from "go here, kill the horde, leave." They very clearly tried to make each one distinct, and it goes a long way to mix up the formula.

Melee weapons are another new addition

Left 4 Dead 2 also adds a plethora of new weapons, so many that they seem to just be lying around all over the place. If you don't like your infinite shooting pistol (of which there are actually more options now), you can swap it for a handful of melee weapons. Bladed weapons essentially insta-kill most little zombies at close range, meaning you are swapping power for versatility (hint: always get a melee weapon). There are more guns as well, though they still fall into the whole "sniper/shotgun/machine gun" classes. But hey, there's a three burst rifle finally.

The same grenades are here, with a new "puke bomb" that attracts zombies to a spot (or enemy) to get them off your back for a time. You can carry a health kit or a defibrillator, the latter of which can be used to revive completely dead teammates. And in addition to pills you have morphine...er...adrenaline which gives you a smaller health boost but temporary speed and pain resistance.

Essentially they took everybody's complaints about the weapons and addressed them. So yay, more variety in mashing zombies to death. Also, weapon mods like fire bullets or exploding shells are cool. And you'll need them, because of all the new Special Infected.

Seriously, Chargers are the worst.

In Left 4 Dead we only had five Special Infected, so the second game ramps it up by adding two more, and both of them are annoying. The Spitter paints the ground in extremely high-damaging acid, meaning if you are trying to camp corners with your team that'll mess you up pretty quick. But the most annoying one is the Charger, who basically blasts into a group, grabs one of your people, keeps running until you are separated and then slams them into the ground for high damage. So he's essentially the Hunter, only a billion times better and with more life. Annoying.It's worth point out: despite the new weapons, the addition of the new batch of Special Infected (and their substantially higher spawn rates) make this game considerably more difficult than Left 4 Dead. It isn't that overwhelming once you adapt to it, but don't expect to just breeze through the game on super hard difficulties if you've gotten used to Left 4 Dead. There is a a distinct challenge here, and it is welcomed.

Party time!

Lastly, the gore has been ramped up significantly from Left 4 Dead. Where in the first game the most visceral thing you got was a zombie head exploding, in this one they seem to be made of weak play-do or something because every shot takes chunks off of them, blows of limbs, or just rips them apart. Heavy machine guns and explosive ammo only further push this point, blowing them to pieces with long blood trails. It's visceral and satisfying, if a bit demented, so if gore turns you off you might just have to stick with the first game.Vs Mode, which I totally ignored in my Left 4 Dead review for some reason, is back and just as fun as ever. Essentially two groups of four take turns being either the humans or the Special Infected (which zombie you get is randomly generated based on the AI Director). The humans try to see how far they can get to the mid-level Safe House (if they can make it there at all) while the zombies try to work together to incapacitate them all. In Left 4 Dead, the survivors usually could make it, meaning it was a war of damage/points attrition. In Left 4 Dead 2, however, with all the new badass Special Infected a moderately competent zombie team can wipe the survivors off the map before they get very far. It turns into crazy running matches to out-pace the previous team's progress before they got wiped, which makes the Vs a lot faster and more furious.

They also added a new addition: Scavenger mode. Basically the goal is to get a set number of gas cans scattered around the map into a generator before the time runs out. The other team plays as Special Infected trying to ruin your fun, and those game tend to be a lot shorter than a Vs match while being substantially more intense. It's a fun rush and certainly one of the best new additions.

"We have found a Witch, may we burn her?"

Graphically, it still runs in the Source engine, but the new levels of gore make the game seem better designed overall. Sets are with an American South flavor (including swamps, etc.) and feel distinct and more unique than the first game. It still has its trademark sharp corners and flat walls, but for a Source game it looks really good and has a great deal of style.Sound design is also top notch, though this batch of survivors isn't nearly as memorable as the previous one. I liked Nick and Ellis quite a bit, but Coach was just boring and Rochelle is no Zoey. In fact, Rochelle hardly ever says anything interesting, which makes me wonder if they even bothered trying with her character.

Boom, headshot.

As it stands, Left 4 Dead 2 improves on Left 4 Dead in nearly every possible way. In addition, if you have the PC version Valve ported nearly all the Left 4 Dead maps over to Left 4 Dead 2, meaning you can play your favorites from the first game with the improved features. While it still has a few core problems the original had (the biggest one being you have to play this game with friends to have the best time), there is enough improved here to make it the preferred game if you have to pick just one. Even with no Francis. Who is the best character.Luckily, if you are a PC gamer you don't really have to choose. Usually these two go on sale on Steam in pairs (or are packed together in a Valve complete pack) and I've seen it where you can get both games for $10. These are excellent co-op games and fun zombie blasters, so grab your friends and get shooting in the deep South together.

Four out of five stars.

Happy intestines day!

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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