Left 4 Dead was a surprise success of 2008, and only one year after the original had been released the second is hitting shelves. This has caused much controversy, as the original game's main criticism was that the game was too short, had too little content and ‘promises’ made by the developers would rectify this by free game updates.
Controversy and much boycotting aside, Left 4 Dead 2 is very similar in all areas to the original, so fans will feel right at home, only that home has a new family and has been moved to a different village. From the get-go you have a choice of Campaign, Versus, Survival and Scavenge. These modes then have their fill of options such as playing Campaign on realism mode (which means you die; a lot) or simply selecting your chapter/map.
From the issue of length raised for the original it is a surprise to see whilst there are more campaigns / chapters; there is not an overwhelming amount more. And before long the same old feeling of repetition starts to sink in. It’s surprising that the original level offerings were not ported off to nearly double the game's length in terms of levels whilst adding the nostalgia factor. There are five campaigns, each with four or five chapters. Each one will last you around an hour to complete at a fair difficulty level.
The main campaign works as you would expect, simply enough you are a group of four survivors and need to get to safety. This translates into progressing through several varied environments getting from safe house A to safe house B. On your way you will need to overcome obstacles, such as opening doors that set off alarms and require you to defend from large infected invasions or easily enough grabbing a few cokes from a supermarket for your local gun dealer. The levels are very linear (something which is a surprise to see stay the same) so progression is straight forward allowing you to focus on the surroundings and prepare for any special infected that will try to wipe out your party.
The special infected numbers have been increased this time around. The jockey is fast and can pounce onto enemies, allowing you to control their movements and push them off their path. This I found most fun, whilst it was difficult due to having low health, if you managed it properly a team can be in ruins due to your contributions. The charger, as the name suggests, has you charging into the survivors, then picking one up and slamming them into the ground, resulting in mass damage. This is especially fun on levels which have open windows or large balconies as the charger will run the survivor right to their death. Lastly is the spitter, which is the least enjoyable from my experiences. Like the boomer from the first game you spit, this time though it’s acid which leaves a large patch under the survivors forcing them to move or face a large dose of damage if they stay on it. These new infected, sitting alongside the original line-up, provide a good variation of threat.
More additions come in the form of more guns to choose from, melee weapons, new side items (adrenaline to provide a quick boost, defibrillator kit to revive a dead team-mate and even a bile grenade to kill an infected in style). The melee weapons are quite an emphasis this time around, which provide a nice advantage in a pinch and can quickly clear the way. It is also nice to see knocking back with your gun is no longer largely overpowered and now has a cooldown if you use it too much.
It is worth mentioning that whilst the game runs on an engine that is 5 years old now, it still looks fantastic and leaves little to complain about. Sure it’s not going to raise the bar, but it never lets you down with fantastic lighting, shadows, clean environments and character models throughout. One campaign (Heavy Rain, would you believe it) shows great visual effects, producing a great downpour to fight through. Audio is also great, and whilst you don’t get much in the way of voice work, due to the lacking story, the one liners that are delivered from time to time are well voiced and hilarious in writing.
A disclaimer should be placed on the game's box, warning that if you have no friends you should not buy this game (yes you, sat right there). The AI is appalling for the survivors and has caused much frustration at times, be it them refusing to get into the safe room at the end of a fight, or trying to take on a tank head to head. Whilst the AI controlled special infected is less annoying, they rarely take advantage of opportune moments and instead come at you whenever they are available. It would be nice to say the game comes to life when you bring real living humans into the game, but that’s typically far from the truth. During my heavy playing of Left4Dead 2 online, I found one person who played as a team and provided an enjoyable game. The rest of the ‘random players’ to either join your own team or the oppositions will frustrate and rage even the calmest man. Everything from team killing as soon as the game starts, rage quitting when they are losing, running off on their own and dying or stealing all the resources for themselves. Playing with strangers has never been more frustrating and annoying.
Obviously getting 8 friends for a game is going to be difficult for most, but simply having a friend by your side, or a team of 4, will allow you to ignore the other individuals failing to perform. Whilst you will have the often trouble with rage quitters that end the match early, and connection issues (lag, lag and more lag), when you finally get into a good game Left4Dead 2 is one of the most enjoyable experiences you will find online today; and it is an overwhelming shame that so much is trying to block your view of it.
Versus is the games main highlight and looks to have the most players. Allowing two teams of four you basically run through the campaigns as either the survivors or infected trying to stop them. You will find that upon joining a new game the majority that connect jump to the infected side, as this is without a doubt more enjoyable. Whilst surviving is fun, nothing quite equals sitting in hiding as a special infected waiting for the moment to strike, or even better striking in sync as a team. When running through the same old campaigns get old you can jump into Scavenger, which has you taking turns once again, but this time to collect gas from a small environment and bringing it to a single source, be it a car or a pump to escape the level.
Lastly if you want to challenge yourself and a group of friends hopefully then you can jump into survival which will put your teamwork to the test as the game throws everything it can at you. The mode is evil and will try to have you dead before the first few minutes are up.
If you are a fan of the original (and who’s not?) then you will find much enjoyment in the sequel, and whilst many of the game's previous concerns still haven’t been squashed you can only hope that Valve fixes and adds to the game over the coming month... and hope not to see that announcement for Left 4 Dead 3 in November 2010. Newcomers to the series are fine to start off here as story isn’t really a selling point and you will be held by the hand until you are comfortable on your own. If your friends have already shown an interest, you might want to pick up a copy before you are left for dead.