“Left 4 Dead is the new best horror franchise” is an odd thing to say, especially for me. After playing a metric ton of the first game, I was satisfied with it just being another zombie game that hadn’t really reached its potential. When a second game was announced, I figured it was going to play just like the first and be nothing more than a map pack. After playing this sequel for a good 25 hours, I can safely say that Left 4 Dead 2 is far and away a lot more than a map pack. In fact, I would say that Left 4 Dead 2 is probably the most addictive and intense game I’ve played all year.
Left 4 Dead 2 has all the modes from the original, including Survival, but also adds a new Versus type called Scavenge. The campaigns are where most people are going to start and most likely eventually try the other modes. Unlike the first game, Left 4 Dead 2 has five campaigns right from the start. Each has a specific theme and setting making each unique, but each one is definitely longer than any campaign in Left 4 Dead 1.
“Dead Center” takes place mostly in a shopping mall, “Dark Carnival” takes place in an abandoned amusement park with infected clowns and mini-games to play, “Swamp Fever” is as its name suggests: a romp through some swampy terrain complete with zombies that attack from underwater, “Hard Rain” takes place in a small factory town that is flooded by a massive thunderstorm, and “The Parish” is a city in Louisiana complete with a Mardi Gras float and giant bridge at the end. Each one is independent from the other, but all are somewhat connected and explained in the small amount of narrative the game has.
What makes these campaigns unique isn’t just the setting, but also the different trials and actions that the survivors must carry out to complete it. For example, in the finale of Dead Center, you must bring 13 gas cans to a race car to escape the mall, and in The Parish you must run across a giant bridge and try to survive. These new twists on the formula are not only refreshing, but also completely change how the game is traditionally played. In Left 4 Dead 1, you were never challenged like this, wherein you could always stay as a group and complete the tasks. Left 4 Dead 2 practically requires that you split from your group at times which is a stark contrast to the way the original game flowed.
A new arsenal is also at your disposal, and that simply means a ton of new ways to kill the zombie horde. There are new shotguns, new machine guns, and a new revolver, but the most significant addition is the mêlée weaponry. A crowbar, baseball bat, cricket paddle, and more help take out the zombies with ease, and are especially useful in crowds. The most important and unique mêlée weapon is the chainsaw. Not only is it the most deadly mêlée weapon, but it can also run out of fuel so conservation until you’re surrounded by the undead is recommended.
Along the way, you’re going to come across some special infected, and there are some new types to meet. The Spitter spews poisonous goo at the survivors that will quickly incapacitate them if they don’t move out of it, the Charger rams Survivors against walls and pummels them into the ground, and the Jockey takes control of a Survivor and can steer them into further danger. Each of these new special infected also add a new layer of freshness not only in the campaign, but also in versus. In the two versus mode types, these new special infected are playable and make versus a lot more interesting than before.
Versus returns just as it was in the original but with the new special infected types. However, the real new versus mode is Scavenge. In Scavenge, you essentially play the finale of Dead Center over and over at different locations. The survivors are attempting to get gas cans to a generator or car and it’s up to the infected to stop them. A spitter can destroy gas cans and plenty of the other infected types will make the Survivors drop the cans. This mode sounds simple on paper, but I assure you is extremely amusing and fun when you get a team of competent people together.
Also returning from the first game (albeit via a patch) is Survival Mode. This mode pits the Survivors versus an endless horde with a race to see how long they can survive. While the new weapons do help a bit, it’s still as difficult as it originally was. I have to say, I’m not a fan, but if you enjoyed Survival in the original game, you’re going to like it here.
Graphically, Left 4 Dead 2 shows that the source engine still has life in 2009. The lighting is nice, the characters look lifelike and the environments are all graphically different from one another. I used to be hesitant to Valve being insistent on just constantly improving on the source engine, but now I see that this familiar engine allows them to make games easily without having to build a new engine each time. Running on my medium-high PC, I never noticed any slowdown even when there were zombies as far as the eye could see. Easily, the best visual treat is Hard Rain, showcasing a thunderstorm like I’ve never seen. The brilliant sound design from Left 4 Dead is back, with superb voice acting and music that can send chills down your spine.
Comparing the Xbox 360 version to the PC version is difficult because they are the same thing. The only thing I can suggest is to play where your friends are, and with which control style you find more comfortable. I guess there’s also the notion that any future DLC will be free on PC as well. Still, the game is most fun with friends, so pick your poison accordingly.
There isn’t much left to say about Left 4 Dead 2 except that it is an amazing experience that should not be overlooked. I have put in close to 30 hours or so, and will probably gladly put in 30 more. The new Scavenge mode is one of the most addicting and just plain fun modes, especially for being one that I never saw coming. If you even mildly enjoyed Left 4 Dead 1 or any zombie type games at all, you need to go buy Left 4 Dead 2 now. Left 4 Dead 2 really is as good as it could be without over-complicating itself.