With the original Left 4 Dead, Valve moved away from their beloved Half Life series to craft a zombie shooter with a heavy emphasis on teamwork. The 2009 sequel set its sights on refining the concept; with new enemies, weapons and items.
As with the first game, there is no concrete story to speak of here; Left 4 Dead 2 once again follows four survivors consisting of Coach, Nick, Ellis and Rochelle as they make their way to safety following a zombie outbreak. Five separate campaigns make up the bulk of the game which can be played either alone or with four players; the latter is the best way to play but the teammate AI in single-player is competent enough to make offline play a viable option. In Left 4 Dead 2 you’ll be making your way from one safe-house to the next, dispatching the various undead types and finding ways to get ways to get past obstacles such as a crashed plane or carnival ride. It all culminates in a final showdown as the four survivors must wait for rescue or rush to it as the infected close in. The five campaigns offer several methods of replayability, including realism which makes the game substantially more difficult and most notably the AI director; the director, just like the original will adjust the nature of the levels based on how the players are doing and the difficulty settings. Skilled players will find less health packs in the levels while those who are less confident will have fewer special infected to contend with. These modifications carry over to the game’s other modes which include survival; a basic ‘’last as long as possible mode’’, and scavenge where the survivors must find petrol cans to power a generator. The best of these is verses which plays like a standard campaign only with four players assigned to infected classes who aim to kill the survivors as quickly as possible. Left 4 Dead 2 offers a huge amount of content, bolstered even further by the original game’s maps being added to the roster, not to mention the thousands of user generated mods available through Steam Workshop.
The first person shooting gameplay when playing as the survivors in Left 4 Dead 2 is as simple as it comes and the game is immediately accessible for it; left clicking fires the equipped weapon while right clicking knocks the infected back for easier kills; holding right-clicking makes use of items such as health packs which are also easy to use on both teammates and yourself. New additions to the arsenal include melee weapons which can be used sparingly but put the player at risk in close quarters and boomer bile which can be used to distract the undead. The new weapons are matched by several enemies who make their blood-soaked debut including the charger who pounds survivors into the ground, the jockey who clings to survivors and finally the spitter who chucks pools of acid. While the survivor gameplay is easy to get into, mastering the different abilities of the undead is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating experience; expect to be put down many times by survivors of both human and AI kind in online matches. The same applies to players who are willing to work together; teammates who support each other as survivors or coordinate their attacks as the infected can easily dominate proceedings. These additions make Left 4 Dead 2 a marked update from the first, but even with the AI director switching up enemy and item placement, the core gameplay itself doesn’t provide much variation. It’s always going to be about mowing down the undead along with resource collecting and final stands only in different environments for each scenario. L4D2’s gameplay remains fun and highly enjoyable but at the same time you can’t help but wish there was more variety in how the game plays out.
The visuals in Left 4 Dead 2 set themselves apart from the original by adding a much brighter colour pallet to the environments; from the shopping malls of Savannah to the streets of Louisiana the campaigns also pack more variety than the gloomy streets and farms from the first game. The gore as ever looks suitably grotesque as the infected get decapitated and butchered in all sorts of nasty ways. The weapons at the survivor’s disposal look and sound suitably viscous; in fact the audio is easily the game’s greatest strength where technical presentation is concerned. The groans of the infected create a tense mood and certain cues can also alert you to incoming danger. The music is appropriately filled with much more Southern Rock and the character voice-overs are once again great, bringing good dimensions to their personalities. Left 4 Dead 2’s presentation is solid, and once again makes good use of the Source engine across the board.
Despite remaining mostly the same and becoming a little repetitive after a while, Left 4 Dead 2 is another great game under Valve’s belt and stands out as one of the best cooperative shooters around.