The Digest: Alright, fine… I’ll put down my controller long enough to type a review…
Today was a prevalent day for Xbox 360 owners, showing us the release of two heavy-hitting sequels. Assassin’s Creed 2 was launched, the follow up to the ever-popular and ever-repetitive Crusade action game. Hopes were high that the sequel would retain the joyous elements of the first title, while fixing the things that made it a tedious punch in the face after a few hours.
But alas, I am poor, so I am only here to comment about the other big-time release for today: Left 4 Dead 2.
Against a long-running boycott and plenty of dissatisfied fans, the zombie shooting sequel hit shelves today just around a year after the launch of the first game. While there are tons of gamers out there who never thought they got their money’s worth with the first game, I say “meh,” and am happy to get more of something I enjoy. Money is extremely tight for me, but I’m not high and mighty enough to whine about feeling short changed. Nobody got their money out of Turok, Perfect Dark Zero, Soldier of Fortune Payback, King Kong, or hundreds of other games, either. Then again, nobody bought those games. Regardless, people only complained because Left 4 Dead was a big deal, and because it’s made by Valve – a company with historically high standards for pleasing their community.
But enough about that crap. It’s done and over with, and the sequel is here. UPS dropped it off at around noon today, and I just got up to take a break seven hours later.
THE FACT SHEET
RELEASE DATE: November 17, 2009
ESRB RATING: “M” for Mature
Set in the zombie apocalypse, Left 4 Dead™ 2 (L4D2) is the highly anticipated sequel to the award-winning Left 4 Dead, the #1 co-op game of 2008.
This co-operative action horror FPS takes you and your friends through the cities, swamps and cemeteries of the Deep South, from Savannah to New Orleans across five expansive campaigns.
You’ll play as one of four new survivors armed with a wide and devastating array of classic and upgraded weapons. In addition to firearms, you’ll also get a chance to take out some aggression on infected with a variety of carnage-creating melee weapons, from chainsaws to axes and even the deadly frying pan.
You’ll be putting these weapons to the test against (or playing as in Versus) three horrific and formidable new Special Infected. You’ll also encounter five new “uncommon” common infected, including the terrifying Mudmen.
- Next generation co-op action gaming from the makers of Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress and Counter-Strike.
- Over 20 new weapons & items headlined by over 10 melee weapons – axe, chainsaw, frying pan, baseball bat – allow you to get up close with the zombies
- New survivors. New story. New dialogue.
- Five expansive campaigns for co-operative, Versus and Survival game modes.
- An all new multiplayer mode.
- Uncommon common infected. Each of the five new campaigns contains at least one new “uncommon common” zombies which are exclusive to that campaign.
- AI Director 2.0: Advanced technology dubbed “The AI Director” drove L4D’s unique gameplay – customizing enemy population, effects, and music, based upon the players’ performance. L4D 2 features “The AI Director 2.0” which expands the Director’s ability to customize level layout, world objects, weather, and lighting to reflect different times of day.
- Stats, rankings, and awards system drives collaborative play
- Support for split screen play (Xbox 360 version only)
Straight up, an even better game.
I went ahead and said it right up front – Left 4 Dead 2 is an even better game than the first. While some elements are the same, there are plenty of improvements, and nothing took a step backward. To me, that means it’s the champion. Let’s take a look at each element individually, since otherwise I’ll get confused, start rambling, and leave things out.
Story and characters: As we all knew going in, L4D2 takes place in the deep south. You have a new cast of four characters – Ellis (a mechanic), Nick (a fancy gambler/conman), Rochelle (a newscaster) and Coach (um, a coach). They are each a joy, their dialogues are hilarious and otherwise they have no bearing on how you play the game. As far as story goes, it’s essentially the same as the first. You are a handful of people with immunity to the infection, and you play through each area to seek rescue from the zombie apocalypse. Nothing wrong with that.
Level design: If you thought traversing through dark woods and shooting up the interior of an airport were fun in L4D, these levels are going to blow you away. The first level, Dead Center, takes you through a mall and feels a lot like the interiors of the first game. Dark Carnival, the second level, is where it all gets unique, pitting you in a creepy zombie-ridden amusement park, complete with clowns you can rifle butt in the face to hear a humorous honking sound. Swamp Fever is next, and as you might assume, it travels through a swamp. The fourth level, Hard Rain, is a brilliant design that moves through a small town plagued by a massive flooding downpour. I’ll get to what makes it so clever in a second. Finally, The Parish, my personal favorite level, moves through a downtown Louisiana area and ends with an epic survival battle across a drawbridge.
Not only are these levels enhanced by more interesting locales, but there are elements to them that did not exist in the first game. For example, the final stage survival battle during Dead Center doesn’t just have you holding out for rescue, but searching 8 cans of gas that you pour into a car gas tank, creating your own means of escape. The Parish’s survival battle on the drawbridge has you moving forward the entire time, hopping over cars, jumping gaps, all the while fighting off an endless, no-break horde of zombies and special infected.
Other levels function differently altogether. Early this morning, I read a L4D2 review on Kotaku before it even arrived at my house. The author spoke highly of the Hard Rain section, not only for its brilliant visual effects, but its creative design. The first few stages have you moving forward to get some diesel fuel, while the remaining stages have you retracing your steps back to the boat on which you arrived. During your journey, night turns to day, flash flood rainstorms occur that make it nearly impossible to see anything but what’s right in front of you, and the atmosphere is truly terrifying. It’s really something.
One thing L4D2’s level designs do well is raise the question… do people in Lousiana really have this much plastic furniture outside their homes? Piles of automatic weapons on the kitchen table and bathtubs full of molotov cocktails, sure, but jeez…
Weapons: Yes, there are melee weapons. Nightsticks, axes, machetes, paddle bats, frying pans, chainsaws, shovels and katanas. They are awesome, though do serve their purposes better as a last resort when you’re out of ammo. You can also wield magnum pistols as backups instead of a melee weapon if you prefer. Not all melee weapons are available on every level, which keeps things fresh.
There are also more guns, like the grenade launcher, which make things fun.
Infected characters: All the previous special infected exist, with the addition of a few more. The Spitter is a grotesque beast that shoots toxic sludge all over the floor, and it hurts like hell. The enemy is easy to take down, but the attack will take you down just as quick. The Charger is a tank-like beast that runs into you and starts slapping you on the ground like uncooked bacon. He also goes down quick. A third new infected, The Jockey, jumps on your shoulders and rides you around while claw-slapping you in the face. He’s pretty useless and your team will shoot him off before he causes too much damage. They’re more there to force you to walk into swarms of infected or other dangers.
The Witch has also changed. She’ll be there in daylight, and she doesn’t sit still. She moves around, crying, and sometimes there are many of them on a single stage. In fact, during the Hard Rain sequence, one of the stages has dozens of them.
Add to all that the new “uncommon infected” and you’ve got quite a number of foes to tackle. These are regular infected folks who have some bearing on the level you’re in. For instance, in Dark Carnival, you want to kill the clowns quickly because they’ll rally up more zombies to follow them. In The Parish, there are infected riot cops who are wearing armor, forcing you to shoot or melee them in the back in order to take them down.
Sound: The sound is simply amazing. On score, they took all the original melodies and tunes of L4D and made them south-ified. It’s a treat to listen to and it’s very effective at setting the mood. The effects meld well with whatever is playing music-wise. My favorite bit is during The Parish, where you trigger a horde by moving a parade float. The result is you shooting hundreds of zombies in a courtyard to the tune of “The Saints Go Marching In.”
The Director: To sum this up, I will post what the Wikipedia entry about the game says about the game’s director. It’s the truth, and tells you how it works better than I could rephrase it:
As in the first game an artificial intelligence system called the A.I. Director drives gameplay by procedurally spawning enemies, weapons and items based on the players’ performance. In Left 4 Dead 2, the Director has been improved to encourage more participation by players, forcing players through difficult gauntlets to reach the extraction point. It will also have the ability to alter elements of the level such as placement of walls, level layout, lighting, and weather conditions, making each play session unique. The Director will now reward players for taking longer or more difficult paths through each episode by providing more useful equipment, such as incendiary ammo, along these riskier paths.
The AI: This is one of the things I was hoping would see more improvement than it did. Not too many people play the game on single player anyway, which may be why Valve didn’t put as much effort into changing the AI, but it would have been nice for those times you don’t feel like playing with real humans. While the AI characters still have ridiculously good aim, they still won’t throw explosive items, and they do have a tendency to not keep up. If you wander too far ahead, you’ll lose them, and in this game, you’re going to need them… which leads me to my next point.
Difficulty: Left 4 Dead 2 is definitely harder than the first. With increased special infected and more complex level designs, you’ll find yourself dying more frequently. To me, this is a good thing, because L4D was a cakewalk after a few playthroughs and even a modestly skilled player could put away a sequence in 30-40 minutes. Fortunately, the difficulty ramps up with the quality on this sequel.
Multiplayer Modes: You know, the whole game is multiplayer, but of course there are modes outside of the story that are included on the disc. Survival mode, released as DLC for the first title, is built into this package. Also added is the new Scavenge mode, which is a capture the flag-ish mode that has survivors finding gas cans to fill up a vehicle, and infected trying to stop them. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, strategic, and a welcome addition to story modes.
Versus mode has also had its scoring revamped to make play more even. In the first game, one team would usually win by a remarkable margin. It’s not so this time around, making Versus mode a little more competitive.
Other new tools: There aren’t just new weapons and melee items, but other goodies as well. Take adrenaline shots for example! Despite not having a magic marker or John Travolta handy, you can inject yourself with adrenaline that gives you an up in your speed, shooting, reloading, and reviving. Not only that, my friends, but you can find defibrillator units littered across the landscape that you can hold instead of a medpack. With these, you can revive a dead buddy on the spot so you don’t have to wait for him or her to reappear in a random closet.
Oh, and don’t forget about the bottles of boomer bile you can pick up for your explosives slot. Toss one of these at a horde of zombies and zombies will start attacking their brethren, just the way they attack you when you’ve been the recipient of a Boomer puke load.
Conclusion: Chances are if you didn’t like L4D, or are a die-hard believer that you didn’t get your money’s worth with the first title, you probably won’t invest in this. However, L4D2 is definitely worth the price tag, especially with the promise of DLC someday. It’s got all the elements that the first game should have had. Truly, it’s great fun, and I recommend you join me on XBL so we can show those zombies some southern hospitality together.
|- Lots of added elements, weapons, tools, enemies
– Amazing, dynamic level design ensures it’s never the same game twice
– Always impressive Valve multiplayer gaming
|- Still occasionally weak AI who won’t throw explosives|
Single Player: 8/10 | Multi-Player: 10/10