The Left 4 Dead 2 team get ready to rumble in a lift.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t think Left 4 Dead needed a sequel, and yet a copy has made it’s way towards me, and rather like the proverbial zombie crowd, it feels like something I can’t ignore.

If you take Left 4 Dead 2 for what it’s worth – simply a continuation from where the original left off – it may just surprise you, just perhaps not by a massive amount. Given the pedigree of the first game however that could be a good thing.

Better focus on narrative

  • There is a greater emphasis on the myths surrounding the zombie threat this time around. In particular the governments attempt to contain the outbreak and CEDA’s underwhelming solution. Structurally everything feels more tied together right from the opening cutscene. Each scenario continues on from the last making the campaign seem less disjointed. Then there are the little touches in the quieter moments, the insightful survivor graffiti is back and Ellis’ hiliarious stories within the safe room are a welcome addition that add character.
  • This time around the Director AI controlling the infected seems more finely tuned, and able to detect when you’re most vulnerable by calculating a devasting strike. The original did this with mixed success but this game does it with aplomb, requiring all four of you to work together far more than the previous game. As a result Left 4 Dead 2 feels like a tighter, more challenging game. Success hinges on teamwork to an even greater degree, and the new realism mode only extends this.
  • A huge part of this game’s allure is simply the fact that there are new environments to explore, while progress has been made to the mechanic, I don’t think there’s been enough of a leap from the revolution of the Left 4 Dead 1 to warrant such minor improvements in the sequel.
  • It’s difficult to feel as passionately for the this set of survivors as for the original cast, Left 4 Dead’s biggest narrative failing is simply the fact that the zombie scenario simply isn’t as impactful as the first game. Proposed DLC to introduce both casts to one another could bridge this gap as well as adding new gameplay elements.

New gameplay elements

  • The new melee weapons take some getting used to, but are a brilliant addition to the formula of the game, providing a second infinite ammo weapon choice, which requires you to get even more up close and personal with the zombie horde. Some of the weapon choices are exotic, such as the guitar and frying pan, making obvious references to to survival horror staples. Surprisingly once you’ve gotten used to them each melee weapon is extremely useful, allowing you to damage zombies or decapitate them altogether.
  • The new special infected put you on your toes once more. Jockeys ride on your back, and take control of your character pulling you off ledges or into dangerous crowds. The charger is like a mini-tank which smashes you to the ground until saved. Of the three, the spitter is often the most lethal, as it shoots out a wide-reaching acid AOE which can quickly incapacitate you or your team. Then there are the uncommon infected such as riot police and haz-suit zombies which are unique to each area.
  • While the new gore effects upon defeating a horde are impressive, they have lead to problems with censors in some regions which the original game did not suffer from, it’s a great shame that such en entertaining and well designed game has been swept up in such a controversy.
  • The witches are now a force to be reckoned with again, and while it is nice to see them used like a genuine threat. While fun at first, they quickly appear with ridiculous frequency, punctuating certain scenarios making avoiding them extremely difficult. The combination of moving witches and a greater number of devious special infected are a deadly combo, which will either please or infuriate.

The new scenarios

  • The five new areas are a joy to experience and have been soundtracked appropriately with their Southern setting. The best new feature is the fact that they often deviate from the straight forward point A to point B navigation of the first game with difficult areas forcing you to rethink how best to play. All of the levels are genuinely atmospheric, requiring you to avoid areas that will slow you down or reduce your visibility, meaning everyone will have to change their playing style frequently while communicating changes and problems to one another.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 has trickier finales that are a genuine challenge, requiring you to perform a task while defending yourselves. As a result completing one feels like a genuine pleasing achievement. it is no longer a matter of holding out a set amount of time, and escaping by completely fluke, but through sticking together, planning and co-operation.
  • Playing with the character AI often feels like a handicap rather than a help, so try to play with others if at all possible. Even one AI on your team can easily get lost or take too long to help you when incapacitated. The improvements to the Director AI are cheapened by why what is frequently an idiotic computer help.
  • It’s a minor point but why think about changing the Left 4 Dead box art for the UK? While a two fingers sign is indeed an insult in this country (comparable to the middle finger), if you think back to it’s original meaning (to show genuine defiance in the face of adversity) isn’t that completely what the tone of the game is about?
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