So, I held off from buying L4D2 for quite a while. I like Valve, but I didn't really like Left 4 Dead and so held off from picking up L4D2 until last week, when 'the Passing' came out and it was on sale. Left 4 Dead 1, to me, felt unfinished. The weapons were all very bland, the campaigns repetitive and the characters wooden. It lacked that Valve charm that made their other games (that's Half-Life, Portal etc.) truly great. Those games were engaging, exciting, funny - whereas Left 4 Dead seemed a little less colourful by comparison. The world of Half-Life and Portal is so immersive and contains so much backstory - it's a genuinely interesting place to be. Left 4 Dead didn't have this, although admittedly it had very little in the way of story at all (and that's fine!), but it still seemed to take something away from the game.
Luckily, Valve seems to have banished the worries people had for Left 4 Dead 2 - namely, that it was too quick for a sequel (see Valve Time). With the exception of Rochelle, who, like Zoey, feels like a token gesture, the characters are far more engaging, funny and generally likeable. Ellis, for example, comes up with some brilliant lines detailing his life before the apocalypse (see here). This fleshes out the world a bit more and the fact that all the campaigns follow on from each other helps out with the previously lacking backstory.
Gameplaywise, Left 4 Dead 2 Manchester United 1 (*ahem* ripped off ZP joke) is very similar to Left 4 Dead the first. There are zombies. You kill them with guns and, now, frying pans. That about wraps it up for story, too. That isn't important, however. This is a game that knows its purpose - to have fun. And it does this very well. Controls are tight and balanced - there's no lag on your input. Its very easy to turn, reload, melee a zombie and get more health all at once and it all feels smooth.
The major addition to this edition is melee weapons. They're pretty much insta-kill on any zombie except the witch and the tank in normal, which can feel slightly overpowered, but it isn't gamebreaking. This isn't such a problem in difficulties above normal and on Versus and Scavenge modes, since the special zombies in these modes have more health. They're great fun to use and most of them make a satisfying thunk when they hit.
The special zombies, in case you don't know, are zombies with special powers. There's the Smoker, which constricts a survivor, the Hunter, which pins a survivor, the Boomer, which vomits on the survivors and attracts the common infected and the Tank, who, as the name suggests, is pretty much a tank. The new SZ in this edition are the Spitter, who spits acid at the survivors, the Charger, who charges at the survivors and can start pounding one of them into the ground and the Jockey, who can jump onto a survivor and ride them into danger. These new zombies feel like natural additions to the infection and they're all just as fun to play as ever.
There are 5 new campaigns to play: Dead Center, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, Hard Rain and The Parish, plus the new 'The Passing' campaign from the DLC. Dead Center, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever and The Parish all involve working through the levels to rescue. I could describe all the campaigns in minute detail, but instead I'm going to focus on just one: Hard Rain.
In this campaign, you start next to your escape route and venture through 2 levels to find petrol cans. Once you've picked them up, you have to go back through the same levels, but there's a twist: the rain's been pouring and the whole area is flooded. It adds a brilliant twist to the standard Left 4 Dead gameplay and is my personal favourite campaign.
The best way to experience Left 4 Dead 2 is in the online mode. There are 4 survivors, even in single player and they are essential to your survival, saving you from SZ and the like. However, this feature is a bit broken, at least on my computer. The server browser is poor, the system often will only find 1 or 2 games (when there are about 17000 players online, bear in mind that each campaign only requires 4 players) and it takes several minutes to connect and load a game. Once you get into a game, it's brilliant fun but it's so difficult getting into a game, sometimes it isn't worth the effort. Admittedly, it was worse on the first Left 4 Dead on Xbox, where it takes me, consistently, almost 15 minutes to start the game, join a campaign and wait for enough players to join.
To sum up: Left 4 Dead 2 feels like the game the original should have been. Everything about it is better: characters, weapon variety and the amount of content. The only con is the online service, but I think that may be my problem more than the game's.
If you enjoyed the first Left 4 Dead, you have no reason not to buy this game. If you found the first game good but somewhat lacking, this sequel should change your mind. If you're on the fence about the co-op gameplay, don't be. Its an excellent way to play a game and I can guarantee you'll enjoy it.
Next time: probably Alan Wake actually, I don't know when that'll be though. If I can get a review for a game out sooner, I will, but don't hold your breath.
To buy Left4Dead 2 from Amazon.co.uk, go here.
To buy Left4Dead 2 from Amazon.co.uk, go here.