Left 4 Dead 2
In many ways, Valve’s original Left 4 Dead was the epitome of what makes gaming on Xbox Live so great. Set during a zombie apocalypse, the game told the story of four characters thrust together in a desperate struggle to survive against overwhelming odds, presenting a gameplay style demanding use of the central skill a person would need to survive – teamwork. With a rampant fanbase in tow after the success of last year’s smash hit, the sequel rises just one year later in a bid to outdo its predecessor and coerce the boycotters, left irate over Valve’s speedy turnaround, into parting with their cash. It’s just as well then that Left 4 Dead 2 proves itself not only as a competent sequel, but as the game the original should always have been and more.
Left 4 Dead 2 focuses on yet another unlikely team of survivors thrust together during a terrifying pandemic, this time with a slightly more entertaining cast. The banter between them is more interesting on the whole but it won’t matter in the slightest. This game is all about chopping, shooting, clubbing and exploding the undead all to a satisfyingly gruesome array of animations. Proceedings have got a lot more grisly this time around; craniums explode, limbs are torn off, spines are exposed and enemies are literally shredded by gunfire, adding some visceral thrills as you guide your character towards the next safehouse. Left 4 Dead 2 is not for the faint of heart and this extends to the atmosphere, now given a boost thanks to increased variety in stages. You’ll fight your way through some diverse locales from the Dark Carnival complete with creepy clowns to the moody sunset haze of The Parish. As always, such diversity is welcome and while nowhere near as artistically proficient as you’ve seen in other shooters, the levels in Left 4 Dead 2 have been crafted with considerable thought.
As before the chapters, of which there are now 5, are themselves divided into a number of acts which each take roughly fifteen minutes to complete. You’re welcome to play the campaign on your own but it’s important to know that the game will in no way appeal to those refusing to upgrade to an Xbox Live Gold account. Left 4 Dead is all about the multiplayer, watching out for each other and strategising as a team. Those seeking to do their own thing such as play the hero and run ahead will find themselves quickly overwhelmed by the horde, again spawned at random moments thanks to the AI Director. Even an absolute pro will end up zombie food after a selfish run and this is compounded thanks to an increase in difficulty as a whole.
The common zombies are weak but spawn in large numbers and rarely attack unaided. Staples such as the Hunter, Tank and Smoker all make a return but are joined by deadly additions in the Spitter who vomits noxious slime, the Charger who sprints at you pummelling incessantly and the Jockey, the most imaginative of all as he mounts your character, seizing control of your movement. Sound plays a big role in detecting these creatures and serves as an early warning system should one be prowling the area. The song of the Witch is still as eerie as ever and you’ll have to be extra diligent as she wanders the land, sometimes blocking the only route available to progress.
Left 4 Dead 2 also features a surprising variety of new equipment. Melee weapons have been thrown into the mix with axes, frying pans, katanas, machetes, crowbars and even electric guitars all scattered about the stages. There’s also a chainsaw on occasion allowing you to rip through the zombies en mass; just don’t get too attached as this fantastic power-up carries a limited amount of juice. While the game tends to encourage in-your-face tactics with these new weapons, anyone looking to play more strategically can pick up a sniper rifle and lay down some much-needed covering fire. The order of the day here is to play how you like, so long as you play as a team.
Fans of the original will find the excitement bar lifted with occasional moments of panic as the infected pour in on your position. Rather than withstanding the onslaught for a scripted amount of time, moments in the campaign often require a hurried race to flick a switch as waves of the undead engulf the screen. One especially heart-pounding moment requires a cool head as you race along a working roller coaster, pushing your combat and concentration skills to the limit. Acts of panicked clumsiness will likely result in incapacitation and your team may decide to press on until the switch is pulled, leading to a brief moment of respite in which the downed can be revived. These exhilarating moments lend themselves well to the source material, providing the game with some standout thrills to be remembered if you’ve been playing with the aid of friends.
Left 4 Dead 2 features a plethora of modes all of which can be taken online with four people or splitscreen with two. Realism mode does away with the conventional character and item outlines, increasing the odds of getting separated and generally making it easier to die. Survival is available right out of the box this time and is essentially Left 4 Dead 2’s Horde mode, requiring you to hold out for as long as possible against waves of increasingly difficult foes. Versus is standard deathmatch, but with an opposing team made up of special infected strategy becomes vital if you wish to be on the winning side. The special infected are again available to play in new addition Scavenge, which sees survivors collecting a set amount of items while under relentless harassment. These modes feel much more fleshed out than in the original Left 4 Dead, encouraging communication and strategic nous for a welcome alternative to some of the more hackneyed shooters on sale.
Once again, Valve’s zombie romp pushes the envelope in what can be accomplished online with some solid design and a healthy does of variety. Building on what came before it technically and thematically, Left 4 Dead 2 proves itself a thrilling multiplayer experience fans would be foolish to pass up. The sequel may have arrived just a year after the first but the wealth of content and overall refinement means you wouldn’t know to play it. Even so, this latest instalment won’t appeal to all gamers across the board mainly due to a poor campaign when tackled alone. Familiarity plays its part and AI can be problematic but with an extensive community and randomised enemy placement Left 4 Dead 2 provides a slightly different experience every time you play. Get online, grab a chainsaw and prepare to dice with the undead. The apocalypse is here and it’s rarely been this satisfying.
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