PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
Valve Corporation
PUBLISHER: Valve Corporation

Valve surprised a lot of people with the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2, coming just one year after the amazing success of the first game. The company was just not known for rushing out a game like that, having supported their previous titles for years and years, usually with free updates. Useless boycotts were started, and controversies also arose over the graphic content of the game. Germany is receiving a censored version, and Australia isn’t getting one at all. Was this any reception for a followup to one of the greatest games of last year?

It turns out that Left 4 Dead 2 was necessary. There were just too many ideas and concepts that the designers couldn’t fit into the first game, and they manage to make an already incredible experience even better.

That’s right. Left 4 Dead 2 is better than the original in almost every single way. Say goodbye to your loved ones.
Left 4 Dead Down South.

Rather than play through four different standalone campaigns like the original there’s an overreaching story over the whole game. You’ll follow the travels of four individuals, from their introduction in Dead Center to their eventual escape in The Parish, from Savannah to New Orleans. Each of the five campaignsl ends with a big event that finds our protagonists getting a ride of some sort, and the next episode picks up after it inevitably goes bad. It’s just sad that we only get one incredible cinematic (this opening one) and that the game just leaves us hanging in many ways.

But it’s all about the ride, after all. The locations allow the game to work in a ton of Katrina references (there are many mentions to “CEDA”, a group which failed help people in their time of need) and each campaign is completely different than the others, offering new experiences in every single case.

CHUDTIP- Meet Coach, Nick, Ellis and Rochelle. Now get ready to rely on them.

The characters are almost as fun as the original four but due to Ellis’ loudmouth nature it seems like he gets more time to show off his personality. Still, hearing the other three tell him to shut up at the beginning of every mission never gets old. Just as with the last game there’s tons of dialogue to guarantee things always stay fresh and you’ll start to enjoy the company of these people as you try to survive in this terrifying new world.
The game plays exactly like Left 4 Dead (what did you think?), but there are plenty of new additions that completely change up the gameplay.

The most obvious are three new boss creatures, each one designed to completely much up your strategy. Jockeys are small and weak but they’re dangerous once they jump onto someone. When they do, they ride around on their shoulders clawing at them while the survivor stumbles around, being led into various dangers. Trying to shoot them off often isn’t the best idea, as you’ll hit your friend as well, but don’t get it off quickly enough and the Jockey’s likely to lead you off a roof, or into the path of Spitter acid.

CHUDTIP- Some smart modder will make his warning music the Marvel Vs. Capcom theme…

Oh, the spitters. These horrible beasts are some of the most dangerous in the game, a long range fighter like the Smoker but one that spits gobs of goo that splash on the ground and horribly burn anything it hits. The goo stays for a few seconds and will truly mess anyone up who falls in it, or gets caught in a corner. It will make sure that you can’t camp anywhere and in the worst cases will temporarily split you up from you friends.
And then there’s the Charger. First described as a mini-tank, it’s actually a lot worse. This thing will come running at you with incredible speed, catching all but those with the fastest reflexes off guard and grabbing them instantly. If there’s nothing in the way the Charger will keep running with you until it hits something, separating you from your friends as it smashes you into the ground and walls repeatedly. The Charger can break up groups of survivors easily, sending you all flying.

CHUDTIP- There’s an achievement for killing one mid-charge with a melee weapon. Good damn luck.

Then of course there are the original boss infected, Smokers and Boomers and Hunters and Witches and Tanks, and they all seem to play very nicely together and work as a team. You’ll frequently face groups of them at the same time, and the witch now travels around weeping, usually walking right near areas that you have to pass. On top of these there are also the uncommon infected, level-specific zombies that can resist fire with hazmat suits, splatter you with mud in the swamp, or even show up wearing bulletproof armor in Louisiana.

So yes, the game is tough. Even on Normal difficulty certain campaigns and levels (can you say Rollercoaster?) will absolutely destroy you if you’re not careful and working as a team. Now there is much more of a reason for you to explore every single room on the way, as not only are there tons more items to be found but with all of these creatures going after you- you’re going to need it. But you’ve got some new tricks up your sleeve, as well.

The melee weapons add a lot to the experience and have a great feel to them. They take up the place of your pistol slot and are much better for smaller groups of enemies. There are ten in total, everything from a cricket bat to a electric guitar, and they each have various reaches and speeds. For example the katana doesn’t do as much damage but it has a long reach, whereas the machete will lop off heads at arm’s length with ease. There’s also a chainsaw that is an absolute livesaver if you get stuck in a horde. You can simply run through everything recreating that infamous scene in Dead Alive, until the gas runs out, that is. There’s a limited amount of gas in the chainsaw but it’s for a reason- you simply wouldn’t use any other weapon if it had unlimited ammo. It’s that much of a beast, and best saved up for big moments.

There are another ten new guns as well- new shotguns, uzis and rifles, as well as a grenade launcher. That’s one dangerous weapon to wield, because you can easily injure yourself and your teammates, but there’s nothing like taking out a horde with one shot.

CHUDTIP- Look around the gunshop to get an idea of the various strengths and weaknesses of each weapon.

Besides the weapons there also adrenaline shots that take place of your pain pills slot, which can be used to speed up your running speed and halve the time of performing actions (like reviving incapped survivors or hitting a switch), as well as make it harder for the horde to get a hand on you and hold you in place. There’s also a defibrillator that lets you revive a dead teammate, but will take up your all-important health pack slot.

The levels themselves also change up the gameplay, with one addition in particular making the game more frantic and fun than ever. That’s the  “Gauntlet event” which you might have experienced in the demo. During these moments you generally have to hit a switch, much like before fighting off an oncoming horde, but rather than camp out and fight off waves of enemies you must push straight through them to get to another switch. Generally it’s to turn off something that’s making a whole lot of noise (like an alarm or a carousel), and will keep attracting enemy after enemy as long as it stays on. This makes for some incredibly frantic moments as you try to push forward and hope that your friends are doing the same. Turning back is generally a bad idea in these moments because the waves just don’t relent, so it frequently becomes a every-man-for-himself scenario if your team doesn’t stay together. Adrenaline shots are useful as hell for these parts.

I can’t say enough good things about this game. Every single campaign is memorable and unique, each offering up different challenges and scenery. You’ll travel through a carnival’s Tunnel of Love and run through a witch-laden sugar mill. You’ll try to get through a impound lot full of cars without tripping an alarm and slowly trudge through a swamp. There are so many standout moments that it’s tough to pick a favorite, and as much fun as the original game was it has absolutely nothing on this one.

CHUDTIP- Want to laugh? Go here and see how many gamers who boycotted L4D2 are playing it right now.

While the engine is certainly starting to show its age they’ve made some massive upgrades in the graphics department. The most obvious improvement is how much more gory it is- you can blow or chop off pretty much any chunk out of the zombies. Forget simple dismemberment- you can blow a hole through a zombie’s stomach with a shotgun, tear off a chunk of scalp with a crowbar. Guts spill out, ribcages and bones pop out from ghastly wounds. Pipebombs no longer produce red mist, as mangled bodies fly high into the air. Piles of corpses on the ground only make the scene even more gruesome. So yeah, don’t worry about the sunlight making things less scary.

The lighting and environmental effects are a whole other things. There’s nothing like wandering through a smoke-filled burning hotel, or walking to a river in the middle of the most ferocious storm you’ve ever seen. Over the course of a campaign you’ll see the sun go down or up, the weather change and affect your gameplay. You really have no idea what you’re in for.

CHUDTIP- Play this sucker in the dark.

The music is just as important as ever. The game’s always been about the musical cues and you’ll soon learn the new ones for the boss zombies, clueing you in on when one’s approaching. Each level gives you regional-specific changes on the main themes, and they all work beautifully to change up the feeling.

Not only does the game come with five campaigns, it’s got Versus mode (where you’ll get to see how much fun the new infected are) and Survival mode right out of the box, as well as the new Scavenge mode. This one is briefly featured in one of the campaigns, and has teams trying to keep a generator running by filling it with gas. You’ll run around trying to grab gas cans that are littered around the area while the opposing team tries to stop you and then you’ll switch sides. It’s frantic and fun and guaranteed to be a mode that you play for hours and hours.

CHUDTIP- For levels with multiple levels, it’s smart to throw gas cans down to waiting teammates.

Yeah, so there’s just a little bit of replay value. Think about
how much you played the original Left 4 Dead? Then imagine that there’s
now more (and better!) campaigns, versus mode, scavenge mode, survival mode, and the absolutely ridiculous Realism mode, in which no items or friends are highlighted and zombies only go down with a headshot. Then cry because there’s just not enough
time in the day.

Valve has done it again. Left 4 Dead 2 is heads and shoulders above the first, and it might be difficult to go back after this. It’s a compelling, frantic experience that will shut up naysayers and without a doubt please fans. If they could crank out a game of this quality every single year, with this many upgrades, I don’t know how anyone could possibly complain.

9.8 out of 10