In honor of the Halloween holiday, I figured that I would do a more horror-themed game review rather than the scheduled Rock Band 3 release, so you can expect that one later this week. So, for today, I bring you one of the more enjoyable zombie survival games out there as I delve into the apocalyptic story of Left 4 Dead 2!
Title: Left 4 Dead 2
Publisher: Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
Systems: PC, 360
After the strong success of the game Left 4 Dead, and their subsequent DLC, the people down at Valve decided to continue on with this apocalyptic story of humanity with Left 4 Dead 2. L4D2 tells the story of four other survivors in the nightmare that has come about thanks to a new super plague that has effectively brought down almost all society as we know it. Most of the elements found in the first game are still present in L4D2, along with the addition of a few improvements, additional special enemies, and new weapons. L4D2 also has this storyline set in various areas throughout the Deep South, ranging from a Savannah, Georgia mall, to cornfields, to an amusement park, to a swamp, to a New Orleans-esque Parish following the main four characters. Combined with the addition of numerous elements of Downloadable Content and extras, L4D2 looks to continue the winning formula that has made this series so popular.
To begin, the storyline, like in the original, takes place in the aftermath of an apocalyptic outbreak of a virus that not only kills its victims quickly, but also reanimates the corpse into a mutant, zombie-like state that is out for blood and violence on the living. However, instead of taking place in Philadelphia and the surrounding eastern forest areas, L4D2 takes place in the Deep South portion of the United States, and follows the path of four survivors that were basically “Left for Dead” as they just missed catching a helicopter that would have transported them to safety. The four main characters are Nick, a Bostonian con-artist and gambler; Rochelle, a northern television reporter formerly covering a story on the outbreak; Ellis, a talkative, Southern car mechanic and avid NASCAR fan and video game enthusiast; and Coach, a high school football coach with a love for chocolate. The story is told through a number of different chapters, with a couple parts within each chapter, in the style of a survival horror movie. There is also an AI “director” which controls events and item drops throughout the chapters depending on how well the survivors are performing.
The game is geared very much towards cooperation amongst the players, regardless of the game mode selected. In the campaign mode, it pits the four survivors against all AI-controlled enemies, and AI-controlled “special infected”. The survivors need to work together in order to make it past the ordeals set out in front of them as they try to make it to safety. In the versus mode, it pits a team of four human-controlled survivors against the AI-controlled zombie Horde, along with four human-controlled “special infected” enemies, the type of which vary after each special infected death. This requires a lot of strategy and teamwork on both sides, as any disjunction within a team could easily lead to failure for either side. The survivors have the weapons and combined fire can easily take down a lone infected, but alone, a well-timed special infected attack can easily eliminate a lone survivor. There are also numerous specialty game modes which add interesting twists on the gameplay some of which include an “All Chainsaw” mode, where the survivors don’t have any ranged weapons, but all have unlimited chainsaw fuel. There is also another “Realism” game mode, which makes survival a lot more challenging as certain elements are removed from the survivor’s side, such as the highlighting of items on the ground and players behind walls. So, there are quite a few variations on the gameplay to keep things interesting over time.
As stated before, Left 4 Dead 2 follows along with the same format of the previous game, where the survivors need to work together to survive against nigh-impossible odds, and an ever-increasing Horde of zombies out for their blood. Like in L4D, players have a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, along with the inventory slot for one med kit which heals almost all health loss, as well as a slot for one thrown weapon, and a slot for one support item. However, in the 2nd installment, there is the addition and prominence of melee weapons with the likes of a baseball bat, katana, frying pan, and chainsaw making their presence known in the game. These melee weapons, if used, take the slot of the secondary pistol weapon, but offer some very powerful close-range attack power that the pistol lacked in the first game. Along with the addition of twice the number of primary ranged weapons, Left 4 Dead 2 definitely offers more in terms of player survivability than the original. That being said, there is also the addition of a few new types of special infected enemies to go along with all the original specials. Along with the Boomer, Hunter, Smoker, Witch, and Tank, there is the introduction of the Spitter, who spits acid at survivors, the Jockey, which can effectively “ride” a survivor towards hazards, and the Charger, which can ram into survivors and effectively slam them to death. So, with the additional survivability come more ways to get killed, so overall it evens out to keep things challenging and fun.
Left 4 Dead 2 has also been delivering ample downloadable content since its release, as was promised by Valve when the game was announced. The first campaign DLC was the release of The Passing, where the survivors of L4D2 cross paths with the survivors of the first storyline, sans one, whom is revealed during the campaign’s concluding act. This DLC also introduces a new type of uncommon infected enemy known as the “Fallen Survivor”, who drops some rather useful equipment upon death. However, rather than attacking the players, the fallen survivor runs away. There has also been a 2nd major DLC release which covers not only how the original survivors reach that point in time in a campaign called “The Sacrifice”, but also re-releases one of the more popular Left 4 Dead campaigns, No Mercy, all with the weapons and enemies of Left 4 Dead 2. Both these campaigns feature all of the lovable original survivors rather than the new set. The Sacrifice, along with the comic series released in the weeks prior to the DLC, tells the tale of how the original survivors made it to the South, and how one of them had to sacrifice themselves so that the other three could survive. No Mercy is simply a retelling of the first campaign of the original Left 4 Dead.
Overall, the game itself takes the bar set by the first game and raises it by adding a number of desired improvements from the fan base. The addition of the melee weapons add another choice of playing style for the players, and the expansion of the primary weapons add another level of variety to the game itself. Along with the addition of the new special infected enemies, the game remains to be rather well-balanced, and victory is determined by strategic teamwork in the higher difficulties rather than blind spray-and-pray gameplay. So, Left 4 Dead 2 is definitely a nice continuation of an already enjoyable series.
Now let’s get into the numbers.
Storyline: 9/10 – Simple storyline told in a somewhat unique way that isn’t usually seen in many video games. The story itself is simple, as it is just depicting events after an apocalyptic virus outbreak that is turning all humanity into violent, rage-filled zombies. What sets it apart, however, is that it is told in the style of a zombie survival horror film, complete with movie poster loading screens at the start, and movie-style credits at the end. It brings a nice little addition that delivers a somewhat new twist on a tried and true theme.
Graphics: 8.5/10 – Nothing too phenomenal in terms of graphics, unfortunately, but also nothing really bad about them either. It has a lot of gritty hues, and there is the ever-present fog found throughout the game. But, it does depict the areas well enough with the engine used, and it definitely gives the feel of the Deep South. Graphical bugs and glitches do rear their ugly heads on occasion as well, where enemies do have a chance of spawning within a wall or object, and the hit detection can be a bit spotty at times. So, graphics are fine, but nothing too eye-popping overall and there are small glitches on occasion.
Controls & Gameplay: 9/10 – The game does a good job in terms of delivering a competent FPS to the player. The firing controls and item swapping work well and there really aren’t any complaints. The controls work well, and that’s all that can really be asked. In terms of gameplay, the game does offer a lot to do, while keeping the goal rather simple and achievable. The concepts of the enemies are very straightforward, where the roles of each special infected are set, and it is up to the AI or player to utilize them to their full potential using whatever creativity they have. Unfortunately, there are moments of glitches in terms of the actions that may screw things up (a Charger ignoring the wall, and just keeps running rather than slamming and stopping, for example), but for the most part, the gameplay is done well.
Sound & Music: 9/10 – Not much music in terms of a soundtrack, but the voice acting done, and the actual implementation of the available music and sound effects are utilized quite well. The characters do interact with one another as they travel through the story, and it can lead to some entertaining comments and responses. The music cues in the game are also done with some theatrical precision. For example, when there is some form of special infected in the area, and is hiding, there is a musical cue that helps set the atmosphere of suspense, along with a telltale noise given off by said special infected to notify what type is actually hiding somewhere in the shadows. While this may sound simple, it actually is done in such a way that enhances the gameplay itself. There are also special music scores given upon a zombie Horde charge, a Tank attack, or even by hitting a jukebox numerous times. The jukebox is especially fun, as it can play things ranging from the in-game musical band Midnight Riders, to New Orleans Jazz, to “Re: Your Brains” by Jonathan Coulton (which actually leads to a Horde charge). So, while there isn’t much there, what they do have is utilized quite well.
Replayability & Fun: 9.5/10 – This game, like the original, brings about multiple multiplayer campaigns for groups of people to enjoy. The versus mode adds another level of play as it pits groups of players against one another to see who kills who first, and scores teams depending on who makes it farther in the campaign total. Along with the existence of the game mutations, and the dynamic gameplay, Left 4 Dead 2 definitely offers many hours of additional playtime well after the first completion of the game. However, as with most primarily multiplayer games, enjoyment can vary depending upon the group of people that one can play with. While the game does offer a single-player campaign mode, many parts tend to just fell better to play with a group, rather than alone. So, depending on the other players in the game, the fun can vary, but overall, the game still has a lot of staying power in terms of replayability & fun given the multiple game modes, variety of viable playstyles, and additional DLC content.
Overall: 45/50 – 90/100 – A-
Recommendation: Fans of the first game should find a lot of enjoyment in Left 4 Dead 2. The main elements that made the first game fun are still present, and the additions definitely enhance the enjoyable moments of the game. Few things can be as enjoyable as revving up a chainsaw and plowing through a giant horde of zombies, and this game makes it a reality. The story is simple, but is told well, the voice acting and sound effects enhance the experience, and the dynamic AI gives a challenge to all skill levels. But, as stated before, it still depends on how much one enjoys multiplayer. While single player does exist, most of the fun found in this game is when one works with a group of friends to overcome the challenge presented before them. Overall, though, it is a very enjoyable game, and definitely worth a look sometime.