Just when you think the world’s population is starting to recover from yet another zombie pandemic, a different one breaks out and resets the population to a select few. In Valve’s sequel, survival rests on four individuals whose main goals are to reach safety, and beat the crap out of anything that stands in their way.
With a bunch of new weapons, five new maps, and additional monsters, zombie season just got that much more interesting. While this year’s zombie title has seen a lot of additional content, the main issue still stands: is Left 4 Dead 2 a vast enough improvement over last year’s title to warrant a full retail release? You’ll have to read on to find out.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, let me catch you up to speed regarding this game’s recent controversy: Valve’s push to release a sequel has been met with harsh criticism. Whether it is fans boycotting the game or Australia’s censorship laws, Valve has endured throughout this process, and I have to give them credit for their diligence and patience. With that being said, Left 4 Dead 2 is an amazing game, but simply saying the game is amazing is avoiding the question: is this game worth its value?
While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the game so far, I’m a bit torn on the subject. On its exterior, L4D2 has seen many new features, but, at the same time, it all could have been presented as DLC or as an expansion at a fraction of the price. While the sequel transfers some of the bugs and glitches of the original, the developers have addressed many of the issues by finding new ways to prolong the experience.
For example, on Hard Rain (one of five stages) it’s incredibly clever; Valve has used the environment to alter a player’s strategy. Deep puddles drastically slow a player’s pace, so, in response, it’s in your benefit to move from rooftop to rooftop and scale along planks to avoid death. Similarly, at various moments, players will encounter a harsh storm that makes communication nearly impossible. In those moments, you have to pay extra attention to where your teammates are and have a close eye on your surroundings.
Aside from the environment, the characters have been given personalities that stand out a bit more. While little is known about their back stories, based on their in-game conversations, quips, and comments, players are presented with characters who are charming and charismatic. Depending on the level, each of the characters have some sort of knowledge about the setting. In Dead Center, Coach and Ellis idolize Jimmy Gibbs Jr., a legendary stock car driver. Their banter on the subject is quite hilarious, despite being in the middle of a zombie massacre.
While the characters are livelier, essentially it is the same people from the previous game, just with different appearances and voices. Incorporating natural advantages and disadvantages would have added much more value, but, unfortunately, there are none to be seen. For example, since Coach is the biggest of the group, having him move at a slower pace, but able to take more damage would have been a good idea. It’s the lack of new gameplay mechanics that make the game feel almost exactly the same.
To help dim that feeling, the developers didn’t slouch in the weapon department. Aside from new shotguns, sub machine guns, sniper rifles and pistols, the inclusion of melee weapons has really changed the way you play. While you will still rely heavily on guns, there is something very thrilling about running around with a ninja sword, decapitating zombies and seeing the blood splatter shoot up on your screen. Not to mention, mowing down a line of baddies with a chainsaw is one of the most gleeful experiences in any zombie game ever made.
Some of the more notable additions are the three new Special Infected. Initially, I really didn’t care for the additional bosses too much, but after trying them out in Versus, I quickly realized how much value they add. For example, with the Jockey, being able to jump on the survivors and direct them away from the group adds new strategies, as well with the Spitter and Charger. Most impressive is that the new bosses and their abilities don’t overlap any of the previous five: they’re all very unique. Similarly, the inclusion of five Uncommon Infected adds a bit of variety to the game as well.
To keep the gameplay challenging, the developers have varied the way you escape from a level. While barricading yourself in an area and waiting for help to arrive still exists in a few of the maps, Valve has implemented new structures to the formula in Parish and Dead Center (two of the campaigns). For example, in one level you have to run across a bridge in order to reach safety. All the while, players have to fight through a constant stream of infected. This was something unexpected, and it makes replaying those levels much more enjoyable.
Graphically, the game still maintains its visual appeal from the original. While players are able to traverse through completely new settings, there really isn’t anything visual that makes this title stand out from its predecessor.
Similarly, while the gameplay is a bit more difficult, and there are new weapons and bosses, the mechanics operate exactly like the original. Using the tools at hand, you have to traverse from level to level in order to survive.
This is really where I have my biggest qualms with the game. Even though there is an incredible amount of new content, and the game is just as exciting and thrilling as its predecessor, there isn’t anything revolutionarily about Left 4 Dead 2 that couldn’t have been added as DLC or released as an expansion to the original. In conclusion, as a title apart from the series, this is a fantastic game, and you’ll be missing out on a great experience if you decline to buy it, but at the same time, it’s really hard to warrant a full price on a sequel when just about everything feels like it could have been added to the original to sustain its appeal.
Players will still get stuck in random places, and it can be daunting finding a good server. While the two new modes (Realism and Scavenge) have their place in the game, there isn’t much substance behind them.
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The addition of the three Special Infected and five Uncommon Infected makes the game much more challenging and fun. Similarly, mowing down zombies by whatever means necessary never gets old.
The comical banter between the characters, the squeaky noises of the Clown zombies, the musical queues, the slicing through common infected flesh: all give off many different sensations.
You’ll easily play the five different campaigns a boat load of times. As well, Versus is as fun as ever, especially with the new Special Infected.
While Left 4 Dead 2 is a fantastic game that delivers an incredible experience, many of the new features just feel like additional content that could have made the original even better.
James Pinnell (Left 4 Dead 2 AU):
It’s not possible to let this one go without a stern slap on the wrist for Valve, for what can only be described as a dismal effort. Due to a late and surprising rejection to Left 4 Dead 2′s classification attempt this year, Valve decided to submit a heavily censored version to the ratings board as an alternative if a subsequent ratings board review failed. Well, the review failed; and so did the game.
What tens of thousands of Australians received is nothing short of dismal. It’s likely that Valve/EA were working against a publisher deadline, and thus decided to make a rush job of the edit, removing almost all references of gore from the title. Fiery Zombies? Gone. Wound detail? Gone. Dead zombie bodies? Gone. It’s got to be noted that most of this was included in the original, which makes me believe that Valve really didn’t bother to use any finesse in this edit.
But I haven’t even talked about the bugs. The ragdoll physics have been pushed to almost zany proportions; zombies almost take off into space after they’ve been shot or blown up. They also, strangely, seem to “fade to black” after they are killed. In some cases, grenades or bullets seem to hit early, in one almost comically bad experience, zombies “blew up” before a grenade actually detonated.
The game is no longer fun. There’s no shock value, no sense of dread or panic. This spectacularly bad AU version is nothing more then a PG, B-movie style attempt at a game that will probably be ignored by Valve in future patches. If there has ever been more of a need for an R-rating, then LFD2 AU is a classic example of it. That said, Valve took the decidedly low road in this particular situation, and they will lose thousands of fans in the process. This should have not been released.
(The review score was tabulated purely on the content of the main “non-AU” uncensored version.)