I think my favourite bits of Left4Dead were its moments of tranquillity that came between the bouts of carnage. The brief periods of time where you were grabbing ammo, healing team mates, swapping weapons and preparing for the horde you knew was coming. Every one of those moments felt like the climax of a great zombie film and even the fact that it happened so often never seemed to make them feel repetitive. Problem was that despite these moments of brilliance, I always felt that the game was lacking in content, depth and variety. Left4Dead 2 brings all three to the table along with a mountain of dismembered bloodied zombie corpses.
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The first thing you will notice when you boot up the game is how much new stuff is in there. Compared to the rather spartan offerings of its prequel (when it was released anyway), this game is full of new game types. Even the core gameplay has received some major tweaks. Melee weapons are in and they open up a whole new branch of tactics. Earlier on when a bunch of infected ganged up on you, your best bet was to shove them back and keep firing until you had to reload. It made for some tense gameplay, but it could also rack up the frustration pretty fast if you got surrounded from all sides. Replace your pistols with a Katana (or a chainsaw for the psychopath in you) and you will relish the times you get surrounded if only for the carnage that’s about to follow. And the comical value of smacking a tank with a frying pan never ever gets old.
Amongst other additions to core gameplay are the new special infected. The spitter, jockey, charger etc all have their own unique attacks and require specific strategies to deal with. Also thrown into the mix are the other infected that aren’t as “special” as the special infected but unique in their own way (zombie clowns anyone?). There is also a larger variety in weapons (boomer bile that can be thrown around, for example) and equipment (incendiary rounds, shock paddles, laser sights, etc) this time around. Combine that with the AI director who can now change things like weather, lighting and even level pathways around at random and you are pretty much guaranteed that no two playthroughs of any level will be the same. Admittedly this was the case with Left4Dead as well, but this time with the number of special infected, weapons and equipment all getting a significant boost, it no longer seems like a gimmicky sales pitch but an actual comment on the gameplay.
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The centre piece of the whole game is still the campaign mode. Comprising of five different scenarios, it plays out over a variety of levels, each with its unique setting and challenges. For example, in one level finding dry land to fight on is a priority whilst in another staying together while a storm rages around you becomes the main challenge. There is some fiendishly good level design at work here as well. Most of the levels are fairly large and have multiple routes through them and the game guides you around them masterfully. Sometimes it can be in the not so subtle use of a green light to signify your exit point, while at other times, it will funnel you towards a particular place by using enemies to herd you. Most of the time, you will be too busy trying to survive to notice this, but when you do step back and look at the big picture, you will see that its typical Valve genius at work.
In the unlikely scenario that you do get bored with the campaign, there is a lot of other stuff to mess around with. Survival is back and once again it pits you against wave after wave of the undead while you try to stay alive. Again (like the rest of the game), it’s playable across more maps than you could in the previous game. Versus mode is back as well and it plays out much as it did in Left4Dead. What makes it a massive improvement over the prequel though is the number of new infected that you can play as. In fact, the only negative thing I can say about Versus mode is that playing as the infected is way too much fun so often it feels like playing as survivors is something you have to put up with to get to the good stuff.
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Scavenger mode (my personal favourite) is a new addition and it plays like a combination of Survival and Versus modes. One group of players tries to scavenge gas cans to fill up a car/generator while the other group plays as the infected and tries to stop them. It’s fiendishly addictive and a total blast to play if you have a full roster of 8 players. Unlike Versus mode, Scavenge is a blast to play regardless of what character you are playing (survivor or the infected) as.
Another new game type is Realism mode. It’s the campaign mode with a few critical changes. The HUD outlines for weapons and allies have been disabled, respawns are off, your character gets knocked down all too easily and the zombies take very little damage from your weapons unless you nail a headshot. So now every encounter is a tense fight for survival and every fight you scrape through alive is a victory in itself. It’s brutally tough, totally unforgiving and amazingly rewarding. Its a great diversion if you get tired of playing the campaign in the old way and want to put a fresh twist on it, but due to its difficulty curve, it requires steady team work and communication (even more than the game normally does). All in all, there is enough content here to keep you busy well into the next year.
Next page: Console vs PC comparison and IVG Verdict