As I write this review, I find myself having a kind of bittersweet notion concerning Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2. Bittersweet in the fact that this game makes me wish that the original Left 4 Dead didn’t exist; and I’ll explain why.
With all the controversy surrounding Left 4 Dead 2 and its release exactly one year after the original, you can’t help but wonder: Is this game worth it? Is it polished? Does it contain enough content to be its own stand-alone release rather than be seen as an expansion to the original Left 4 Dead? The answer — Yes, but at the cost of a very saddening insight.
Valve kinda made me feel a bit like a chump with this release simply because, after all is said and done, I feel they tricked me into purchasing a Left 4 Dead 2 beta at full retail price last year. This 2.0 version is a much more fully realized game with far superior campaigns, weapons, enemies, and just generally better everything. It’s what the original Left 4 Dead should have been, provided it pushed the release date back and had an extra year of development. All in all, this means it’s nothing really new in terms of game design from the first, and only boasts the addition of new content. In my eyes, this is hardly worthy of being a second release in a franchise; and it makes me very sad that it actually is.
So, with that being said, what makes this one so much better than the first? Throwing melee weapons in the mix is certainly a very welcome component to the game and will make your play through all the more brutal. That’s definitely a good start. It’s very satisfying when you hack off a few limbs with an axe or katana and see all the amusing blood splatter. The frying pan, much like the guitar as well, is a very humorous novelty weapon that can be very delightful to hear clang upside the skulls of the infected. Of course, there are many more melee weapons to be found such as a baseball bat, machete, police baton, and so on; but the real winner of the melee contest is the chainsaw. Being able to march through an oncoming horde with the chainsaw flailing about is definitely a sight to behold.
But it’s not just the melee weapons that round out this newly expanded arsenal. You’ll definitely see some familiar hardware this time around, along with their upgraded equivalents including a better rate of fire and much higher damage. The Hunting Rifle you will of course recognize, but the much burlier Sniper Rifle, which is also semi-automatic and contains a 30-shot clip, is double the size and acts more like an elephant gun with its sheer strength. When it comes to shotguns, there are two weak standards in the Pump Shotgun and Chrome Shotgun with two different fully automatic versions that maintain similar fire rates. Although, the Combat Shotgun appears to have a one up on the Tactical Shotgun in brute force, it also looks much cooler. The trusty M-16 Assault Rifle has also acquired a couple new cousins with the addition of the AK-47, which has a massive amount of power, but a slower fire rate. The Combat Rifle which is a bit weaker, but shoots in a much more controlled 3-round burst, has the highest capacity 60 round mag; as opposed to the M-16 and Combat Rifle with 50 and 40 round mags, respectively. There is also a new .50 caliber Desert Cobra pistol that packs one hell of a punch, but unlike the standard 9mm, cannot be duel-wielded. The Sub-Machine gun is also standard armament for Left 4 Dead, but this time gets a new buddy in the Silenced Sub-Machine Gun which has a great rate of fire and can mow zombies down with the best of ‘em.
There are now also two new ammo types available, if the gun roster alone wasn’t enough. Incendiary ammo is a cool new toy that can light your enemy ablaze with a single shot, leaving them to wander around screaming until they burn to a cinder. Explosive ammo will cause enemies to burst into pieces like you just shot a propane tank around them, leaving other nearby zombies stunned in the process. These new ammunition types are limited in quantity and can take a few seconds to deploy for you and your companions.
With all these new items added to the weapon vault, it makes for far more advanced gameplay. You gain so much more in your tactics while playing the campaign and the various online modes that, once you get acquainted with them, you’ll have a very hard time living without them. But in all reality, none of these additions are really all that far advanced enough to sell me on purchasing a whole new chapter in the Left 4 Dead saga. Sure, they make the game much more fun to play both online and off, but what else ya got Valve? New special infected? Ok, I’ll bite (no pun intended).
The three new special infected definitely add a whole new element in terms of gameplay. The Jockey, who is named appropriately because of his ability to ride you like a horse, can be absolutely infuriating at times when he steers you directly into the closest form of danger possible. Whether it’s a raging fire caused by exploded gas tanks, a pool of acid left behind by the Spitter, or even just taking you off of a nearby ledge; he will be the bane of your existence, and will laugh manically while doing so. The Spitter, who can launch pools of acidic bile that will drop your health in seconds flat, can be very dangerous if you’re caught by any of the other special infected, and will leave you incapacitated in no time. Last but not least, The Charger, who looks like a mini tank, will attack you like a bowling ball knocking over pins; and will grab the nearest survivor to pummel endlessly into the concrete beneath his feet, a dangerous accessory to an already gruesome list of formidable foes. The old special infected, the Hunter, Boomer, Smoker, and the Tank are still present as well. Playing all these characters, along with the new additions, in a multiplayer match is definitely a blast, as they seem like they were all created with the thought of teamwork for domination in mind. If you can get your online companions to work together properly as the infected, you can be pretty hard to beat in a well-played Scavenge or Versus mode.
Now, Left 4 Dead had the Versus mode, although a bit incomplete right out of the box; as it was only really set up for two of the four campaigns and the Survival mode, albeit a bit late, with the addition of the Survival Pack downloadable content. Left 4 Dead 2 has all of that including a brand new mode. Scavenge, which is another Versus type mode, pits the survivors and the infected against each other in a round-robin style match while the opposing teams take turns in a best two out of three sets. The object, during your time as the survivors, is to collect as many gas tanks as possible for your generator at the starting area on the map, while the infected does everything in its power to prevent it. For such a simple game formula, this is by far one of the most fun game modes, as it requires a lot of teamwork and communication on everyone’s part and can lead to some pretty intense moments.