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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Left 4 Dead 2 (9.5/10)

"How to write a Left 4 Dead 2 Review" by Simon. Let’s see.. take my review of Left 4 Dead; add a new cast of characters, an actual cohesive story, the inclusion of melee weapons, and the introduction of some new 'Super Zombies.' Let simmer over five all new chapters and…. Mmmmmmm that’s good Zombie Apocalypse!

Left 4 Dead 2 follows four new survivors as they battle the undead hordes. They are Ellis, Coach, Rochelle, and Nick. The story is much more focused this time around as the group first meet on top of a hotel where there should have been a helicopter rescue in Savannah, Georgia. But as the choppers disappear into the distance without them, the four decide to stick together, a sort of strength in numbers approach. The new goal is to make it to a local mall, where CEDA (Civil Emergency Defense Agency, a not so subtle reference to FEMA and the complete balls up that was the response to Hurricane Katrina), supposedly has another evacuation center. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned.

The new crew, in an ironic twist, must pursue their rescuers. They travel from a carnival theme park, through the dark, dank, and dangerous bayou. Then they must stumble through a torrential downpour, before finally arriving in the 'Big Easy' herself, New Orleans where rescue waits on the far side.

While the first game didn’t really have a story as such, rather more like cliched zombie movie scenarios, L4D2 has a coherent plot that stretches across five chapters. The set ups are still the same (working your way through various safehouses until a last stand where you must survive until rescue arrives), but now there is a narrative connecting them… although it is pretty thin. Still, it’s nice to see progression towards a goal if nothing else.

What really impresses me about the new levels though is the cleverness of the design. ‘Dark Carnival’ takes you through a theme park complete with zombie clowns with squeaky shoes that draw other undead walkers towards him. You can even play a version of 'Whack-a-Mole,' or try your marksmanship in a shooting gallery. It's a good laugh if nothing else. ‘Hard Rain’ takes you through a small town to get to a gas station on the far side so you can get fuel for your boat. Once you get there, you have to turn around and come back and that’s when the deluge starts. As the rain inundates the surrounding things look completely different, making everything you just went through virtually unrecognizable. It’s very smart design, and those are just two examples... there are other ideas in the other levels that I won’t give away here.

The gameplay is pretty much the same with a couple of noticeable additions. The most obvious one is that you can now use melee weapons in combat. Why would you want to risk blood splatter for close quarters combat? Because it’s bloody fun, that’s why! You can still carry a rifle or shotgun as your primary weapon, but if you take a melee weapon it replaces your pistol (the one with infinite ammo that was your back up in the first game). There are lots of options for zombie bashing, everything from crowbars and fire axes to billy clubs, samurai swords, guitars and even frying pans. Again, allowing the zombie menace to get close enough to actually use these weapons is a bit risky, but lopping off undead heads is extremely satisfying. And besides, if you spent much time with the first game, you know you’ll end up getting cornered by seething masses of zombies, so now you have the option to blindly hack your way out!

There are also some new ‘Super Zombies' in L4D2. Along with the Boomer, Hunter, Smoker, Tank, and Witch, you must now face the Spitter, Charger, and Jockey. Spitters will… wait for it… spit acidic goo at your team from distance. This is sort of an "Area of Effect" attack, whereby a swath of ground gets covered. Step into the goo and you get hurt. Oh, and if you do manage to take out a Spitter still be wary, when they go down they dissolve into another hazardous puddle. The Jockey, as his name implies, is a short, quick little bugger that will jump on his victims shoulders and ‘ride’ him away from the group. The Charger will sprint at the survivors at high speed, bowling them all out of the way. But whoever he ‘catches’ in his over-sized fist will be slammed into the ground repeatedly, knocking out large chunks of health, until the rest of the team regain their feet and take him down.

There are a few other additions I’ll mention quickly. The first is the inclusion of the defibrillator. You can now bring back dead teammates immediately rather than waiting for them to respawn in some distant closet. There is also an adrenaline shot you can use instead of pain pills. You get a temporary health boost that diminishes a little quicker than the pills, but it also grants you some extra speed.

Added to the pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails is the new "Boomer Bile" grenade, a flask of nastiness you can chuck at your enemies. Just like when a Boomer pukes on you, nearby zombies will be drawn to whatever the bile touches. Tossing one at an onrushing Tank so the zombies mobbed him instead of me brought a huge smile to my face.

There is no appreciable improvement over the original Left 4 Dead in either the graphics or sound departments. The graphics are still perfectly functional if not all that impressive. The sound work is once again centered on the cries of the undead and the sound cues of the ‘Super Zombies.’ You’d better learn the new ones quick! The Chargers grunting roar or the Jockey’s demonic laugh will soon have you calling out warnings to your teammates. Oh, and stick around in each safe house. The survivors banter back and forth much more this time. Ellis' stories in particular are pretty funny.

Again I must state that I don't play online multiplayer. But of all the great titles that would compete for my time, L4D2 would be at the top the list. I love the idea of playing as the zombies! In addition to the ‘Versus’ and ‘Survival’ modes, there is now a ‘Scavenger’ mode as well where you have to hunt for gas cans to keep generators going (if you play as the humans) or keep them from their task (if you are playing as the zombies).

While it doesn’t take many radical leaps forward, Left 4 Dead 2 is more of the same zombie mayhem you enjoyed so much the first time around with just enough added to make it worth the full price for admission… at least I think so. More of the same, in this case, simply means more zombie killing fun! But with the inclusion of melee weapons and the other additions, it gives you just enough variety to make everything seem fresh again. Once again, it’s best played with a friend. At my house we have played each of these maps over and over again, and this is still the go-to series for late night drunken fun!


Score = 9.5 / 10

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