Left 4 Dead 2, the greatest cooperative game on Xbox Live? It just may be. (Xbox 360)
When Left 4 Dead came out last year, we loved it. In fact, it’s one of our highest rated games, with 9.8/10 (9/10 on the 360). When I assigned that rating, we had a serious staff discussion about awarding a game so highly, even though other publications throw out perfect scores like Easter eggs. But I maintained that, while the console version wasn’t as good as on the PC, both were tremendous games.
Between the two, L4D2 is a stunning improvement. Everything you saw in the first game returns in the second, from the weapons to the controls, on through the graphics and even the sounds. Whether it’s the belching of a Boomer or how the M16 can tear through a horde of zombies with deadly precision, all the good has transferred over.
This is no expansion pack. The entire campaign is completely new: new characters, new maps, new story…the ‘new’ keeps going and going, so far to include the suggested improvements of many reviewers and gamers, myself included. There are more special zombies, more weapons, more items, more gameplay modes, which are much better too.
Meet the team: Rochelle, Nick, Coach and Ellis. Coach and Ellis have the personality, Nick the witty one-liners, and Rochelle...eh, not so much.
Shoot off zombie's arms and they'll keep going. Just be sure they're down, but don't waste precious ammo.
Let’s talk about guns. In L4D, there're five guns and a pistol. In L4D2, there're 13 guns in total, including the six from the original. There are two SMG's and two pump-action shotguns, with wide and thin spreads. Two new assault rifles, a slower shooting AK47 and a three-burst shot rifle that are much more common than the military grade M16. Players start with the standard pistol and can exchange it for the more powerful Magnum, also with unlimited ammo. A new military grade sniper rifle also makes its way in, and the auto shotgun returns. There’s a weapon for everyone, even a grenade launcher.
On the 360, you may find the pistol difficult to use even with auto-aim, or if you are more experienced you may want to use the more powerful weapons. Melee weapons, eight in total, are the perfect way to smash in some zombie heads, get a few stragglers off your back, and conserve ammo. My experience with melee weapons has been overwhelmingly positive; if there is any more fun to be had in L4D, its L4D2’s introduction of melee weapons.
New zombie types plague the south, so be careful! Swat, radiation-suit and mud-men don't go down easy.
Afraid of clowns? You may get your revenge, but clowns are a special zombie. They'll beat you down and honk their nose to boot.
Specialty items and weapons don’t stop there. Along with Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs is Boomer bile, the gunk that Boomers spit that attracts zombie hordes. Now you can throw it at unsuspecting zombies and watch them fight each other. It’s especially useful against Tanks, or as a distraction. Pain pills are now complemented with adrenaline shots, which only gives a 15 health point boost, but increases speed, which is great for getting through a horde very quickly. Finally, health packs can be left behind for a defibrillator, which, as you might have guessed, brings the dead back to life. Sure, you can wait it out for players to come back magically through a door after a few minutes, or you can save them right away.
Four new characters bring the world alive, just as we saw in L4D. They each have their own backstory and tons of dialog, which you’ll be lucky to hear half of in a month’s time. It’s official, they’re just as good, if not better, as the city folk we controlled just a year ago. Rochelle is the weak link, and doesn't seem the type to survive a zombie outbreak, but Ellis and Coach make up for her lack of character.
Along with the different demeanor of the characters is the environment. Marshlands, swamps, shanty-towns, and even a horrible storm that will make your eyes water. The environments aren’t incredible like Uncharted 2, but they’re alive and real. Every level has something unique to offer, and not a single map was wasted. The music is also directly in tune with the scenery, even the main menu song, which is identical to L4D except that it’s played on a ukulele. Brilliantly done overall.
Like L4D, the plot isn’t thick: four survivors miss the last transport out of the city and have to find another way out, fighting off the zombies in between them and survival. Unlike L4D, L4D2 is one continuous story, where each of the five levels connect. One level’s transition is questionable, but remember, this game isn’t about the story, it’s about the gameplay.
And gameplay is done perfectly. With enough guns to actually have options, melee weapons to inspire combat strategies for the individual and for teams, and intense and original situations thanks to the Director, which creates zombie attacks on a large number of unique factors, there’s little that compares to L4D2's cooperative gameplay.
This level is ridiculously hard, and you'll need to work together if you plan on getting across the mile-long bridge.
If you're down and surrounded, that's the perfect opportunity to yell into your mic. Don't worry, nobody will complain.
Indeed, developer Valve went so far as to create a whole new difficulty level called Realism, where, guess what? It’s realistic beyond belief. I can’t recommend it for anyone but the most skilled players, especially on the 360, but it’s a site to behold, being overridden by the smallest horde, or having non-stop attacks, wave after wave.
What brings out the zombies, however, are the special infected, those who are more powerful than your typical mindless pedestrians. The Spitter, Jockey and Charger do exactly as their names imply: spit, ride and charge. The Spitter literally shoots toxic goo, the Jockey jumps on top of players and rides them while slowly damaging them, and the Charger…well, the Charger will tackle you like a football player, then repeatedly slam you into the ground until it’s killed.
With the Tank, Boomer, Hunter and Smoker, these special infected not only wreak havoc and induce incredibly unique situations, they are exceptionally fun in competitive modes (the Witch also returns, and is once again not playable). Competitive modes, like in L4D, are ridiculously fun, and in L4D2 there’s no shortage of interesting games to play. With all the new weapons and special infected, and thus employable strategies, hours of fun puts it lightly.
LEFT 4 DEAD 2 VERDICT
Whichever you prefer, playing versus with friends or cooperatively against the improved Director, there is almost no fault to Left 4 Dead 2. Yes, Rochelle turned out to be a pretty boring character, and yes, don’t expect to enjoy playing it alone with bots. This is not a single player game. On the Xbox 360, there were some framerate drops, and harder difficulties slow down more often because of the larger number of enemies. But if there’s a better multiplayer game than Left 4 Dead 2, I’ve yet to see it.