Product Type: Electronic Arts PC games
Newest Review: ... not still be there. The combat is quite straightforward, you pick a melee weapon or a firearm (you've always got a backup pistol) and begin... more
So much for repopulating the earth...
Left 4 Dead 2 (PC)
Member Name: badhandshakes
Left 4 Dead 2 (PC)
Advantages: Immensely enjoyable, fast-paced, zombie-killing action
Disadvantages: Dim survivor AI
L4D2 sees four new survivors battle through five campaigns of zombie-infested New Orleans, in much a similar manner to the original game: Nick (the gambler), Rochelle (the tv producer), Coach (the coach), and Ellis (the mechanic) are trapped in imaginative new scenarios, all of which involve an ultimate goal of escape by helicopter, ferry, aeroplane...
Once again, the gameplay focuses on co-operation- any attempts to scoot ahead with a auto-shotty will be short-lived if you get dragged away from the group by a malicious Charger zombie, or pounced by a Hunter. Instead, you stick together, watching each other's backs, strategising best ways to clear an area, pressing slowly forward, rescuing each other if incapped, and at times, if the situation calls for it, reviving each other with defibrillators. Staying en masse isn't necessarily a guarantee for a survival though, especially if you've got some half-witted bots in your party: as your reaction times have to be sharp, particularly on anything above Normal difficulty. As in the first game, an AI "director" monitors each individual player's stress level, generating health pick-ups, weapon drops, and ammo packs at his own will, and deciding when that uber-tough Tank zombie's going to maul your entire team: making the whole experience dramatic and infinitely replayable.
The addition of the new melee weapons adds a new dimension to zombie combat, as well- if you run out of ammo for your beefy hunting rifle or rapid firing machine gun , you'll have to be prepared to get in there with hack and slash style confrontation- using anything that you can pick up as an impromptu weapon- an axe, a guitar, a frying pan.
The levels have a lot more variety in them in general- while L4D had a tendency to feel horribly linear after a few playthroughs, the sequel has multiple routes through various areas, lots more ways to approach crescendo moments, and some diversity in mini-missions. The first surreal obstacle you'll find yourselves up against, after edging along the balcony of a flaming hotel to escape into the hazy sunlight of the outside world, is the deranged owner of a gun shop who will blow up a clear path for you to escape on to the next level if you retrieve him a crate of cola from a nearby supermarket. Of course, carrying cola means you can't carry a weapon, and the alarmed supermarket door attracts the unwanted attentions of several hundred bloodthirsty undead, so nothing's ever as easy as it seems...
Aside from these brief asides into story, the game remains largely plotless, letting you concentrate on the job at hand; there are no cut-scenes, no other living survivors seen in the flesh, and the landscape takes charge of the main storytelling.
The changes in time of day and weather across the campaigns also feel refreshing compared to the constant twilight of L4D1: although Valve originally promised dynamically changing levels and atmosphere effects, which unsurprisingly failed to materialise the in the final product, as a static gameworld, it works, and doesn't get boring quickly.
Alongside dramatic maps, faster paced and more exciting gameplay, well-observed humour, and a million other subtle differences that make the game even better than L4D the first, the biggest noticeable difference to the casual observer is the hyped-up gore. Graphically, you'll have blood smattered all over your screen after a few wild katana executions, and physics-wise, a pipe bomb will spawn flailing disembodied limbs and giblets across the horizon, rather than the less sophisticated "explode into dust" technique of Left 4 Dead 1 bombs. The gore is frankly the best I've ever seen in a PC zombie game, with added gross-out factors like the way you can now shot-gun a hole through the centre of a zombie's stomach, and HE KEEPS RUNNING, dripping intestines, and splintered bone, and leaving a nice viewhole for you to aim through. And that's another thing: where previously zombies would sprint toward you like demented wind-up toys, now they duck and weave, in a much more realistic and terrifying way, shedding limbs as you blow them off, glowing eyes focussed on you....
It's fair to say that the horror's been knocked up a tad, the new boss zombies are even more grotesque and horrifying than previously, and the game plays a hell of a lot more hardcore; you've got zombies in bulletproof vests, freakish swamp-dwelling mud-zombies that claw at your eyes, deformed toothy spitting-acid zombies... but true to the genre, the humour's up a few notches as well; particularly in the Dead Carnival campaign. The tongue-in-cheek-ness of the zombie clowns, the carnival mini-games where you can use your pistols to shoot fluffy elephants down from podiums, blowing up zombies with fireworks, and a brilliant sequence where you have to run down a rollercoaster track, pursued by hordes of undead, never feel forced or over-the-top, but just wonderfully, darkly, comic.
All this snazzed-up gore has, however, come at the expense of a few rogue graphical glitches in the PC version: for example, one brilliantly cinematic and well-thought out epic campaign "Hard Rain" sees our hapless survivors battling through a town and then into the countryside, to find petrol, then returning the same-trodden paths, fuel-on-back. About half way through the campaign, a truly biblical storm breaks out, and you wade through your last few levels knee-deep in floods, with lightning illuminating the rapidly darkening sky, the landscape becoming very difficult to navigate, and generally an excellent horror-move atmosphere prevails. However, that's only if you're playing with all your graphics set on "High".
If you're like me, and aren't gaming on an uber-monster rig of a PC, but rather a reliable laptop with a nifty graphics card, and can play "Medium" graphics comfortably, but High is a bit of a long-shot: there IS no rain. The characters will enthusiastically rant "Wow, when will this rain stop?" much to your bemusement, because you won't see a DROP of rain. It's a very surreal experience, and you can't help thinking that considering how integral the water is to the campaign, Valve could've found a way round making it a basic texture at lower graphical qualities, rather than just switching it off entirely. Still, it's not game-ruining.
A special mention has to go to the ultimate adrenaline-filled finale of the game- The Bridge. It seems simple- there's a dilapidated traffic bridge leading from your safe room to the helicopter that's going to take you all to safety: but the bridge is an epic monstrosity littered with crashed cars, shards of concrete, and a million zombies who aren't going to let you leave without a fight. Your heart'll be pumping as you make the split-second decisions as to whether to go back for your team-mates left incapped by falling boulders, or whether to just make a last-ditch dash for the end yourself, and risk stumbling at the final hurdle...
Aside from straight-forward, follow-the-maps, kill-the-zombies, campaign mode, there are also several other multiplay game-modes chucked in; such as scavenge, which is just a drawn out version of the first campaign's finale, and survival (stolen from a L4D dlc). These alternative play-methods feel a bit tacked on, for me, and are ultimately un-memorable.
Although "versus" mode (where you play as the zombies, and try to hinder the survivor's chances of making it to the next safe-room) has definitely been improved on with the addition of new special infected to play as, (from the last game, when it was frankly pretty dull), I still don't see it as a serious game-mode. It comes into its own far more when you're playing with a team of friends- I had one very good LAN party with an epic 8-player versus session that had us pretty much in screeches of hysterics by the end: but since then have only ever played it online, and have only ever come across multitudinous griefers, failtastic noobs, and arsey "srs" gamers, none of whom are any good company at all.
There's also "Realism" which can be added on to any campaign gameplay mode, which creates a much more dark and difficult experience, and is nigh-on in possible without your friends in the room with you, or a full set of working microphones. In this mode, there are no respawns, no hints, no outlines around your team (so if you get split up, you're probably lost forever), the zombies are resistant to non-headshot bullets, and the whole experience becomes tense, and genuinely scary.
Overall, a strong survival horror game that doesn't take itself too seriously, and manages to improve on the successes of the original.
Summary: Definitely a 5 star game for fans of the genre.
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