Product Type: Electronic Arts Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... their own background and personality. You are a first person shooter accompanied by the rest of the characters as your fellow team mates... more
Zombie apocalypse - Cajun style!
Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360)
Member Name: hogsflesh
Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360)
Advantages: It's an improvement over the first game
Disadvantages: Very few
Valve has controversially released the next instalment of its popular zombie-massacre hit Left 4 Dead only about a year after the original. This infuriated some fans, who felt a new game couldn't possibly contain enough new stuff to make it worth shelling out for, and that any new concepts and missions should have been offered as downloadable content for L4D1.
The beauty of L4D1 is its simplicity. I get very irritated with first-person-shooters where you have to spend time figuring out where to go next (I never really got on with Half-Life 2, Valve's other big hit, for that reason). All you had to do in L4D1 was blast your way through a ton of zombies as you made your way from one safehouse to the next. The danger for a sequel is that it will inevitably make things more complicated, and so may lose what made the original great.
Happily, this isn't the case. Yes, there's a lot of new stuff. Yes, the missions are more complex and show more variety. But they've managed to stay true to the spirit of the original by not making it harder to navigate. It's difficult - new 'special' zombies make the whole thing more challenging - but not in an annoying way. (Unless you're foolish enough to venture into the harder difficulty modes, which are frankly impossible.)
It's set in Georgia and Louisiana at the same time as the first game. The four characters are fine, although Rochelle, the only woman, is a bit personality deficient compared to the guys. The locations contain a nice mix of urban and rural, including fun Southern clichés like swamps, trailer parks and plantations. We get some of the obvious locations we should have had first time round, like a graveyard and (yes!) a shopping mall. The best by far is the deserted fairground.
The zombies aren't actually zombies, they're 'infected'. People got ill and are now attacking everything they see, 28-Days-Later style. As far as anyone knows, they might all get better in a few days, which makes butchering thousands of them funnier somehow. Having a huge mob of them kick you to death is pretty traumatic, though. The zombies still have only one or two body types (still no fatties or midgets), and inevitably the same zombies turn up again and again. But we do now have zombie clowns, which were high on my wishlist for future games. If Left 4 Dead 3 can find room for zombie grannies, bishops and advertising mascots dressed as chickens, I'll be a happy man!
The 'special infected' types from before are all still present and correct. The Witch, once the creepiest of the specials, now wanders around during daylight, which rather reduces her as a threat, both in game and horror terms. The grotesque, bloated, puking Boomers now come in both male and female versions (which means we can picture them having sex. It's surprisingly tender, in my imagination). They've been joined by three new types, of which the giggling, runtish Jockeys are both the silliest and the most satisfying.
The missions have a lot more variety, as I mentioned. The first game's finales were all the same - you'd summon something to rescue you and have to fight off wave after wave of zombies until your rescuer arrived. Fun, but samey. A couple of the finales here are like that, but the game breaks them up with some more imaginative stuff - refuelling a car, fighting your way over a bridge etc. Likewise the 'choke points' - mid-level challenges - now often involve running like hell to try and turn off an alarm before you're completely overrun. As before, the zombies will spawn in different places each time you play, so things never get predictable.
It plays rather neatly with the expectations of anyone who knows the first game well, deliberately dazzling us with how different it is, how much better it is than we expected. And it toys with us relentlessly. Anyone ever get stoned and think 'god, wouldn't it just be so bad if there was, like, a building full of witches'? Anyone ever wake up in a cold sweat thinking 'But what if there was a whole car-yard full of cars with alarms, each of which would summon a fresh horde'? No, me neither - but if you *did*, you won't be disappointed.
That's why I like this more than Modern Warfare 2 - MW2, secure in the knowledge that everyone would buy it anyway, offers up a repeat of the best bits from Modern Warfare 1. That's fine, it's a fun game; but it's not very imaginative. L4D2, as if aware that it had to win back the goodwill of L4D1 fans, has pulled out all the stops and made something that's different enough to be well worth getting, but without changing it into a different game.
The graphics are mostly good, and the daytime settings are surprisingly effective. The zombie sound effects are a bit less silly this time round. It's a lot gorier than the first one, with far more realistic looking wounds when you shotgun a zombie at close range. The corpses hanging off wire fences or bobbing up and down in swamps add a real feeling of horror. Good use is made of smoke and, in one level, a genuinely intense storm, to add confusion and suspense. The music is a Dixiefied version of the creepy jingles and stings from the first game, and works very well. This is an effective horror game.
But it still has a sense of humour. Most of the unlockable achievements revel in bad punnery ('Gnome Chompski' being my favourites). Melee weapons have been introduced; as well as making the game more violent (chopping zombies' legs off with a sword is absolutely as good as you'd want it to be), the guitar and frying pan are presumably there for laughs. I don't think I'll ever get tired of beating zombie clowns to death with a guitar.
As ever, while this is a fun single-player experience, the real fun (and replayability) is online. Fighting through a campaign with three others is great, but playing against another team, with some as the zombies and some as the humans, is still the best. There are various versus modes, but for me the longest - playing through a whole campaign on story mode - is the most rewarding. It's better playing with friends, of course, as then I can swear a lot more, but hey, a stranger's just a friend you haven't met, or something like that. If you can't bond with someone over killing zombies, there's probably no hope for you. The new special infected are fun to play in versus, especially if you can successfully Jockey a player off the edge of a building.
There are a few little glitches in the game at the moment, and the computer AI for the other human characters if you're playing single-player is woeful. Hopefully these small issues will get patched. The online servers are also prone to lag and sometimes randomly boot players off. But these are minor issues that should certainly not stop you from buying this (it's currently about £38 on amazon). I'd say that if you have an Xbox, and are old enough, you need to own this game. If you don't, then the zombies have already won. And no one wants that.
Summary: A better-than-expected sequel