STAFF REVIEW of Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360)

Sunday, November 29, 2009.
by Ken Laffrenier

Left 4 Dead 2 Box art There is truly something to be said about spending time with new friends, sharing anecdotes and mindlessly mowing down wave after wave of ever increasing numbers of infected hoards. There's something to be said alright; WTF!

Left 4 Dead 2, Valve's latest offering comes 365 days after its predecessor Left 4 Dead; and what a difference a year makes. Valve is probably best known for it's Half-Life and Team Fortress series of games, both of which have enjoyed a sort of cult following since their initial offering in 1998.

With the release of Left 4 Dead in 2008, I personally, didn't give the game the time it deserved to form a 'positive' opinion of the game play and let's face it, I knew Valve would be out with a refined version within a couple of years. It would seem the developers had the same thoughts in mind because the 2009 offering addresses many of the perceived shortfalls of the first release, in fact, this could be called Left 4 Dead 1.1. There hasn't been the expected gap between releases, nor is there a great amount of new story telling, but there is a real sense that the programmers listened to the gamers and moved beyond just the genre of 'Zombie shooter' to 'action/adventure title'. While the story on its own is intriguing there aren't any new or engaging surprises to enhance the tale.

There is a lot of content in L4D2, let's face it, as one of four players you are in the midst of a new wave judgment day and you have to survive ever increasing onslaughts from the newly infected attackers; there had better be a lot of content or you are simply a human shaped serving dish.

The 'infected' are not the mindless zombies your daddy told you about, yes there are the typical fodder that attack en mass but even these have unique individuals that were infected (apparently there were many individuals working in fire proof suits the day the infection took hold). These attackers are just tenderizer for the more specialized infected:

~Boomer, an overweight fellow with a penchant for projectile vomiting that brings swarms of other infected.
~Charger, this guy has attachment issues and openly charges our heroes causing a lot of panic.
~Hunter, this guy is sneaky, in a past life his skills would have found him spending many days dreaming of a plot line for Deer Hunter 2.
~Jockey, this is the one character that is especially close to gamers hearts, he takes control of our heroes and drives them toward trouble.
~Smoker, this orally fixated infected uses his 'tongue snare' to draw players closer and ensnare them for attack.
~Spitter, this little sweetheart is trouble alive or dead, alive she spits toxic vomit, dead she creates a pool of toxic vomit
~Tank, as gamers, we all knew this guy in high school, he's a brute...his aggressive tendencies make him even more satisfying to take down.
~Witch, I'm relatively certain I dated this one way back when, if you hear her crying, get away as quickly and quietly as possible or incur her wrath.

With the exception of the general infected and the witch, the above 'baddies' are playable characters in the Versus or Scavenge online modes. I strongly encourage experiencing the game through their eyes before taking them on as one of the heroes. Not only to identify weaknesses but also because it is intensely gratifying to experience the unique game play associated with the infected horde.

There are 6 modes of play featuring 4 match types. There is literally something for everyone and every mood. But the soul of the game is in its online modes, and it's here that the game shines. I'm not certain why single player is an option (other than for those 10 360 owners, without online, that just enjoy having a big white paper weight). Each of the game play modes offer its own take on the multiplayer style (including the single player campaign, complete with AI bots), and each of the modes are worthy of being considered.

~Co-op Campaign, play through the story mode; the finale of each of the 5 campaigns will leave your pulse racing
~Survival, your team against seemingly endless waves of infected, keep going till the last man is standing
~Versus, your one of the heroes or one of the unique infected, this is where dynamics really play out; you'll spend most of your replay time here
~Scavenge, again play as heroes or infected but now there is a method to the madness, and a time limit
~Realism, essentially many of the games 'hints' are off, you need to make it through with a heightened reliance on your team
~Single player, this is the same as the co-op but using AI bots, not nearly as satisfying.

Our heroes seem to stumble from one bad situation to the next and propelling them is the desire to see each other succeed which, of itself, is quite humorous. Having to listen to Ellis' Southeastern anecdotes makes you want to send a few bullets to his calves. The characters are a mishmash of the first game installment but the interaction has been improved, you find yourself wanting to give your only health pack to an ailing team mate (of course this is even more evident when the other players are your real friends)

Now for the bad news. There are game play issues but they aren't really deal breakers.

This is a very repetitive game, although initially, you're enthralled watching your ninja sword hack away at bits and parts of the infected, this losses its intrigue after you realize you've sliced your 50 baddies and you've only moved 20 feet. Luckily this feeling passes as you find two-fisted pistols and start laying waste to the horde

While the waves of enemies are continuous, having to restart an entire mission at the beginning is beyond frustrating; there are a serious lack of checkpoints in this game and to lose a level after having so much come at you is disheartening.

There are numerous collision detection issues. Again, not a deal breaker, and at times it is funny as s*** to watch the arms, heads and torso of the horde you've just slaughtered lay twitching through the door in front of you. But having bullets miss or have no effect on the infected can be infuriating and to have your team mates step in front of you while you're firing is the biggest kick in the #@ that can be experienced by this game.

Finally, the load times....sure its nice to have time to make a sandwich between levels but this is a gore fest of a game and not really conducive to eating while playing.

My suggestion to avoid all of these nasty issues is to stick with the multiplayer; load times are better and your buddy is less likely to want to be pasted in the back of the head by a shotgun blast. (and hopefully, you have some more able bodied friends to get you through the rough patches).

Whether or not you will enjoy this game really comes down to whether or not you picked up Modern Warfare, which came out only 7 days prior to the November 17 release of L4D2. Hardcore COD players will find the visuals unrealistic and the game play far too highly paced, as well the checkpoint issue will find many players abandoning the controller for extended periods of time.

But if you enjoyed the first Left 4 Dead, then you've been eagerly anticipating this installment and you won't be let down. This is a finely tuned re-installment of the game and one that includes the trademark visuals, sound, game play and tradition that Valve has steeped within it's most favored franchises.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.7 / 10
Visuals: 8.6 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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