It's been exactly one year since we first got to know Louis, Francis, Zoey and Bill in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Some say the sequel has arrived much too fast. Fans claimed it was just a dressed up expansion. But we can lay all of that to rest now that we can see the final results.
The story takes place at the same time as the events in the first game and we get to follow a new group of survivors down south. The infection has spread across the country and the only medicine is lead, and lots of it. Shotguns, carbines, sniper rifles, sub machine guns, pistols in all shapes and forms. But there are also Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, grenade launches, chainsaws, katanas, axes, frying pans, and electric guitars (!). I have come to develop an intimate relationship with the chainsaw in particular.
What that the perhaps weakest aspect of the original has been sorted. The variation of the arsenal on hand in Left 4 Dead 2 is on a whole new level. A fairly mundane improvement, but one that truly matters. The excitement reaches new levels as my group take respite in a gun shop in the very first level, Dead Centre, and mount a laser sights on our guns. We're ready for war. We're badass.
Out of a total of five wonderfully entertaining chapters my personal favourite is Dark Carnival that consists of an amusement park and the surrounding area. It provides plenty of memorable moments at the very first play through. I'm thinking of the unease we felt at the crying witch in the love tunnel, the panic we felt as we were chased up the roller coaster tracks by 30 undead, and the black humour as Ellis, the redneck, blew up a group of clowns while making his way down a slide.
One satisfying detail is that an explosive zombie genocide no longer results in a red fog anymore. The physics engine has been updated and you will see heads, torsos and limbs flying in all directions. My heart goes out to my German friends who won't get to see this. This is splatter at its finest.
And that takes us to the inevitable comparison of the PC and Xbox 360 versions. Predictably the PC version looks noticeably better. It's naturally rendered at higher resolution, it also allows for the heaps of meat to stay around longer on screen, as well as some other fancy stuff console players will have to do without. At 1920 x 1080 the zombie mayhem looks rather tasty despite being based on the five year old Source Engine (Half-Life 2).
At times there is tons of stuff happening on screen. Undead run along the ridges, climb fences, and tear down doors. They attack from above and below, from right and left. It's an awesome chaos that really immerses me in the situation.
During the development Valve actually reached the limits of what the memory in Xbox 360 can handle due to the constant mayhem on screen. That is why they had to hold back somewhat on the visual flair. A compensation is that it is possible to play with a friend in split screen. The optimal conditions are however a bunch of high performance computers linked together. When it comes to content both versions are identical, and to those who prefer their couch and don't need all the visual extras the console version will do just as well.
Left 4 Dead 2 provides a constant ebb and flow of action as the experience is changed and adapted in every round. "The Director", is the invisible masterbrain that controls the zombie hordes. He makes sure to keep everyone on their toes at all times, and he can throw in a tougher enemy at any moment. Furthermore he also rearranges the environments at time.
An alley that used to be open may be block next time, a graveyard may have a completely different layout from one time to the next. The Director forces us to use all of our capacity and this is what makes Left 4 Dead 2 a new experience every time, and incredibly entertaining.
The popular Versus mode returns. You play the campaign, but the twist is that four players act as zombies. Their are a few new zombie types to play as, The Spitter who vomits venom, the violent Charger and the short, but speedy Jockey. As an undead co-operation becomes even more important. First of all because as a lonely zombie you are very vulnerable, but the abilities of the zombie used in combination is the key to laying waste to the still living.
When I play as a Spitter it is great to join up with a Jockey. The jockey has an ability to ride the survivor and control him. Enter my venom spitting beast who can create an oozing pool of death for the jockey to direct his victim into. It was an unique and rewarding experience in the first game. But with the new zombie types and a better balanced scoring system it is even better in the sequel.
Gears of War 2 has Horde and Halo 3: ODST has Firefight. Left 4 Dead 2 has its own variation called Survival where the objective is simply to defend oneself and survive for as long as possible. A new multiplayer variation is Scavenge, where survivors have to find and transport cans of gasoline across the map to fill a generator. That is before they become zombie food. But my favourite among the new modes is Realism, a campaign mode for all the hardcore players where headshots is a must, and where helping outlines of characters and objects no longer help us.
Communication and sticking together has never been more important. Not to mention knowing where you aim. Friendly fire is bound to be a problem before your group is properly welded together. And I challenge you to take on the chapter Hard Rain on the hardest difficulty setting in Realism. Darkness, shitty weather and cranky witches.
Valve's meaty sequel builds on a wonderful concept. Tons of weapons, undead, hysterical co-op for four players and unique game modes turns Left 4 Dead 2 into a dream for every zombie lover out there.