REVIEWS -- Left 4 Dead 2 -- PC
‘Left 4 Dead 2’ survives the sequel apocalypse
by Pramath Parijat
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
If ever there was a case of a sequel totally rendering the existence of the first game useless, then this is it.
Left 4 Dead 2 is out barely a year after the original title hit the Xbox 360 and PC. For a company that is notorious for its almost unjustifiably long development times, and for never delivering a product when promised, this comes off as surprising, and may lead to the suspicion that this rapidly released sequel is, in fact, Valve’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of the first product. Certainly, all appearances seem to dictate so. The few glimpses we’ve had of the game at E3 earlier this year, and during several other game shows, seemed to be very similar to the first game, prompting many to believe that Valve, otherwise known for supporting its products and their users for years on end, was pulling a fast one, not unlike Activision, with its Call of Duty series.
However, all apprehensions and all inhibitions should be cast aside -- Left 4 Dead 2 is not only a complete game in and of itself, which justifies a $60 purchase to anybody who may still enjoy the first title, but it also in every way possible outdoes the first game, and renders it completely obsolete. While those who disliked the first game will still not find anything here to their liking, others who found paradise in Valve’s novel take on the otherwise flogged concept of a zombie apocalypse, will find Left 4 Dead 2 to be indisputably the best game this year.
It’s when doubt creeps in…
Assuming you are unfamiliar with what it is that sets Valve’s foray into the survival horror genre different from all the other games that came before it, the Left 4 Dead games are primarily known for their co-op multiplayer gameplay. It still is possible to play solo, but the experience is considerably curtailed and the fun dramatically lessened, whilst the difficulty too climbs unless you play with others. The games allow us to play as both human survivors who are desperately trying to outlast the disaster, as well as the super powered zombies, who aim to overrun the humans once and for all.
The game becomes an exercise in tactical planning and execution, when it places all players on a map with helpful items scattered throughout. All players must individually work their way through the zombie infested terrain, and yet, working with others in tandem is a must. If you spot a zombie in the distance, it is imperative to inform all the other players about it, so that they may be on their guard. If you find a helpful item, again, communicating it to the others is a must. If you’re hurt, inform your teammates, so that they may come and heal you.
It’s this kind of cooperative gameplay that makes Left 4 Dead 2 stand out. Sure, Resident Evil 5 had a shot at it earlier this year with its own co-op mode, but frankly, it resulted in the tension and drama of the game being considerably reduced, so it was an unwelcome trade-off. Left 4 Dead 2, however, manages to retain the tension that must accompany a lone band of human survivors, heavily outnumbered, and sparely equipped to deal with the hostilities of the environment, even while they attempt to evade an enemy that they know terribly out-powers them.
It is precisely this feeling that Left 4 Dead 2 conveys, and more so from its gameplay than anything else. Sure, you have your teammates with you, on the same map, at all times, but they’re usually off on their own, trudging for a route out by themselves. Actually, sticking around with the others at all times is not such a good idea... the “infected,” which is the game’s rather politically correct nomenclature for what are clearly zombies, are wily foes, and they’ll attack what seems to be a large group of people immediately. It is in your best interests for each of you to choose separate paths, and attempt to still work in tandem to outmaneuver your quarries.
And the senses start to tingle…
It is this feeling of knowing that you have help nearby and at hand, and yet being separated from them, that heightens the game’s sense of surreal tension. What if they’re all already dead, and you’re all alone? How can you possibly know if for some reason they couldn’t inform you of their fate? What if you’re under attack and they know it but are so far off that they can’t possibly come and help you in time? Or what if they’re nearby but are hindered by some unexpected obstacle? There are a thousand such factors to consider, and that is why it is so necessary to ensure you’re always in touch with your teammates: you always NEED to know what’s going on with them, and then chart out your moves accordingly.
So yes, Left 4 Dead 2 delivers an incredibly compelling experience with a terrific atmosphere to boot, but its great gameplay is only one side of the coin. As we all know, there are other factors equally important in building the right kind of atmosphere for a game such as this, and Valve has them all nailed.
For instance, Left 4 Dead 2 boasts of great graphics: the environments are convincing, the zombies grotesquely terrifying, the weapons all look distinct, and the blood, gore and the dismembered limbs all just add to the sense of immersion. It is when you shoot a zombie and see its limbs blasted off into the distance that you feel a sense of horror and elation and disgust, and because it has been so accurately conveyed -- that it harkens to reality so much. If such careful and seemingly needless attention hadn’t been paid to ensuring that all explosions, decapitations, dismemberments et al look authentic, then I think you can be very sure that Left 4 Dead 2 wouldn’t have been half the game that it is.
The environments look terrific too: the desolate marshes, the abandoned cities, the rugged terrain that surrounds us, it all looks so real that you almost feel as if you are in a world that has been overrun by zombies -- a hostile environment in which you’re all alone, out for survival, the chances of which seem increasingly remote and extremely unlikely. Really, Valve has outdone itself this time and Left 4 Dead 2 certainly is its most polished game… ever.
You know you have a perfect zombie game
The tension and the immersion that I keep returning to are further accentuated by the game’s great sound design. You can hear the wind rustling through the trees; you can hear eerie strains in the distance; you can sense the emotions of the survivors conveyed via perfect intonations and inflections. It’s all here. In the distance, you’ll hear a slight disturbance, and you’ll instantly be on your guard. The sound design heightens the feeling of silent terror that is so prevalent throughout the game, and it ends up being heavily taxing on your nerves.
What makes it all the more real is the fact that this time around you actually care for your characters. Each one has been endowed a specific and very life-like personality, and they all respond accordingly to changes in their surroundings. When they talk, you can hear uniquely characteristic strains in their voices. And while the story of the game isn’t much, and there hasn’t been any effort made to mask the fact that the story merely sets the stage for you to play in the depicted zombie apocalypse, the characters and their dialogue will leave you intrigued as to the various possibilities that might have eventually led to the point at which things stand presently.
Earlier in the review, I mentioned that the game does a very thorough job of besting its predecessor. To elaborate, Left 4 Dead 2 does everything that the original game didn’t, and what it did do, L4D2 does better. For instance, if you didn’t have the Survivor Pack then there were only two out of the four campaigns of the original that permitted Versus play. Not so the case this time. The sequel features five full, robust and interesting campaigns, a plethora of modes, some fantastic set pieces and more to do overall. In fact, you almost wish that the original had never been released, and that this had been the first Left 4 Dead title to hit the market -- this is the game the original should always have been, but because we’ve already experienced the kind of co-op gameplay that L4D had to offer once before, the impact of this game is somewhat dampened. You can’t help but feel that if this version had been released first, then it would have got higher scores across the board.
Left 4 Dead 2 is a great game. It is quite possibly Valve’s best effort yet, and considering the rich heritage of that company, that’s saying something. It features great graphics, terrific sound design, astounding atmosphere, authentic tension and emotion, and the kind of addictive tactical gameplay that has not only come to be a staple of the L4D games by now, but is also Valve’s unique trademark. It is a game that everybody should try out at least once. And while there is a chance it won’t really appeal to you, there’s an even greater chance that you’ll love it.
Left 4 Dead 2 should be the blueprint for all future sequels -- it rights the wrongs of the first, and it evolves and refines gameplay design to perfection. If ever there was a case of a sequel totally rendering the existence of the first game useless, then this is it. If you have yet to dabble in Valve’s rather fresh take on the zombie apocalypse, then by all means, go ahead and get the sequel. Not only is it better than the original, but it is a thoroughly excellent game in its own right.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 17, 2009
Review Date: 25-11-2009
Numbers of Players: 1-2
Players Online: 2-8
Notes: Dolby Digital 5.1
While they’re not as crisp or detailed as in, say, Uncharted 2, the graphics of Left 4 Dead 2 still boast of great artistic design, and add to the sense of immersion considerably.
The same tactical co-op gameplay of the original Left 4 Dead title returns here, and it’s been refined to perfection. A number of modes abound, so you’ll never be short of things to do.
There can be no doubt that Left 4 Dead 2 is Valve’s most polished work yet. You’d be hard pressed to accuse them of rushing this product.
Sound design is simply outstanding, boosting the atmosphere of the title several notches. If ever there was a case of “sound complementing gameplay,” then Left 4 Dead 2 is it.
You never can stop playing. There’s simply too much to do, and you’ll be returning to it repeatedly. Going by Valve’s track record, the product will be supported for several years into the future, so L4D 2 will last you a long, long time.