Review Archive #4 Left 4 Dead 2 (After Release)

These reviews I am republishing on my blog were originally published on texasteamplayers.com (now teamplayergaming.com) and are my copyrighted work.  Please do not repost or use these reviews in part or whole without my consent.

 

Left 4 Dead 2

Publisher: Valve

Release Date: November 17, 2009

Rating: M

When I reviewed the Left 4 Dead 2 Demo I was impressed.  I thought they had made a big enough leap forward in graphics, weapons and zombies to justify a new game, rather than releasing it as paid DLC for Left 4 Dead. Oh how wrong I was.  Seldom does a game come along that literally takes your breath away. Crysis did it with it’s graphics. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 did it with it’s combination of graphics and un-paralleled storytelling. Left 4 Dead did it with innovation in both gameplay and a game engine that could accommodate all those zombies. Now Left 4 Dead 2 has done it.

There was a lot of talk before the L4D2 release about Valve cheating it’s fans out of what should have been downloadable content. They accused them of trying to essentially steal money from their fans for a game that wasn’t going to bring enough new material and gameplay to the table to justify paying full price for it. It led to boycott groups and untold numbers of flame posts on forums official and unofficial.

How wrong they all were. Valve has hit a home run with L4D2. There is so much new content I don’t think one article could sum it all up. I’m going to try though.

 

Gameplay:

This is where Valve made L4D2 shine. Most gamers expected to get their single player, campaign and versus modes with L4D2 of course but Valve threw in some new modes just to shake things up. With such a quick turnaround, releasing L4D2 so soon after the original you would think some of the modes felt slapped together, but you’d be wrong. Valve flushed out each mode and everyone will have their favorites. Here’s how they stack up:

Single Player /Multiplayer Campaign Mode– The single player mode improved upon L4D’s single player game in a couple of areas. The first thing I noticed is all the campaigns are one long story. Each one picks up shortly after the last one ends.  Without giving away any spoilers, for example the boat ride you finish with Virigil at the beginning of The Parish is actually the 3rd campaign you’ve been on the boat.  The beginning of each campaign always has a funny little chat between the survivors explaining why they didn’t fully escape from the end of the last campaign.

Gameplay mechanics have been much improved upon as well. The use of melee weapons now, a wider range of weapons and healing options made you think harder about what you plan on carrying. If you opt for a melee weapon you really can’t go wrong. They cover a broad range of weapons. You can choose a machete, cricket bat, fireman’s axe, frying pan, katana or if you (or someone you are playing with) pre-ordered the game, an American baseball bat. The gun selection goes way beyond the first game.  Several sub machine guns, machine guns, three or four shotguns, a couple sniper rifles, even a grenade launcher.  Pipe bombs, boomer bile (does to the infected what a boomer does to you), molotovs,  gas cans and laser sights.  It goes on forever.  Valve really did go the extra mile to give you almost an infinite combination of weapons. Valve also added a new healing option, the Adrenaline shot.  It speeds up reaction time, healing and gives you a new perspective (changes your vision).

Valve didn’t stop at the new items. They’ve added new infected for your gaming pleasure.  The general infected are far more varied now. You’ve got the usual suspects, generic members of society, but Valve added a whole lot more variety to them. Construction workers, hazmat/CUDA workers (immune to fire because of their suits), riot police (immune to frontal gunfire) are just some of the new faces in the generic horde’s crowd. While it’s nice they added to the normal infected, I was very pleased with the new special infected.  The L4D special infected are all here, Smoker, Hunter, Boomer, Witch and Tank.  L4D2 has added the Charger, Jockey, Spitter and a 2nd model for the Boomer. Each of the new special infected adds a variety of new challenges. Chargers will push you far from your other survivors; Spitters drop pools of acid, Jockeys will ride you around a corner and even off ledges. They all add nicely to the single player gameplay but really come into their own in Versus and Realism modes.

I have one complaint that I had with the demo that was not fixed in the final version of the game. If you are a fan of the campaign mode you’ll find yourself wanting to play with your friends in the multiplayer version instead of single player, as Valve has still not made the computer controlled survivors smart enough to pick up and use grenades, gas cans or molotovs. It’s really inexcusable at this point. Valve did such a good job making the computer AI for survivors better at pathing and weapon selection, but they still don’t see the advantage of the throwable weapons.  Why Valve!?

 

Teamplay:

 

Valve’s other modes were made with teamplay in mind. Versus, Survivor, Realism and Scavenger modes will all test your cooperative teamplay abilities. Versus, as in L4D, swaps teams back and forth between survivors and infected. Scoring hasn’t changed much since the last game either. The maps from the campaign mode have been recycled here for this mode. Survivor mode has your team trapped in a section of one of the campaign mode maps trying to last as long as you can from an unending assault of infected. Scavenger mode can be played just coop or versus, where the survivors must try to get as many gas cans as they can from around the level to keep their generators going. Each gas can used extends the length of the level. Finally realism mode removes most of the video game “advantages” such as being able to see the silhouette of your teammates behind items, guns and other items glowing and makes it harder to kill infected unless you headshot them. Realism also gives you one life, and the only way back is the defibrillator, no spawning later in the map anymore.

Each of the teamplay modes has a lot to offer. Survivor and Scavenger modes are fun, frantic and intense. They will test your twitch reflex and by the end of some maps I was breathing heavily. While they are smaller on the whole they pack a wallop and give you a lot of bang for your buck. Realism mode didn’t strike a chord with me, but I can see the appeal. I personally don’t like not being able to see my teammates, or where the weapon cache is. It will attract some people, but I’ll take the good old video game “advantage” over hunter for tem minutes to find a health pack I know is hidden nearby.

For me the best of the teamplay modes is still versus. It takes some getting used to, playing the new infected.  Even now after playing for some 30+ hours I still miss my target with the Charger more times than not.  I’ve gotten quite good as a smoker though, single handedly winning a versus level by choking out 4 survivors. I think the additional special infected really takes the game to a whole new level. More than L4D this game really makes you work tightly with your teammates.  You almost have to have a microphone and listen to each other. Valve has done such a good job on this games multiplayer element you could almost think they only put the single player mode in the game to let you learn the maps.

 

Graphics:

L4D2 definitely improved the graphics in this game. Brighter colors and more outdoor, daytime environments show off the rendering engine. L4D was almost exclusively at night, indoors or in the woods.  Everything was dark and spooky. The reality is you’d be a fool to be out trying to get to an evac point or find rescue during the night. You’d save your travel for the daytime where you can see the zombies coming. Daytime play presents a lot more challenges in shading and color, and Valve really excelled here.

All throughout the game you find new ways Valve ramped up the graphics. Texture seems more detailed and the wide variety of settings must have had Valve artists working 20 hour days. The game is set in Louisiana, and takes advantage of the large variety of settings available to you in and out of New Orleans. The game environment switches from City/Mall, to Carnival, to Bayou until you finally finish back in the city again. All of the varying settings are flushed out with great detail and feel so very authentic. I can’t say enough nice things about how varied the setting is, but how well they did in making it all flow together.

 

Audio:

No surprise here. The soundtrack is an excellent compliment to the high bar set by the graphics.  Music is again linked to the action. Valve knows just how to suck you into the moment whether it’s the tense, creepy tune that leads up to being pounced on by a hunter, or if it’s the thrashing chords you hear while in the midst of a heart pounding frenzy of the horde attack.

Voice acting was another homerun for Valve. They find great actors for all their games and L4D2 continues in that tradition. I found myself laughing constantly at the banter between the survivors, and that is due in no small part to the quality of the actors.

Everything from the guns, to the infected, to the sounds of the environment comes alive for you with the excellent sound engineering and design.

 

Conclusion:

In the end the boycotts and flame threads meant very little. Valve delivered more than enough new content, and refined what was carried over from Left 4 Dead to make this game one of the best of the year. It is amazing that Valve has had such a great track record in all the games that are done in house.  Left 4 Dead 2 is a masterpiece, easily worth the money you will pay for it. If Valve had fixed the computer controlled AI to use grenades and the like this might well have been the first perfect score I gave.  As it is, Valve will have to settle for a near perfect score, and the satisfaction of knowing they exceeded my every expectation for a sequel released so quickly after the original.

 

Scores:

Gameplay: 98/100 *(I want the computer to throw a grenade!!!)

Teamplay: 100/100

Graphics: 100/100

Audio: 100/100

Conclusion: 99.5/100

 

Minimum System Spec:
Operating System: Windows 7/Vista/XP
Processor: Pentium 4 3.0GHz
Memory: 1GB XP/2GB Vista
Graphics: DirectX 9 compatible video card with 128MB, shader model 2.0 (ATI X800, nVidia 6600 or better)
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

My Desktop System Spec:
Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit retail release)
Processor: Intel core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory: 4 GB
Graphics: eVGA GTX 260 Core 216
Hard Drive: Dual 500GB Seagate Baracudas in RAID0
Sound Card: ASUS Xonar D2X

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