Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Left 4 Dead 2 Review + Giveaway

Post-Launch Review & Giveaway
Left 4 Dead 2
Developer: Valve
Released: November 2009

The giveaway is at the bottom of the review.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a co-operative FPS where four survivors of the zombie apocalypse fight their way through the horde, dangerous 'special infected', and a variety of environments in their efforts to reach rescue and safety. The game includes several campaigns and multiplayer modes.

At Launch
L4D2 was very well received, earning average review scores of 90%. Reviewers found that the sequel improved on the original in just about every way, in particular the deeper melee and new special infected.
There was a fairly major reaction against the sequel by fans of the original, who felt betrayed by the short turnaround time between games, the abandonment of the original survivors, and a perceived move away from the darker, more horror-oriented approach of the original. The boycott was dissolved when the leaders of the movement were shown a copy of the game and were impressed with the changes.

Post Launch
L4D2 has received extensive support. At first that meant frequent patches and balance fixes, but as time went on a whole bunch of campaigns were added, expanding the original five all the way to fourteen: The Passing, where the L4D2 survivors meet the original survivors and learn that Bill has sacrificed himself to save the others; The Sacrifice (originally for the first game), a “prequel” to The Passing from the perspective of the original survivors; all five original L4D1 maps with the original survivors; and Crash Course, a DLC from the first game.
After the release of The Passing, “Mutations” were also introduced. These are special game modes which are only available for a short period (1-2 weeks), after which time a new mutation is introduced.
The official blog now features community maps, meaning there's always some new content to play.
Finally, there's a DLC pack coming soon with a new campaign (Cold Stream) and likely at least one or two more packs coming later.
The Good
Co-Op Focus
To me this is the best part of the game. L4D2 has a very strong co-op focus, to the extent that a lone survivor is often a dead survivor. Several of the special infected have attacks which will render a survivor completely defenceless, so you really have to rely on your teammates for support. Further, you can each only carry one medkit, so once you use yours you have to scavenge or hope your friends will heal you.
Special Infected
The specials in the first game — the hunter, boomer, smoker, witch, and tank — added some much-needed intensity and unpredictability to a zombie game, but players found they could exploit flaws in the AI and game mechanics to easily blaze through campaigns. The additions of L4D2 — the charger, spitter, and jockey — add some extra depth and serve to break up tight clusters of survivors that proved overpowering in the original. Each of the specials has a unique mechanic that works to isolate and disorient a group of survivors, making the game feel more intense.
Uncommon Infected
There are also 'uncommon' infected, which are more powerful standard zombies with special mechanics. Construction workers, for example, are immune to the distracting effects of pipe bombs due to their ear protection. SWAT officers are invulnerable from the front and must be attacked from behind due to their body armour. Clowns can lead zombies around with their squeaky shoes. The uncommons add some extra tactical elements to gameplay when the more powerful specials aren't around.
Humour and Banter
The survivors have a ton of dialogue with a huge variety of triggers. They'll banter with each other and crack jokes. In the first campaign of L4D2, Nick, Ellis, Coach, and Rochelle introduce each other, and over the campaign you can hear them work out names for each of the special infected. Entire characters are expertly built from short monologues and single lines here and there.
Also worth mentioning is the graffiti. Safe rooms are filled with messages scrawled by survivors passing through, and include hilarious witticisms, cynical comments, and gut-wrenching messages to lost loved ones.
Swamp Fever and Hard Rain
These are my two favourite maps shipping with L4D2.
Swamp Fever is the campaign that best fits the cinematic mood of the first game, in a lush but dark and spooky swamp, with tons of vegetation to cover up the infected and force you to stay on guard. Early on you meet the mudmen: uncommon infected who scuttle under the surface of the swamp water, making them much harder to spot and kill. The plantation finale is excellent, giving you a huge house in which to hold out, and featuring two tanks at once towards the end, which is terrifying in a close-quarters map.
Hard Rain starts out relatively ordinary, with the survivors looking for a gas station to refill their boat and worrying about an incoming storm. They fight their way through some suburbs and through a sugar mill and cornfield to finally find gas — and then the hurricane hits. You retread the same path on the way back, but visibility is almost zero as wind and rain howl through the area. The lowlands start to flood and the survivors are forced to climb across rooftops and catwalks, only to have to hold out against the horde at a fast-food burger joint. Hard Rain in particular looks really great with spectacular weather effects.
The other campaigns have some cool bits and neat mechanics, but these two are the standouts, putting a very different spin on zombie survival.
Left 4 Dead 1
You can play all of the first game's content in L4D2 using the improved game engine and mechanics. It's a great two-for-one deal, if you think about it. Gameplay on the original four campaigns is much improved — most of the problems with the original game were resolved with the sequel. You also get a more classic zombie movie feel, with more classic, claustrophobic environments than in the newer campaigns.
DLC Missions
The Passing, Crash Course, and The Sacrifice are high-quality add-ons, even if they're a little shorter than the other campaigns at three chapters each instead of five. They manage to offer some unique visuals and environments, as well as throw in a few new weapons just for kicks. They each include new voice lines for the survivors, which is also nice.
Cold Stream
This is a campaign that's currently in beta, to be released soonish. It's got some nice new environments, following a rocky stream through the mountains as the survivors flee from some kind of huge fire. As a beta it's not quite complete — there are some voice lines and objective markers missing. But I think it's fantastic and one of the best campaigns due to the huge number of rolling crescendoes, making it ridiculously frantic and intense, especially on higher difficulties. A significant chunk of the community disagrees with me, finding the nonstop zombies tedious, but I think it's a great bit of action.
Rolling Crescendoes
A new game mechanic not featured in the original is the rolling crescendo. These occur at specific points in certain campaigns. They're special events where frenzied infected won't stop spawning until you fulfill a certain condition — disable an alarm or make it to the safehouse, for example. They tend to be very intense and action-packed because you have to physically fight your way through the horde to reach the objective, unlike the more static finales where you hold a position until help arrives. Sometimes they're even crazier than the actual finales — the roller coaster run in Dark Carnival is especially intense because falling off the tracks will either force you to retrace your steps, or actually drop or kill you.
A Multiplicity of Modes
L4D2 comes with : campaign co-op, campaign versus, survival co-op, and scavenge, along with the realism difficulty modifier and mutations. Survival is quite fun: you have a chance to prepare a defence before the infected pour in, so a major part of your tactical consideration is to choose and reinforce a defence point. However, many walls are destructible, so partway through the game you'll find yourself scrambling for a new place to stand and fight.
In Scavenge the survivors must gather a set number of gas containers (to power a car or generator or whatever) before time runs out, while the player infected try to stop them. It's an interesting mode because splitting up is the best way to optimize your use of time, but it also makes you much more vulnerable to the infected.
Mutations are a cool idea: you essentially get a new game mode every two weeks. That's awesome! It keeps the game fresh, particularly given how wild and ridiculous some of the mutations are — all special infected are tanks, chainsaws only, common infected/Boomers only... there's a huge range of silly and serious (and some really, really hard) game mode modifications.
Realism mode was originally a mutation, but was so popular it was added to the game full-time. In this mode, infected and friendly fire damage are huge, and you can't see silhouettes of your allies through walls, meaning that you really have to work to keep track of each other.
The Neutral
There isn't a huge assortment of weapons, particularly when you consider that there are two classes of firearm: terrible and useful (or tier 1 and tier 2). Early on in a campaign you start with lower-utility, slower, weaker firearms, but in the second or third chapter you get bumped up to automatic weapons, at which point the inferior ones simply stop appearing for the most part. There's a wider variety of melee weapons, but functionality is mostly pretty similar (except for the chainsaw, which uses a set amount of fuel that can't be refilled). Essentially, weapon selection boils down to two shotguns, two assault rifles, and a sniper rifle — not very many options. The grenade launcher and M60 are more unique, being extremely powerful but non-refillable; but they're much rarer than the standard weapons.
Community Feature
Valve has done a great job of supporting the game's mod community by featuring a new custom map every so often. It both helps mappers gain exposure and helps players find quality new content to play with. It's really a win-win situation.
Unfortunately it's not quite perfect. You can only access and download the featured maps from the development blog. If you could view and download them from within the game without quitting, that would be excellent. As is, a lot of people will never know that the community map feature exists.
The Bad
Versus Community
I hate to say this, but there's a lot of division in the community. Some players use “rushing” as a primary tactic in campaigns, meaning run as fast as you can and as far as you can — which means leaving behind those players who want to take their time or who aren't as familiar with the levels. Some players rushing and some moving slower almost invariably ends in an early party wipe, since the group is too spread out to protect each other and are easily picked off by special infected.
Since L4D2 is a small group co-operative game (4 survivors + 4 infected in VS), players tend to notice different skill levels more quickly and easily than in games with bigger matches. Some players are polite and are just there for fun, but when you end up with people who are there to win, you can often find yourself getting kicked from a game because you don't measure up. It's incredibly frustrating.
If you play co-op campaign or survival you should have no problems, but watch out in Versus mode.
Survivor AI
And unfortunately, on the other side of the coin, if you play by yourself you'll often be frustrated by survivor bots who tend to get distracted or not realize you're bleeding out on the ground. Worse is when you're trying to fulfil an objective so that you can actually clear the map, and the bots are off doing something else. I'm trying to dump the last gas can into the generator, so it'd be nice if I had some cover.
It's not so much that the AI is objectively bad, but more that when it's frustrating it's REALLY frustrating.
The Verdict
Recommendation: Play it.
If you like co-op and zombies, you can't do much better than Left 4 Dead. A very strong focus on watching out for your friends does a great job of building the you-against-the-horde atmosphere of the zombie apocalypse and helps you develop a strong bond with your teammates (or even the bots). It's a fast-paced, intense action game that's highly replayable due to its huge amount of campaigns and game modes.

And now we come to the giveaway portion of the post. The last time I did this it was a little complicated, but thanks to Rafflecopter it'll be much easier this time. You have five ways to enter and the process is automated, which is very helpful on my end of things. The prize? A Steam copy of Left 4 Dead 2 of course!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Awesome review, although I feel biased in my hatred for some of the characters from L4D2.

    Stupid ROCHELLE!!!

  2. Great review Awesome game

  3. Nice review. I love this game!

    What would I do in a Zombie Apocalypse? I would run and hide from the zombies I guess... :p

  4. It's an awesome game! Although the VS community is terrible, there are those moments when you run into friendly people willing to give you tips and advice. Thankfully the block feature is improved so you never see the people you block ever again.

  5. In a zombie apocalypse I would die pretty quickly. Don't know how to shoot guns and if I managed to get one I'd probably end up firing it wrong and injuring myself. Ammo would also be in really short supply..

  6. Nice review, I have the 360 version which I loved playing with my brother, but it's a shame that it's missing so much of the content that the PC version gets for free. As for surviving a zombie apocalypse, I would try to be some kind of badass with a revolver and katana, oh and a cool suit fashioned out of riot gear and the like. I would be one of the first to die...

  7. If there were to be a zombie apocalypse, I'd built a emergency shelter over water :D
    Zombies don't wanna swim.

  8. Dom this is a great review plus it is a fun contest.

  9. i feel this game is repetitive and gets old fast.