Left 4 Dead 2

I loved the original Left 4 Dead. Went through it a fair few times. Loved the atmosphere, loved the fact it could shit me right up, loved it. Then I put it to one side, as you do. Re-installed it the other week and fired it up again, and lo and behold! Free DLC stuff! A new campaign and a new Survival mode! Tore through the new campaign (a lovely set-piece at the end of it, but a bit understated when put next against the other ending set-pieces, but a nice change all the same), then ploughed a few hours into the Survival mode. Now this was something special – you get locked into a largeish room (depending on the map used), and start a clock ticking upwards. You have to survive for as long as you can, while the computer hurls wave after wave of zombies and special infected after you. Fucking ace.

Then, after having so much of a good time with Survival mode in the original game, I had the nerve to go and buy the second game. I’d played it round a chum’s house a few weeks back, and liked it. Wasn’t on it for long, but it let me decapitate zombies with an axe. This was good.

The trouble with Left 4 Dead 2 is that it almost spoils the first one. When you think back on the first game, you remember how dour the whole thing was, how the occasional scripted comedy dialogue just didn’t come often enough to enliven the experience. How it was always fucking relentlessly dark and foreboding (and that look can only forebode for so long, after which point it becomes just dark). Most of all, you realise there were no melee weapons in it.

Because if anything makes Left 4 Dead 2 one of the best gaming sequels ever made (yeah Half-Life 2, you heard), it’s the melee weapons. And the melee weapons are a big part of the new thing that’s been added to the original Left 4 Dead formula – FUN (with capital letters, no less). Fucking hell, this game is fun. Funny too, but fun. That sinking feeling you’d get when joining a game in the first one, just knowing that no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to survive the ending to No Mercy? None of that. In the sequel, I don’t give a shit if I live or die, so long as I can behead a bajillion zombies along the way. With a cricket bat.

What, you don’t get the very obvious reference to Shaun of the Dead? Or you don’t like the cricket bat? What about a crowbar, just like Gordon Fucking Freeman? How’s about a fire axe, like what firemen have? Or a samurai sword? Or what looks like an Ibanez guitar? Would you like to run the entire length of a rollercoaster, doing nothing but smacking zombies in the face repeatedly with an electric guitar, while each hit greets you with another comedy guitar-string-twang sound?

There’s also new characters this time round. There’s Nick, the dodgy looking capitalist white boy scum who just looks like he’s gonna run off with the car and leave the rest to die, and gets all the best lines. There’s also Coach, a big black guy with a bald head and a soft spot for the funfair he used to go to as a kid. They are joined by Rochelle, a black reporter who makes a few references to Anchorman, and Ellis, the beer-loving hick comedy sidekick. When you’re playing, they speak a lot more than the first game’s characters did, and their more frequent bursts of humour make them a very likeable bunch.

And you’ll be hearing a lot from them, cos they’re going all over the place. I’ve only managed to get through the first two campaigns up to now (I was obsessed with getting the Gong Show achievement), but these two campaigns alone are more memorable than any the first game had. The opening section in the hotel is just brilliant; quickly explaining the melee mechanic for new players as well as a few of  the new items, it also introduces you to the fact that the way ahead might not be so obvious (the first floor of the hotel is on fire, so you can’t see very far in front of you). This campaign culminates in a frantic race to fill a car’s petrol tank with gas canisters before the zombies overrun your position, and this section is nail-bitingly tense. It also introduces you to the new Salvage mode too, which is also handy.

The second campaign leads you off a highway, through a hotel, and into a funfair. The Whispering Oaks funfair is ace, because it introduces some more melee weapons (and occasionally the chainsaw, which is as much fun as it was waaaay back when in Doom), some more zombie types (clown zombies! The other zombies are attracted to their squeaking footwear! GENIUS), and some nicely hidden-in-plain-sight mini-games. Whack a mole! Test your strength! Shooting gallery! You’re running through a funfair away from a zombie horde, but you can stop to play Whack a mole! Fucking awesome. This campaign ends at a stadium where a band was due to perform; you have to switch on the light show and pyrotechnics to attract the rescue helicopters, while fighting off the zombie masses who see it from miles around. I’ve never grinned so hard at a game as when I found you could push the zombies into the fireworks to burn them up, or shoot a box of fireworks to blow them up. Much more awesomer than I can make it sound.

One of the big departures from the first one is the colour palette. It has one! The first game had black. That was pretty much it, cos it was relentlessly bleak. And set at night. All the time. Whereas the sequel is set at different times of day. So the opening campaign is set in the afternoon, the second one at night (but nowhere near as dark as the first game). This makes a subtle difference, but it’s felt more than you’d think. The technique the first game had was that reloading would move your gun out the way, and since your flashlight is taped to your gun, then your only light source is gone – you would be staring at a black screen for a second or two. Designed to put the shits up you, it happened so often that the repetition stopped it being scary. In the second game, you can see the zombies without the flashlight. Sure, you won’t see them as well, and you’ll miss some, but this won’t happen often. Which means, when you do reload and a zombie happens to be staring at you when the flashlight goes back, you are scared more often because the device isn’t used as much. Win!

Like I said, Left 4 Dead 2 makes you look back at the original and remember the flaws. Character flaws I suppose, and not structural ones, but still flaws. Left 4 Dead 2 has none of them. What it does have is a sense of creativity and fun that the first game sorely lacked. It keeps surprising you, and it makes you smile. It’s more Dawn of the Dead than Night of the Living Dead. Sure, some people prefer the black and white original, and fair play to them. Me? I prefer seeing zombies getting beheaded. In colour.


    you make me want it hehe.. must play that other game u bought me 1st tho… come round soon and make me! oh and we’ve got edge 🙂 xxx

  • I wanted to like it, really I did. I played through the various scenes on my own and thought “yeah, this is OK, nice, pleasant”. But then the lads came around and I found that the thing that should make it a classic (the muliplayer) is shitter than shit. Never mind how long it took to figure out HOW to get multi player going on a single console it was the lack of interaction that killed it for me. Playing with other players doesn’t add anything to it…say for example in the way Borderlands feels like a different game single to multiplayer. There didn’t seem to be any reliance on your friends, other than calling each other useless cunts you wouldn’t know the other characters where human controlled because the whole experience is an empty one. I reckon it is crying out for some sort of class based/RPG element.

  • Ah, Mr Barlow. Don’t play it split screen. Play it online, with pals, and with voice stuff sorted. I’ve actually played it on a 360, two player split screen, and it was fiddly as fuck. It showed promise, but was hard to see what I was doing half the time. I ended up buying it on the PC, and playing it online is awesome.

    Hmmmm, good idea on adding RPG stuff. Maybe the roles from MMORPGs would work – tank gets the attention from the zomies, healer heals the fuck out of people, and maybe add a melee specialist and a sniper to spice it up a bit? Or just make all the characters androgynous JRPG fucks with spiky hair 🙂

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