It's zombie season once again as the sequel to the cult hit, Left 4 Dead, has arrived. Some might think it's far too soon for a sequel to be released as the original was released literally a year ago, but Valve think they've added more than enough content to warrant a second installment into the franchise. With an improved AI director, new special zombies, more weapons and some new modes, they might just be right. Let's find out.
Left 4 Dead 2 takes place in the southern states of the United States of America, it happens a week after the original game. Players take control of a group of four new Survivors, as they try to take on insurmountable odds in order to survive the zombie outbreak. Things start as they mean to go on, as rescue helicopters leave them behind, and they are essentially 'Left 4 Dead'. There's actually a bit more continuation through the chapters this time, and at the start of the next chapter, players get a very short explanation about why they are there. It's usually very loose though, so don't expect any real explanation. Then again, due to the drop-in nature of the game, it's not really something that's missed. Zombies need to be killed and it doesn't feel like there's any need for a convoluted story.
Gameplay is much the same as in the original, although there are a few exceptions. Melee weapons have now been added, and there are eight in total. These range from guitars to katanas and chainsaws, but they are all equally as devastating. Most of them manage to kill an enemy in one hit, but decapitations are obviously the best way to go. The damage effects are great though, especially when using sharpened weapons like the katana and machete. It's something that felt required, as it offers a distinct alternative to simply shoving zombies back, which coincidently has been modified to reflect the new melee weapons. A stamina meter has been introduced which comes in to play after a few shoves, so it's not possible to simply spam them any more. A few new items have also been added, like the Defibrillator and Adrenaline Shots and they help to shift the balance back into the favour of the Survivors a bit.
To compliment the new melee weapons, there are also more firearms present. It was definitely needed, because the original game just felt severely lacking in this department. There is now a much wider range of shotguns, sniper rifles and automatic weapons. Laser sights can also be added to weapons, which increase their accuracy slightly. Players can also now carry a main weapon alongside a melee weapons or pistol, helping players feel a little bit more secure. However, they shouldn't get too comfortable as there is a new AI director, and some new special infected. New to the game are the Spitter, Jockey and Charger. They add some new dynamics to the gameplay and it means there are more challenges for the survivors to face. The AI Director definitely seems to be a lot harsher now, and with more tools to use, it can be quite unforgiving. Don't be surprised to face two tanks at the same time as some other special infected as well as a huge horde.There are five new levels to challenge players and these can either be played solo, co-operatively with another player locally (both with AI assistance for the other players) or online with three other people. As with the original, each stage consists of mini-stages in which the goal is to get to a safe house. This is then followed up by some kind of climax at the end of the level. There are still lots of key moments, and players will never encounter the same scenario zombie-wise, but when playing alone, or even with random people, it can start to feel a bit samey after a while. Fortunately, there are a few modes to enjoy, so if one starts to get a bit stale, players can try their hand at Versus, Scavenger or Survival.
Only Scavenger is actually new here though, and it's effectively just a slight variation on the basic Versus mode. Taking a leaf out of the main campaign, players have to to try and 'scavenge' as many fuel cans as possible while their opponents try to stop them by using the various Special Infected. Compared to the modes featured in the original, it doesn't really feel like much has been done to attempt expansion. In terms of format, all the modes aside from Scavenge are identical if the new gameplay modifications and new maps are ignored.
Graphically the game looks decent. It's still built using the source engine, but levels now have a lot more detail and the zombies take a lot more visual punishment. Their limbs literally fly off and with the new melee weapons, they acquire lots of new damage. Sounds is equally as good, with plenty of lovable sounds being made by the thousands of zombies that players will encounter throughout the game.
Taking into consideration all that Left 4 Dead 2 has, it's easy to see that it has a ton of replay value. There's a new campaign with five levels, Versus, Survival and Scavenge. There is also a newly added Realism mode, which challenges players even further by making zombies harder to kill and removing certain visual aids from the hud. However, if the few gameplay amendments to this installment are ignored, then the game essentially offers exactly the same amount of replay value as the original and it makes it feel like an expansion pack more than anything.
When taken on its own merits, Left 4 Dead 2 is a great game. However, it's difficult to ignore that the original only came out a year ago, and when compared to the original, the difference isn't significant enough. It's definitely an improvement and the additions are welcome, but there just aren't enough of them. If they'd taken another year, they could have made the difference in quality much more obvious, so let's hope they don't do the same thing again.