Insert Disk collects Left 4 Dead 2 for the PC.
Today’s retro game review is Left 4 2 Dead for the PC. This retro gaming classic is a rather appropriate horror game for Halloween. As survivors of the infection you must work together in this co-op team event to survive. Expect hordes of infected, special infected, tanks and witches in this modern horror classic. But does it live up to the horror of the original game Left 4 Dead?
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today we’re picking up where we left off in the last episode as we take a look at the cooperative first person survival horror that is Left 4 Dead 2.
If you haven’t already done so you may enjoy watching the review of the original Left 4 Dead game first as it will cover off some of the basics that I will try my best not to re-tread again today. To get you up to speed Left 4 Dead one focussed around the story of Bill, Francis, Zoey and Louis as they fight their way to freedom. Eventually the game culminates in an escape at the end of the Sacrifice campaign. Officially it’s Bill that is killed at this point but will vary in your game depending on the character you choose. In short there were hordes to fight. Special infected to slay. And some bewitching goodness. All round a very solid 2008 horror release. That was all well and good as it won a game of the year award and high praise from critics. However, just one year later we would see the release of Left 4 Dead 2.
Now, if you’re anything like me you would have been quite cynical at the time. Why release a sequel so close to the original, especially as the modding community was still generating lots of additional content. I have to admit, I smelt cash in at the time. Was I right? Well. yes and no. Let’s face it. This follow up is the same platform, same engine, same premise and same target audience. But you can’t hold that against the developers, they had a winning formula so a follow up made a lot of sense.
Had left 4 Dead 2 not added to this formula I would have felt a bit aggrieved. However, I’m glad to say that it does enough to expand the scope, build on the formula and retain many of the elements we all enjoyed in the original. In short it’s a good sequel.
If I’m honest I tend to think of Left 4 Dead 2 as more of a 1.5 release or even a large piece of DLC. That doesn’t take away anything from my enjoyment of the game though. This time around we’re down in the South and there’s a similar infection problem going on. Meet the Coach, Rochelle, Ellis and Nick. Your new team of survivors. I remember wanting to not like the team at first, I’m just so fond of Bill and the gang. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this latest bunch of characters too are teaming with personality. Ellis is your typical slack jawed yokel. Rochelle is the sassy female protagonist. The Coach provides much of the sarcasm and Nick has some great quips and one liners. Yes, it’s a great start to the game.
Of course in campaign mode the aim is to make your way through each stage through a series of safe houses. Starting out in Georgia and all the way through to New Orleans. It’s quite a departure from the first installment in tone but works well. Generally speaking the levels feel a little more open and that can be quite unnerving. Areas such as the swamps are completely open although there are of course other stages with more of an urban feel. Of course there’s also the Dead Carnival which is an absolute gem of a campaign. So, what’s different here? Well, more than you might first assume. There’s been quite a focus on story-telling here. For example its not long before you interact with the weapon shop owner. He will help unblock your way if you fetch him his cola as he’s currently in lockdown. Whilst there are sub missions in the first instalment Left 4 Dead 2 seems to have developed this game element in a much deeper way and I can honestly say it adds to the overall experience. The world feels more inhabited now, rather than simply running from point to point.
Perhaps the most notable change though is the focus on melee weapons. You can still shoot as you did in the first instalment but now you will also be treated to as range of handheld weapons such as pans, cricket bats, katanas and crowbars. This gives the game a vastly different feel as they are much more effective than the pistol at close quarters. Initially you may feel a little under armed but one you get used to the close quarter combat you may come to actually rely on it. In terms of game play, this has also had a few tweaks. The scavenger hunt levels really pack in the tension. The end of Dead Center sees you try to escape from the mall. To do this you must collect 8 fuel cans to fill up Jimmy Gibbs racing car. It’s a decent challenge as they are dotted around the mall. The best tactic seems to be going to the further spots first and pile them in to a more accessible location and then fill up the car in stages. Again, it’s only a small deviation on the survival formula but a much welcomed one.
Next up are the infected. Boomers are back with their horde attracting bile. Hunters are still lurking. Smokers are still wheezing. Tanks are still tanking. and witches. They’re back and more terrifying than ever as they now wander the key waypoints. They still can’t take more than one shotgun round to the back of the head though. So, meet the new guys. First up the jockey. He’s a small creature that on his own does very little damage. The aim is to hop on to the survivor and drag them away from the group. If this can be achieved then this special infected can be very effective. Next up is the Charger. These guys do exactly what you would expect. They will simply charge and pin you to the ground and pound you until you’re either dead or a team mate saves you. Last but certainly not least is the spitter. There weird creatures have an incredibly acidic bile that is spat at the survivors. Step in it and prepare to lose some of that vital health. As always though, if you can combine attacks with another player then the results can be devastating. If you can spit on to a fallen survivor, all the better. Or how about Smoking someone to then allow your Charger friend to take out the rescue party. Yes, all the fun and strategy of the first game is here without anything lost. This flows through in to the options themselves. You’ll get all of the new episodes and have access to the original maps from Left 4 Dead. So earlier when I referred to Left 4 Dead as more of a 1.5 release, this is partly why. You get everything you had before plus the new content when you upgrade.
There are a few other additions such as adrenaline. These don’t replace the pain pills, instead they give you highted speed and awareness for a short time. Very useful for a last minute push on the trickier stages. There’s also explosive and incendiary ammo. Find one of these and lay it out for the team. Hey presto, the infected now burst in to flames when shot. Nice. In terms of other upgrades you may notice some new graphical flares. The models and textures are beautifully rendered and run silky smooth on a modern graphics card. Whilst Left 4 Dead 2 isn’t the type of game that is make or break on graphics the upgrades do add to the experience in my opinion. The enhanced fire effects combined with the ambient smoke really do add a level of unknown fear as you pass through the corridors. The first time you play this one can be quite tricky if you don’t know your way. This is something that I never really felt in the first game as the routes were all fairly well mapped out and easy to navigate. This time around there are several places where I felt much more lost on a first play through. Generally though the enhanced lighting and stage design are very pleasing.
During the Hard Rain campaign in particular you’ll certainly notice the environmental upgrades. Should you dial up the graphical detail you’ll be treated to a storm that really does encompass the world and affects the game play. At it’s most severe, the storm will act as a real hinderance to your progress and is a notable step up in challenge from the first game. The overall level designs too lead to a much more open world feel. The neighbourhoods seem more plausible somehow and the route to take not always immediately obvious. This was rarely the case in part one as although it had wide open areas the path seemed to be much more intuitive. This give Left 4 Dead 2 a very different feeling from the first instalment. I’m not certain whether any tweaks were made to the survivor AI but I have noticed several issues during my play though. I was replaying the Sacrifice level to see if there were any noticeable changes. The finale culminates on the team having to congregate whilst you activate a switch. For some unknown reason they seemed hellbent on running off and getting killed rather than helping me complete the stage. It’s perhaps a small glitch but another good reason to play with the human community if you can.
As you might expect the game can get very trick if playing without other human players. At times you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the horde on the more challenging difficulty settings. At times making up only meters at a time. Of course it is that human interaction though that makes the Left 4 Dead series so much fun. The VS mode is back and I have to say the madness of playing on a modded server to allow more players is a true delight. Everywhere you look there’s ensuing chaos and a real treat for online gamers. In addition to simple Vs mode is the team scavenger hunt. As with these centrepieces in the campaigns the mission is typically to retrieve many fuel cans and fill a generator. The other team acts as the special infected in order to stop them. It has all that thrill of stalking the poor player that’s been separated from the pack. Leap on them and rip them apart. When their friend come looking for them. Do the same to them.
So, in short Left 4 Dead 2 is as fun as the first. Has expanded content in the way of characters, levels, weaponry and graphical tweaks. In my opinion it does justify the upgrade. Although I can honestly say that I do prefer the campaigns in Left 4 Dead. Mercy hospital is just such a classic online experience as is the Dead Air campaign. Although Dead Center and Dark Carnival for part 2 are the clear winners in this sequel for me. If you are buying in the modern day, really it has to be Left 4 Dead 2 as you really do get everything from both games.
Had Left 4 Dead 2 only delivered the new maps and tweaks I would have been more swayed to part one. There’s no getting away from it, part one really delivered on that classic B-Movie horror vibe. It stood on it’s own two feet and the additional content from the toolbox filled in the replay value. The new campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2. Well, as I mentioned Dark Carnival and Dead Center would be my go to picks for a quick play. The additional fire power is welcomed, as is the scavenger mode and mutation modes. This may be an unpopular opinion but some of the other stages seem to lack some of the charm of the original. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good but I keep coming back to those classic moments in the original when I think of the series.
What’s here is still really good though and well worth a purchase as this is now where you can find a vast array of content. It does enough to call itself a sequel but only just in my opinion. Could everything in Left 4 Dead 2 have been an add on pack to part one? Perhaps. Either way, the game is fast, fun, has a lot of replay value and well worth your time if you’re looking for a game to play with friends this Halloween. Until next time, happy gaming and happy hauntings.