Review: Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360)

New survivor Rochelle is attacked by a Jockey, complete with The Joker-style manic laughter, while Ellis minds his own business (pic: GP)

Everybody loves killing zombies. Something about fighting off the hordes of the undead gives a certain satisfaction you just don’t get from killing Minion #367 or slaying a mythical beast. Perhaps it’s because we relate to the characters in games like Left 4 Dead – the whole world has gone to pot so they are forced to kill everything in sight as a last resort, a final act of desperation, for survival.

Valve’s original zombie-shooter raised the bar in terms of what can be achieved in the genre, and they were rewarded with countless Game of the Year Awards. The game’s intro movie entranced the imagination of players as they watched a Hunter, the hoody-wearing ‘special’ infected, pounce across a road to attack Lewis thinking “I hope I can do that”.

Sure enough the team didn’t disappoint and the multiplayer aspect in particular demonstrated a whole new level of cooperative gaming, clocking thousands of hours of play time on Xbox LIVE.

With the sequel then, the bar was set rather high. Luckily there were issues with the original which needed to be addressed, and Valve tackled these in spades, countering complaints about the lack of campaigns playable in Versus mode by making all five stories playable this time around.

On top of the new levels there are new special infected to play around with: the Charger, a Tank-esque figure who can knock down an entire team like bowling pins and pummel one unlucky survivor to the floor, the Jockey, who piggy-backs survivors and drags them away from the team, leaving them open to attack, and the Spitter, who produces a highly toxic acid from it’s mouth which can cripple a team in seconds.

Choosing not to continue the story (actually you’re right, what story?!) from the original L4D by changing the setting to the southern states of America, the new survivors – Nick, Ellis, Rochelle and Coach – begin their story in Georgia, not even knowing each others names and attempt to find their way to New Orleans in hope of rescue by the military.

On top of the standard campaign, which is more amusing (and frustrating) online, and versus mode, the game also offers ‘Realism’, ‘Survival’ and ‘Scavenge’. ‘Realism’ is for the seasoned L4D player, taking away all the pop up hints like “Don’t shoot team mates!” and not highlighting weapons, items or off-screen players, making the special infected all the more deadly.

‘Survival’ is similar to the free add on for the first game, which sets up the four survivors in various locations from the campaigns and challenges players to stay alive for as long as possible, with as much petrol and pipe-bombs as you can throw.

‘Scavenge’ sees you collecting fuel to power light generators or getaway vehicles and works much in the same way as ‘Survival’ except there are rounds, with both teams getting to play as the special infected and the survivors, forcing players to exploit the new specials abilities, such as using the Spitter to cover the fuel pouring area in acid, or splitting up the survivors by driving one away with the Jockey.

The biggest change is the weaponry. If you ever wanted to swipe off the head of a zombie with a cricket bat (á la Sean of the Dead) you can thanks to the shiny melee weapons. Totalling eight in all, the list is topped by the deadly chainsaw, which can plough through dozens of gruesome infected before it runs out of juice.

The array of main weapons available has also been boosted, now letting you deal death with an array of FPS classics such as the AK-47 or Desert Eagle, but the jewel in the crown is the grenade launcher. Ridiculously powerful, but painfully slow to reload, the launcher sends body parts flying with precision and can quickly dispatch the fearsome Tank.

As if that wasn’t enough, incendiary and explosive ammo are now available, good for one clip per gun when activated. The explosive ammo is a little lack-lustre, merely causing rounds to occasionally clip infected standing nearby. The power of fire on the other hand is devastating, creating one-hit-kills and lighting up the horde like a Christmas tree, well…maybe a pyromaniacs Birthday party…

The campaigns are as fresh and engaging as their predecessors were first time around, and the implementation of weather and other environmental effects is particularly well done. In ‘Dead Center’ you have to escape the building while it’s burning down around you, with flames and smoke everywhere making it difficult to see and almost impossible to find the way out. This is taken even further in ‘Hard Rain’ where the second half of the level sees you re-tracing your steps while a storm rages slowing movement and covering the sounds of the infected’s approach, creating a tense and genuinely terrifying experience.

Online, this game is a triumph and promises countless hilarious and irritating moments, often at the same time. It doesn’t re-invent the genre or poke at the boundaries like Modern Warfare 2, but Valve have lived up to their pedigree and provided a sequel that surpasses the original Without Xbox LIVE though, there wouldn’t be much of a game, so if you’re online play-challenged then give this a miss, for anyone else who owns an Xbox though it’s a crucial purchase. Lock and load.

James Michael Parry

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