l4d2_pc_box_sm_One of the most surprising announcements at last year's E3 was that Valve's zombie-survival thriller Left 4 Dead was already getting a sequel. The game would only have been out for exactly one year from Left 4 Dead 2's date of arrival, November 17, 2009. The gaming industry was swept with a broad range of emotions, from excitement to enough resentment to incite a boycott. Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2) has been out for a few weeks now, and we've sat down with it to see if it not only has deemed itself worthy of a full core game, but helped to heal the wounds that a rocky launch left behind.

Game: Left 4 Dead 2
Published by:
Valve Corporation
Developed by:
Valve Corporation
Platforms:
Xbox 360, PC (Review Sample)
Genre:
First-person shooter, horror/survival
Release Date:
11/17/2009
MSRP:
$59.99 (Console), $49.99 (PC)
Review and Screenshots by:
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Gameplay

Anyone who says that L4D2 is simply the first game repackaged clearly hasn't spent much time with the sequel. We'll start with the more obvious changes, the first of which being the plot and setting. L4D2 introduces four new survivors: Coach, Rochelle, Ellis, and Nick. Each has their own back-story just like the suvivors in L4D. Long story short we have: a high school football coach, a news channel reporter, a young mechanic, and a gambler respectively. This time around, the zombie apocalypse has spread to to southern United States and the change in scenery is obvious. From the demographics represented in the campaign to the articulation of the character's voices Valve rarely misses a detail.

Valve has woven a subtle story behind the entire Left 4 Dead franchiseand it really shines in this second installment. The story campaigns seem to have more of a linear feel, the "first" Dead Center, continues from the opening cinematic tale of the survivors climbing  up to the roof of a hotel, only to find themselves abandoned by rescue helicopters. In this level, you won't even begin with a primary weapon; there are only pistols and melee weapons. Melee weapons beingh on of the most substantial advancements between the two titles. Melee weapons replace your secondary side-arm and there is a wide variety to choose from. Like a machete, chainsaw, crowbar or even a garden gnome. If you do choose to keep to traditional handguns, Valve has thrown some new features in for you as well. You can still carry or dual wield the standard pistols with unlimited ammo or you can swap for the new Magnum, which holds 8-round clips and has more firepower at the cost of firing speed.

Secondary weapons aren't the only equipment to see additional choices. Several new primary weapons have been introduced, as well as medical items and more explosives items. In addition to pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails, survivors can now find jars of Boomer bile (Bile Bombs) that will explode upon impact dousing the target area in the all-too-familiar substance. Thus calling an unbiased horde to gather and/or attack that area. For instance, throwing a bile bomb on a Tank will cause a horde of common infected to actually attack the goliath himself. Another powerful combination is the bile bomb and Molotov combination which attracts gobs of common infected to run into fire, igniting themselves. Med-packs have been paired with defibrillator units which can be used to actually revive a fallen ally on the field. Pain pills now can now be swapped out for an Adrenaline shot alternative. This adrenaline shot gives you a small boost of health, faster movement and an actual physical alteration. Sounds become more sharp and the peripheral of your screen becomes focused in the center all for a short period of time. Also new to L4D2 are round of special ammunition, which you can be deployed on the ground for the entire party to use.

Common infected have also seen a few changes. Their appearance has been altered to reflect the southern lifestyle, and Valve has seemed to create a variety of models, so seeing two infected that look alike side-by-side is more uncommon. Each campaign also features its own Uncommon infected. The circus clowns found in the Dark Carnivale campaign for exampl . Hunters, Smokers, Boomers, and Tanks still occupy the ranks of the Special infected, though they have all seen cosmetic upgrades.Including a new female version of the Boomer. Witches are still around (of course) and still kneeling in inconvenient areas but now in L4D2 they will sometimes sulk around the environment just waiting for you to startle them.

Valve has developed three new Special Infected for Left 4 Dead 2. The first is the Spitter, a youthful girl an elongated neck and bloated physique from post-death ailments. This creature spits a caustic goo with a medium to long range that inflicts low damage very quickly. The goo can simply be stepped out of but can be unavoidable in some situations and is deadly if the target is an incapacitated Survivor. Their spit can also destory gas tanks, which comes in handy during Scavenge mode. The Jockey is a very short, gremlin looking beast with stature similar to Oddjob from GoldenEye 64. He's very quick and hard to hit to attack the Jockey pounces on the head of a Survivor, taking control of their movement. The Jockey will then manuver their prey away from the group and into the common infected or even off a cliff. The Jockey can be knocked off by a melee attacks but matches the speed of a Survivor pretty well, so shooting it off is normally more effective. The Charger has an ex-farmer look, complete with blue jean overalls and boots. It looks a lot like a slimmer version of the Tank but doesn't even come close to a Tank's health or power. However what the Charger lacks in these areas, it makes up for with speed. The Charger's main attack involves charging at a target and then carrying a Suvivor until slammed into a solid object. Once it stops the Charger proceeds to pummel it's victum until they're rescued or dead.

Campaign(s)
The campaign plays just as the first, with up to four players cooperating with one another survive scenario after scenario. Each is broken into chapters, sown together with the Safe Rooms to provide a checkpoint (should the Survivors fail), additional health, new weapons, and ammunition. L4D2 provides five full-length campaigns, one more than its predecessor at launch.

Interface displays an individuals health and equipment status, as well as teammates health bars, icons, and names along the bottom of the screen. Just as in the first L4D, secondary medical equipment (pills or adrenaline) can be tossed from Survivor to Survivor, incapacitated players must be helped up, and a dead ally can be found in a designated re-spawn closet or with the newly introduced Defibrillator. Should all Survivors become incapacitated of die, the round restarts from the last Safe Room.

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Dead Center
begins atop the roof of a mall, in which the Survivors must navigate through rooms and corridors, some filled with smoke and fire due to the chaos. This campaign features a special common infected doned in Haz-Mat suits from the fictional health organization CEDA. These so-called 'uncommon' infected are immune to fire (which comes in handy in this campaign) and can drop jars of Boomer Bile upon death.

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Dark Cavinal takes place after the escape from the mall in Dead Center, with the Survivors halted by a barricade of abandoned cars littered on a highway. The Survivors soon spot a billboard advertising 'Whispering Oaks', a local theme park that Coach used to frequent when he was younger. Seeing search lights coming from the park, the Survivors decide to make their way there. This campaign features a clown zombie distinguishable not only by its appearance but also the squeaking noise it makes as it walks around, squeezing its nose. This Infected also has the ability to alert a small horde to the Survivor's location. Dead Center also features several amusement park-themed mini-games in which the player is rewarded for participating in by Steam Achievements. Of course, you'll have to put up with your companions surely yelling at you to hurry up, since they'll be the ones fighting off the hordes of Infected while you play them.

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Continuing with the Survivor's current streak of luck, the pilot who rescued the Survivors from the fairgrounds turns out to be Infected, and their helicopter crashes into the beginning of Swamp Fever (sound familiar?). Players must now navigate through a darker environment, wading through dirty water, which slows the Survivors movement, and tangled with all sorts of overgrowth. The Swamp contains an uncommon Mud Men Infected, which blend in the the environment and are hard to spot. If that wasn't enough, these Infected are also much quicker than your average common Infected, so its not hard at all for these creatures to sneak up on you. But wait, there's more: these creatures can also blind you temporarily with mud. The Survivors eventually make their way to a plantation, and discover a large, abandoned house to contact help from.

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Virgil, the boat owner who rescues the Survivors from the swamp, soon after finds himself running low on fuel. The Survivors dock along the country side and decide to go ashore to find some gas. This begins Hard Rain, and as players make their way through a scattered rural community, they will notice the weather beginning to go south (no pun intended). Eventually, the rain turns into an all-out downpour, providing limit visions for the Survivors. Construction Worked uncommon infected are found here, who have the ability to ignore the pipe bomb that distracts and allures to other common infected.

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The Parish, linearly the final campaign in Left 4 Dead 2, begins as Virgil drops the Survivors off near a known evacuation spot. Survivors being to make their way through a ravaged city towards to evac area, but are shocked to find that military are already bombing exits to the cities. You'll want to pay extra attention to dialogue in this campaign especially; critical information regarding the Infection is revealed. It won't be long until you run into SWAT officers in The Parish, either. These uncommon infected wear body armor, minimizing damage to their front. To kill them effectively, they must be turned around and shot in the back. Upon their death, there is a chance they will drop the melee weapon riot stick.

Realism

Ever wonder what it would be like to actually live the zombie apocalypse? Valve has provided the Realism mode to bring you one step closer to the answer. In this mode, you'll play through the original five campaigns like normal, but there are no helpful outlines or call-outs. Put simply, when your allies are pounced by a Hunter, there's no flashy notification, no red outlines, nothing. It will be up to the player to let you know he needs help, and up to you to find him. Also, should a Survivor die, the only way to revive him/her is with Defibrillator; there is no respawning in closets. The damage values are also different in Realism mode: you'll be rewarded with more damage to Infected with headshots, and less if you shoot them in a more invaluable limb, such as the arm. Realism mode provides a great amount of replay for those interested in cooperative play, and with the ability to still choose the difficulty setting, you don't have to master Expert play to enjoy it, either.

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In this shot, Coach is pinned by Zombies ahead. As you can see, there is no outline indicating his position.

Versus
Familiar to those who played the original, Versus mode plots two teams of four against each other in a score-based competitive mode. One team will begin as Survivors and one as Infected (as chosen in the lobby). The Survivor team will progress through the chosen campaign map as usual, while the Infected team has the opportunity of controlling the Special Infected to stop them. If a Survivor dies, he/she must wait until the next round to respawn or be brought back to life using a Defibrillator. If an Infected dies, depending on the number Infected players, the player must wait a around 20 seconds to respawn. In 'Spawn' mode, Infected players can see as if they were in game, except everything will have a blue hue. Survivor players can not see spawning players at this point, though the Infected can see one another and the Survivors to help chose the best place to spawn. In order to spawn, Infected players cannot be in line sight of Survivors, too close to Survivors, or in a designated restricted area (such as a safe room).

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Once spawned, Infected players can use the talents of their current Special Infected (this is decided by chance, depending on what other Special Infected are in game for balance) to attack and ultimately kill the Survivor team. Any damage done to Survivors provides a small score reward to that Infected player, and a multiplier is accumulated if the hits are consecutive.

As Survivors, you'll play with the objective of making your way to the Safe Rooms and ultimately to escape the campaign. You can pick up weapons and items just as normal. Gameplay is also updated with announcements on the side, similar to cooperative Campaign mode, except when you kill an Infected, it will say "Player 1 killed Player 2" as opposed to "Player 1 killed Boomer". At the end of the round, when you've made it to the Safe Room, a score will be tallied according to each player's remaining health and kits, and that total score will be multiplied by the number of surviving players. The teams will then switch sides, giving the previously Infected team an opportunity to beat the score set by the previously Surviving team. Total scores are updated at the end of each round, and whoever is winning will always play as Survivor first. At the end of the entire match, the team with the highest score wins.

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There are a few updates from the original Versus mode. First, obviously, Infected players have the opportunity to play as not only the original four Special Infected but the new three as well. Also, all five campaigns are available for versus play at launch, as opposed to its predecessor's two. Interface is also more advanced: pressing Tab to bring up the score board will also display a visual representation of each Survivor's progress, a current progress over finish ratio, and of course each Survivor's health, items, ping, and all player's scores, including the round's score for both teams.

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Versus mode is a great time, but has a few natural flaws. Since you play through the campaign maps, completing an entire match can be very time consuming. Given this fact and also that many gamers don't like to lose, you often have players quitting mid-game if things aren't going well, leaving a team short players or filling the open position with a player looking to join a game in progress, though this player will have to catch up quick with the team's status and tactics. It wouldn't be so bad if this happened once or twice, but you can expect this to happen several, several times in one game, from either team.

Valve has also improved the interface of game selection from the original, allowing you to filter game search results by type, difficulty, lobby or in-progress only, and official or mods. They have also improved how the gmae selects servers for you to play on, selecting those close to your location and with higher pings, but of course nothing is perfect.

Scavange
Valve answer to the time-consuming Versus mode is the new Scavange mode, the game type created from the cooperative campaign. In Dead Center, for example, the Survivors must run around collecting gas cans to fuel a display car, meanwhile fighting off hordes of Common Infected as well as Special Infected. In Scavange, the concept is the same, but there are a few twists: just as in Versus mode, Special Infected are now controlled by an opposing human player team of four. Their objective is to prevent the Surviving team from fueling the target, which differs between campaigns.

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Each round begins with a team of four playing Survivor and a team of four playing Infected, with an preparation clock counting down for Survivors to quickly arm themselves and decide on a gameplan, and Infected to strategize and place themselves as well. During this time, Infected are free to roam the entire area except the small radius that the Survivors are confined to, containing the target and supplies. Even at this point, the gas tanks scattered among the area are visible by orange outlines. Once the prep clock is deplenished, the real match begins with a minute thirty seconds on the clock. Survivors then seek out and collect gas cans (only one Survivor can carry one at a time), and pour them into the target. Each gas can poured into the target will add one point to the Survivor's score, and add 20 seconds to the time clock. The round will end when the clock reaches 0.0, or if all Survivors are incapacitated or dead. However, should the clock run out and a Survivor is holding a gas can, the game will continue until the gas can is poured into the target, extending the match by 20 seconds, or the gas can is dropped, ending the round. The sides then switch, and the new Surviving team does the same to try to pour more gas cans than the other. Once this has been accomplished, the match goes to that team, otherwise the match goes to the other. For instance, if the first team scored 8 points (by successfully pouring 8 cans into the target), if the second team scores 9 points the round is automatically over, and that team takes the match. Depending on the 'best of' settings chosen by the leader (best of 3, best of 5, best of 7), this will continue until one team has the majority of matches.

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White outlines on gas cans allow for Survivor's to plan their strategy of collection.

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Having more than one option for players looking for competitive play is good enough as it is, but Scavenge mode is also an excellent alternative for those not looking to invest so much time in a full campaign match. Scavenge mode is also much more simple and to the point than its competitive counterpart, and is a great choice for those looking to play L4D2 at LAN parties.

Survival

Survival mode hasn't seen much change at all between the first and sequel games. You begin in a certain area of a campaign (chosen by the lobby leader), usually an area where a grand horde or finale takes place in the actual Campaign playthrough. A timer is present at the top of the screen and is inactive until triggered by one of the players. This gives the team of four Survivors time to collect items, accumulated explosives, and set up for the endless entourage of Infected. Once ready, the round is triggered and the clock begins to keep the time from that point until the entire team is defeated, either by incapacitation or death. There a three marks to aim for: bronze (four minutes), silver (seven minutes), and gold (ten minutes). Should the team make it past ten minutes, that game will record the record until defeat.

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Survival doesn't waste much time before throwing more at you than you've ever experienced in any other mode. Wave after wave of common infected, paired with multiple Special Infected that breaks the balance that exists elsewhere. For instance, you'll never encounter more than one tank at a time, or even more than once in a chapter. In Survival, as the time ticks away, it isn't odd to see two or three Tanks rushing your team at once. In other words, it's quite a challenge to meet the ten mnute mark even for well sychronized teams. In that respect, Survival mode does a great job bringing players together to work as a team and survive, and as Scavenge is Versus, Survival is to Campaign; for those players looking for a cooperative mode without the lengthy play.

Graphics

Left 4 Dead 2 has seen a few slight improvements in the graphics area, and is also going to be a little more stressful on your hardware. As mentioned before, Valve has also clearly taken some extra time to create more unique Infected and envrionments. It's hard to notice any huge differences between the games, but L4D2 does look a little sharper and more detailed. Objects also tend to have more of a color to them, thanks in part to the introduction of day time campaigns.

Sound
Audio has always been a strong point in the Left 4 Dead series, foreshadowing a number of events from an incoming horde to a lurking Hunter. There isn't much of a background music, aside from a creepy ambiance tune, that fades in and out. However, there is always some sort of sound effect to be heard when playing. Each weapon has a unique sound to it, whether you're picking it up, reloading, or firing mercifully into a crowd of zombies. In addition to the sound blip alerting the Survivor's of an incoming horde (which has seen a Southern alteration of its own), each Special Infected has a noise all of its own, giving Survivor's a slight window to act before being attacked.

Controls

The control scheme is almost identical to the first, with a few of the default buttons, such as crouch. Button assignment isn't a significant area anyway, since it can be tailored to suit your own style. Action response is accurate (assuming your in a server with good latency) and since the layout from L4D1 followed through to the sequel, everything runs as smooth as the first. For those who may have missed out, L4D features your basic FPS controls with WASD movements and mouse aim/fire. Weapons are switched through the scroll wheel are quick-switch buttons, Space bar for jump, and custom button assignments for actions (defaults include E for use, F for flashlight, CTRL for crouch, and C for voice).

Overall

It can't be denied that L4D2 released extremely close to the original. Through interaction with players in game or reading through forums, I'd never encountered anyone saying it needed a sequel. Indeed, many people invested in L4D expecting Valve to do the same. That being said, Valve has also announced the the original is, by no means, dead. And despite the short intermission between the two games, they did an excellent job improving the features L4D1 introduced, creating two brand new gameplay modes, capitalizing on both cooperative and competitive mediums, more than doubled the arsenal available in the first L4D, and developed three additional Speial Infected that are not only challenging but fun to play, and don't disturb the balance of gameplay. Not to mention five full-fledged, original campaigns and a plot unique to L4D2 and Steam Achievements to complete the package. That's not to say, however, that L4D2 is perfect. Even having been out for a year, the original still sees several glitches that need worked out, and having just launched, L4D2 has quite a few to be worked on as well. Let's just hope they get them down before Left 4 Dead 3.

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