Left 4 Dead 2: reheating zombies Cajun style

I’ll make no apologies: I was a fan of the original Left 4 Dead. By the time my interest waned and my friends and I stopped playing, I had clocked in somewhere around 100 hours of gameplay. Probably more. Much of that time was spent in the game’s Versus mode, which pits four survivors against four player-controlled "super-infected" zombies with different powers. I talked a little bit about that mode about a year ago, but suffice it to say the thrill of orchestrating attacks on survivors and then having to survive the other team’s onslaughts kept me hooked. Playing with Internet pals only made the experience better.

Valve released Left 4 Dead 2 on November 17, and Steam tells me I’ve already sunk just shy of 40 hours into it since launch day.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a strange animal for a Valve game. L4D2 came out exactly one year after the original, first of all, which seems like a preposterously quick release cycle by Valve standards. We’re talking about a company that took six years to make Half-Life 2 and has yet to announce a launch schedule for Half-Life 2: Episode Three two years after releasing Episode Two, after all. This new multiplayer zombie shooter debuted so quickly after the original that some accused Valve of peddling a glorified expansion pack as a full game. A boycott movement was born, demanding that Left 4 Dead 2 come out as downloadable content for Left 4 Dead. I had some reservations myself about whether L4D2 would really be worth the $49.99 (or, in my case, €49.99) asking price. I mean, how much more content could they really put in?

As lukewarm as I was about the price, I was still eager to give the game a shot. Valve was promising a fresh round of monsters, characters, and weapons, plus some fresh locations with daytime segments. Everything looked like it would be bigger, meaner, and more intense, sort of like last night’s leftovers cooked up Cajun style with plenty of hot sauce. I could hardly turn that down.

40 hours of playtime later, I’m hooked again. Valve may have kept the basic mechanics the same, but just about everything else has changed—sometimes subtly, sometimes not. The Louisiana locations give the game a fresh coat of paint, as do the new characters, zombies, weapons, graphical effects (you can shoot chunks of flesh off zombies now), and sounds (even certain weapons from the first game sound different now). The game certainly looks and feels more like a sequel than an expansion, so that’s a start.

Altogether, the gameplay changes almost forced me to re-learn how to play, especially in the Versus mode. Ever huddle up in a corner with teammates to face a sudden influx of zombies? In the original, a team that did that was practically untouchable. In Left 4 Dead 2, that strategy is no good: all it takes is to spoil things is one attack from the Spitter super-infected, which hocks up a pool of acid goo from a distance, causing heaps of damage to survivors. Ever stick together tightly while walking down a long corridor? Good L4D strategy, bad in L4D2. Here, the Charger super-infected can run down the entire team, grabbing one of the survivors in the process, carrying him a few dozen feet away, and subsequently pummeling him mercilessly into the ground as his teammates recover.

Valve has added a third super-infected zombie. The Jockey has the ability to hop on the back of a survivor and steer him away, which often proves pointless and makes the character frustrating to use. However, this ability can be a godsend when one needs to split up the survivors or make one of them stumble over a ledge, which can either kill him or leave him hanging for his life as teammates try to fight off the zombie horde. In Versus mode, those playing as the Infected will have to learn how to use the Spitter, Charger, and Jockey effectively and coordinate them with the original Boomer, Hunter, Smoker, and Tank. That’s harder than it sounds, trust me.

The survivors also have new tools in their toolbox, of course, not least of all the melee weapons. Those help tremendously with large swarms of zombies and when you need to save ammo. Good thing, too, because ammo has become much scarcer in the sequel. Besides, nothing’s more fun than running down zombies with a chainsaw, a katana sword, or a baseball bat. Players will also find additional firearms. I’m glad Valve mixed things up a little here; the lack of variety in L4D1‘s guns made things dreary for me toward the end, since there were basically two good weapons: the assault rifle and the shotgun. L4D2‘s arsenal includes two extra shotguns, another sniper rifle, two more assault rifles, and a grenade launcher, all of which complement the original weapons.

L4D2‘s revised scoring system also doesn’t factor in how many health packs you have left at the end of a round, so if you’ve made a habit out of not healing until you’re almost dead, you’ll want to re-train yourself. You can also pick up a defibrillator instead of a health kit; this tool will let you revive a dead comrade, but you won’t be able to use it to heal when your life bar gets into the red. Decisions, decisions.

Survivors will have to reshape their play style to fit the Louisiana campaigns. In Swamp Fever, they’ll face lots of open areas with trees and zombies that can crawl out of the bayou. No crocodiles, though. The Hard Rain campaign is my current favorite: in the first half, players navigate through a small town, some industrial areas, and a cane field toward a gas station. The survivors must then bring the gas back to their boat, which involves backtracking through the same levels—only now, a thunderstorm is raging. Some areas are flooded, and the storm rages more or less fiercely depending on how well the survivors are doing. At the storm’s most intense, players have next to no visibility and can barely hear other players over the voice chat, forcing everyone to yell commands and pleas for help.

I should also throw in an honorable mention for the Dark Carnival campaign, which has zombie clowns. Zombie clowns, man!

I’m still coming to grips with some of the updated gameplay mechanics, but in almost every way, L4D2 feels more intense and tougher than the original—great for players like me who know L4D like the back of their hands and are looking for a fresh challenge. Valve hasn’t altered any of the fundamentals, though, so if you liked the first game, you’ll almost definitely like the sequel.

On the flip side, if the original didn’t enthuse you, then you’ll want to stay far, far away from Left 4 Dead 2. This advice goes especially for folks who were miffed by the first game’s bugs and oddities. Valve’s latest title feels generally polished, but some quirks can cause a generous dose of frustration. For example, the Charger’s, er, charge can be stopped dead in its tracks by an obstacle. Makes sense, right? Only sometimes, that obstacle happens to be a tiny piece of wood sticking out of a wall or a small object on the ground that was barely visible from a distance. Such quirks are less apparent in the co-op and survival modes, but if you’re playing Versus or the new Scavenge mode, things like that can get on your nerves.

In my experience, the best way to have fun playing Left 4 Dead 2 is to play with friends. As long as you know at least three other people who share your taste for the game, you should be able to have a good time. If you find seven others, then Versus games will have you relishing the moment and reminiscing about (or debating) the events of the campaign for hours afterward. Just like with the original, though, playing on public servers gets old quickly—especially because you’re not familiar with your team and their play style, which makes coordinating effectively more difficult.

Comments closed
    • shaq_mobile
    • 10 years ago

    the pickle with l4d2 isnt so much with l4d2 as it is with l4d. i got burnt out on l4d campaign quick, and i have not much of a taste for pvp anymore. im too old to talk trash and be unruly. it really frustrated me how valve completely lied in its marketing for l4d. there were like 6-7 weapons. half of them being pumped up versions of the other half. so there were essentially 3 weapons that played uniquely. if i remember, the demo splash claimed 20 weapons. unless you count gas cans and other world objects that can explode, that number is quite a bit off. im not asking for big free packs of dlc, i just want valve to not do me in the poop chute. original l4d is worth (to me) 30 at best. l4d2 cant be work anymore, considering its what l4d (to me) should have been from the start (lighting aside).

    of course, this comment reflects my opinion, im sure there are some of you other seamonkeys that really dig both for full price, thats fine too.

    • Vaughn
    • 10 years ago

    Love this game, picked it up in a 4 pack with some friends. Once thing I did also notice L4D2 loves quadcores!

    Just in time for my recently built i7 rig 🙂

    • StuG
    • 10 years ago

    I have to say though I was skeptic, I have to agree that this game is very much its own game. I played L4D competitively and I plan on playing this competitively as-well. When you get down to the core dynamics of the game if you say that the two are similar you are sorely mistaken. Tactics not only had to change dramatically because of the new infected/guns, but the maps also force both teams to think out newer solutions than “lets hide in the corner” trick.

    Overall I’ve had a fantastic time with this game and I feel that because they intend to support the 3rd party community more with this game, that its only going to get better from here.

    Also, it was 37.95 or something on black friday, which was a great price. I picked mine up in a 4 pack which only came out to 33.25 when I bought it. If you want to get it and have friends itching to upgrade as well thats a great way to do it.

    • rythex
    • 10 years ago

    Meh, not buying.. didn’t even try demo.. Valve can suck it 😛

      • TheEmrys
      • 10 years ago

      Yeah, you showed them.

    • BoBzeBuilder
    • 10 years ago

    Should be able to pick it up next summer for 19.99

    • jokinin
    • 10 years ago

    I’ve been playin the original L4D since last august (paid 22.99€ for it), and it was so funny, i played almost every day.
    Bought L4D2 through a preorder on steam (for 34.19€), and i’ve played it, but not so much, maybe because it doesn’t run so smoothy on my machine as L4D used to, maybe because it’s almost the exact gameplay (except things that are well noticed in this article), maybe because i’m a bit tired of it.
    I agree, that this should have been released as an expansion rather a new game, like hl2 episodes.
    Besides, I’ve always thought that it would be fun to play single player without any other survivor to help out, with less zombies and a slower gameplay to take a look at the nice gaphics and create a more fearing atmosphere. I think that would be possible
    All in all, its fun but not so much fun as I started playing the original L4D.

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      agree with who? Cyril was arguing that it shouldn’t have been an expansion, that it was its own game.

        • emorgoch
        • 10 years ago

        I can respect them charging a full game price for L4D2, but I still think it should have been released as an expansion. As it stands now, I have to choose to load one game, or the other, depending on what I want to play. This does lead to exactly one of the key points that the L4D2 boycot group had: Fracture of the community.

        I can see why they didn’t want to put the new content into the old levels, because it would really mess up the balance in those levels. But it really does bug me that they are two completely separate applications.

    • Dashak
    • 10 years ago

    Every time I try to play L4D2, the server has a ping above 200. It’s just too laggy to play – I’m waiting for that to change before I play it again. My ping is around 50-60 playing L4D1.

    • puppetworx
    • 10 years ago

    Agreed. The demo is useless, no infected play, the worst maps, no scavenge mode!

    As Cyril said if you liked L4D and have friends to play with you’ll like L4D2.

      • ImSpartacus
      • 10 years ago

      You can use t hat one plugin to switch yourself to the zed side and play. That’s sorta fun, but it did get boring fast.

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    I wonder why I got *nothing* out of playing the demo. I tried and tried and tried to like this. I adored the first. I just could not get into this one… I don’t know if it’s the ambiance (lighter and not as creepy) characters (more gratingly annoying than clever,) or the mechanics (more chaos but somehow less fun.)

    I’d join other friends, but many of the requests I get are for playing the first one. Also given the Steam updates 2x a week, this game doesn’t seem quite finished… not that L4D1 was finished on releaseg{<.<}g

      • KikassAssassin
      • 10 years ago

      L4D2 had possibly the worst demo ever. They somehow managed to pick the most boring cross-section of the game they could find to put into it, so it doesn’t do a good job of showing off the strengths of the game at all. L4D2 is a fantastic game that’s better than the original in pretty much every way, but you’d never know it from playing the demo.

      I guess they wanted to save the best parts for the full game, but I think people’s perception of the game based on the demo would be a lot different if they’d included a section from Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, or Hard Rain instead (the latter being the coolest, creepiest, most intense campaign in the game by far, though I think The Parish has my favorite finale event. That last finale is just pure adrenaline-pumping chaos). The level design in this game is head and shoulders above the first one, which is no small feat, since the first game didn’t exactly have poorly designed levels. I also like the way the game forces you to swap weapons from time to time, so you can’t just find the best weapon and keep it for the entire campaign like you could in the first game.

      I think the only thing I liked better about the first game was the survivors, though L4D2’s survivors have grown on me.

        • mongoosesRawesome
        • 10 years ago

        I really like Ellis.

          • KikassAssassin
          • 10 years ago

          Yeah, Ellis cracks me up. He’s easily my favorite of the new survivors.

          I’ve enjoyed Nick and Coach’s banter, too. Rochelle needs to talk more, though. I hardly ever hear her say anything.

            • Kulith
            • 10 years ago

            what? rochelle needs to shut up more imo

            Everytime she sees a gun or object she goes nuts and tells everyone where the frying pan / whatever is

            • KikassAssassin
            • 10 years ago

            The problem is that’s all she says. She doesn’t have any personality at all.

            • Scrotos
            • 10 years ago

            I agree about the demo sucking and the game being so much better and so much better of an overall package and progression than the first. They tried to get some continuity with the free campaign released for L4D, but it was just tacked on. For L4D2 it seems so nicely integrated.

            And yeah I like Rochelle. First time playing as her and I picked up an axe, I got her sayin’ “Lemme axe you a question! Hahaha!” That was good stuff! I kinda wish all of them would talk more except maybe Ellis as his monologues seem to go on forever sometimes.

            • _Sigma
            • 10 years ago

            “Axe me a question, I dare you” is how it goes (IIRC), but yeah, I almost spilt coffee all over my keyboard when I heard that.

            The demo, I agree, was garbage. Don’t judge L4D2 on it. The first level of the Parish (ie the demo) is one of the more boring levels, although I assume they wanted to show off a during-the-day act.

        • indeego
        • 10 years ago

        Thanks. That is reassuring. I have moved on to other games in the meantime, and because it’s so patchy, I am just going to wait it out till the price comes down a tad.

        Been getting in this phase (getting older?) where I no longer jump on games as they are released, and I like the idea of waiting until they are fully patched and have more complete modsg{<.<}g The exception is Torchlight/Diablo type. those games are crack to me.

    • AntiOmni
    • 10 years ago

    Cool story bro

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