It’s amazing to me how similar zombie popular culture is to the subject matter it exalts. They’re both old, stale, falling apart, there always seems to be a never-ending stream of them and they just won’t die. Yes, of all the clichés you could possibly throw at a video game, zombies and zombie-related apocalypses would have to be at the top of the list. So why, that said, does Left 4 Dead 2 buck the trend? Simple: the gameplay is choice.
At its core L4D2 is made up of five campaigns, each featuring five chapters within a particular map. The overall setting of the game is the ‘Deep South’ of America and it’s the perfect gothic location for the source material. New Orleans, Savannah, Georgia, the bayou; all of these locations feature in stunning post-pandemic detail.
Viewed as a whole the campaigns are like chapters in a book, each one revealing a little more of the game’s back story both in the environments traversed and in the dialogue between the main characters. This method of telling the story was something that, although attempted in the original title, never quite delivered. Simply put, the descriptive story glue that holds these chapters together is a whole lot stronger this time around.
The main characters themselves are once again standouts as far as likeability and depth of personality. We have: Rochelle, a sassy television production assistant; Ellis, a ‘hic’ smart-ass mechanic; Nick, a smooth-talking conman and Coach, a… well, a coach. The game is peppered with these characters’ thoughts, theories and musings on their predicament and Ellis is definitely a standout much like Francis from the original L4D.
Taking a look at the ‘special infected’, L4D2 features three new bosses out to make your life a living hell. These are: the ‘Spitter’, a revolting female ‘infected’ who fires puddles of fluro-green acid at you; the ‘Jockey’, a giggling midget who jumps on your shoulders and tries to steer you into mischief; and the ‘Charger’, a lopsided bodybuilder who rams, grabs then pounds you into the asphalt. All the old favourites are back, albeit slightly modified in either look or behaviour: ‘Witches’ for example now wander aimlessly around during daylight hours; and the ‘Boomer’? Well, he’s now got a girlfriend.
L4D2 features the original game modes from the first title, namely: Campaign, the main storyline; Versus, in which teams take turns playing survivors and ‘special infected’; and Survivor, a last-stand scenario where players have to survive as long as possible. Incidentally, fans of the original will be relieved to hear that this time around ‘Versus mode’ is available for all maps, as are all the modes. Yes!
To spice things up, two new modes are now available: ‘Scavenge’, which is a timed variation on the Versus challenge, and the very cool new Realism mode. As the name implies, Realism removes certain helpful features such as character and weapon silhouettes. The mode also alters the damage players can deal out to the ‘infected’. A head shot, for instance, does far more damage than body or limb shots. To top it off, downed players can only be revived with a deliberator and once you die, game over.
Speaking of deliberators, there are a whole lot of new goodies for you play with, the most obvious of which would have to be the vastly increased weapons catalogue, and in particular the introduction of melee weapons; an inspired if blatantly obvious decision. Chainsaws, katanas, frying pans, cricket bats – they’re all available for you to engage in some serious zombie smiting.
There’s so much to like about Left 4 Dead 2 that it’s hard to stop going on about it. If you don’t have either game, skip the first and jump straight into the sequel and, perhaps most importantly of all, make sure you play co-operatively. L4D2 only truly shines when you’re blasting zombies with your friends.