Left 4 Dead 2

The Charger, (think of it as a less destructive tank), is more cunning than its bullish appearance implies. In the reigns of the tactless player you often catch sight of it thundering through a shopping mall or park en route for a brick wall where it’s quickly butchered. However in the hands of a more pensive player the Charger is a game-changer.

The first map on the rotation of the new Scavenge mode is a shopping mall. Four floors construct its vertical trajectory with two staircases connecting the ground floor to the third. Scattered about the mall, besides a littering of baseball bats, the undead and enough pipe bombs to level the building, are petrol cans – the goal here to fuel the display car and make like the French out of the iconic zombie-ridden property.

A popular tactic on the mall map is to have two players climb the closest stairway hurling the gas canisters down to the two players on the ground floor who fill the car while keeping the human controlled undead at bay (humans being far more resilient to death than the already dead). The other team does the same up top as they bowl petrol canisters down like they were paper mache animals. This splits the human undead and makes them easier to deal with whilst also saving valuable time.

Back to the Charger. On the occasion in question the two players ascend to the third floor as is often the norm. On the ground floor the two players have already collected two nearby canisters and are filling the car when both their team-mates crash next to them in a bloody, frankly uninspiring, heap. Instant death. Surprised the surviving players turn and fire on a Charger and it collapses, but not before a Smoker constricts the first and a Jockey rides the second survivor into a crowd of applauding zombies. Jaw applauding. Jawplauding.

For all the criticisms and fanboy-bawling, Left 4 Dead 2 is a different game. It doesn’t always seem that way, you can still choose the auto-shotgun with a pistol, carrying a med-kit, pain pills and your flashlight, and wander through the five campaign levels separating heads from bodies just like before. But Valve have altered a few things subliminally enough to change the game in more tactful ways.

The core itself remains unaltered. The survivors may be different and the setting now the Deep South, but it’s still the same frantic teamwork-dependent FPS adding another year’s development to Episode 3 with each incarnation.

The new survivors aren’t exhaustive in their design, less memorable than the previous four and quite unlikable at times. Ellis is the token southerner (with his frequent quips regarding ‘one time…’), Rochelle the token woman, Coach the token black guy, Nick er… They’re less than interesting but that’s likely on account that Left 4 Dead is a multiplayer game and therefore the characters are friends or strangers on the internet.

And playing with the bots is something of a class in raising cholesterol by the minute. Content always to let the special infected to have their way with you, frequently observing the Charger tenderising your fragile character like David Attenborough observing native wildlife, they’re inept and the last pick of the people you’d feel comfortable with in an apocalypse. But it’s a game built on the principle that you have at least three friends and as with Left 4 Dead, the sequel is a riot with them.

The new campaigns benefit from the decision to set the game during the day and coupled with new special and standard infected are free of the vague monotony haunting parts of the first game and its many dark forest levels. It also means, with level design consistent throughout, that online games aren’t limited solely to endless sprints through Mercy Hospital. Returning crescendo events are ever-more dramatic too; Dark Carnival has you running up and down a decrepit wooden roller coaster, fending off an intimidating number of the infected and Swamp Fever ups the challenge with multiple tanks to be dealt with at once. No amount of preparation has you ready the first time not one but two tanks arrive on the front doorstep of your abandoned mansion demanding afternoon tea and biscuits.

As well as the five campaign missions, versus returns as the primary multiplayer mode. As does Survival, Left 4 Dead’s downloadable game mode, fleshed out a little more but just as challenging. Scavenge is a remarkable inclusion but I spent four paragraphs discussing it earlier. Suffice to say it’s sublime in its creation, reducing the playtime of versus whilst injecting even more of a tactical requirement, for me it’s the highlight of the game.

Yet it’s the minor inclusions that perhaps alter the game most dramatically. The defibrillator allows survivors to be revived after untimely mid-level deaths, helpful when used on those expert run throughs where your buddy decides to sprint off into the distance into the wake of a patient Jockey, but it takes the place of your med-kit. The speed boost, as well as increasing your running speed temporarily, allows you to heal or perform actions quicker but take the place of pain pills. Other additions include rare weapon attachments, ammo modifiers and melee weapons (one of the games selling points.)

Melee weapons should be a staple in the zombie sub-genre (a genre I may have just fabricated), as Dead Rising proves so irrefutably. Horrendously overpowered, limb-shredding, sadistic artifacts, they’re endlessly fun and overshadow the new guns as the must have items. The achievement ‘Tank Burger’ (no prizes for guessing how you unlock it) epitomises why mêlée weapons were a glaring omission in Left 4 Dead.

On paper a sequel within just one year is concerning, but an hour spent with Left 4 Dead 2 and even the most jaded petition enthusiast will see that these slick additions fully vindicate its rather unexpected existence.

8/10

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