My wife & I loved playing Left 4 Dead. Sure it only had 4 campaigns and became repetitive after a while (but we still logged 30+ hours on it), but there was just no other game like it. Not only was it the best co-op experience I’d ever had, defly encouraging real co-operative play (rather than just feeling like you happen to be in the same game at the same time) without it ever feeling forced, but it was also without doubt the best zombie apocalypse simulator ever. It made Resident Evil 5 look like a tired old horse being ruthlessly flogged around the track one more time to please its unimaginative masters.
I was a little worried about Left 4 Dead 2 when I saw the final intro movie and played the demo. Had they decided to go into full-on daytime carnage mode and forgotten the pressing suspense elements? Having had the full game for a couple of days now, I can report that the answer is most definitely and pleasingly ‘no’. In fact what they’ve done is taken everything that was great about Left 4 Dead, and added a whole extra layer of extra stuff which works incredibly well.
We bought it on PC because that was the best experience (we had L4D1 on both PC and 360 and the PC version was much better - faster, more detailed, higher resolution etc), and everything seems to have had an extra visual bump. I’m playing it at 1680×1050 with everything cranked up to the max and it runs really well and looks great, especially considering how many zombies are running around at times.
It’s impressive how well the new elements interact and improve on the gameplay. The environments themselves are very much more individual - we’ve only played through 2 of the 5 campaigns so far but their visual style and the events that occur are now far more varied. While in L4D1 the environments were great at times (my favourite was the airport), the actions that happened inside them were mostly the same. Even in the two settings we’ve played so far, we’ve had great variety - trying to escape a burning building with smoke obscuring your vision (friendly fire is a particular problem since every flailing silhouette looks similar), running around a roller coaster, starting up a rock concert stage show to attract the attention of a chopper, it’s all great fun. They’ve mixed things up more so you have to switch weapons more often - gone are the times when you could pick a single weapon and ammo-up where you could, now you’re more likely to find small selections of discarded weapons which you need to switch for the current gun you have which is running low, meaning you have to adapt more. The new special infected definitely add a whole new dimension and can make things go pear-shaped quickly, particularly the spitter which can split the group up for precious seconds as a pool of steaming acid cuts you off just long enough for someone to get into trouble. The choice of new items adds a new element too - should we carry more medkits, or should at least one of us have a defibrillator unit in case the worst should happen? If we’re going to have to make a run for it, say to turn off a noisy carousel which is attracting the horde, maybe an adrenaline shot might be more useful than pain pills (temporary health restoration)?
All the people who complained that this was a sequel instead of a free content pack need to be quiet now, because the improvements in the sequel are easily worth paying for. Valve took a major risk with Left 4 Dead; no-one had embraced co-op gameplay quite so completely (so as to basically make playing alone unattractive), and no-one had tried to make an AI ‘game master’ (director as they call it) adapt a dynamic and semi-randomised game to the players before, thus making a co-op game which had the replayability only competitive multiplayer games had achieved before. But, it worked, and arguably created a whole new type of game. Watershed games like this don’t come along that often, and when they do I think developers deserve to be rewarded for it.
Left 4 Dead used to be the best co-op game, and the best zombie game around - it’s fitting that it should be superceded only by its sequel. If you remotely like co-op gaming and share the current fascination with the zombie apocalypse, I doubt you will find a game better than this.