Left 4 Dead 2
Reviewed for: Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore,
intense violence, language)
By Billy O'Keefe
What does a sequel look like when it's turned around in a year by a studio notorious for taking twice as long to develop an episodic expansion pack?
Actually, if you're the audience Valve is targeting with "Left 4 Dead 2," it looks pretty good. "L4D2" is a wholly incremental upgrade over its 2008 predecessor, but it hits all the marks — new campaigns, new characters, new modes and new infected freaks to play as online — it needed to hit to command another $60 from play who still have the original in heavy rotation.
Elementarily speaking, "L4D2" changes nothing: It's a first person shooter, starring you as one of four human survivors navigating a zombie apocalypse (this time, in New Orleans and its outskirts). The objective: Kill hordes of attacking zombies, and less common but exponentially more dangerous special infected, whose attacks are more powerful and harder to circumvent.
As per last time, the game splits into five bite-sized, hour-plus-long campaigns, and it dynamically rearranges how and from where the infected attack each time you play. You can take on campaigns solo (with three A.I.-controlled allies) or with friends (two-player split-screen, up to four online).
While a couple of the new campaigns feel like uninspired bridges between the better offerings, "L4D2" hits more than misses. The introduction of daytime campaigns provides a dramatic change of mood to the action, and some of the locales — a shopping mall, an amusement park, a concert stage and a storm-drenched cornfield you have you traverse back and forth without alerting a band of witches — are pretty inspired. A new Realism mode toggle, accessible from any difficulty level, removes a few video game safety nets in favor of forcing players to communicate better and stay continually on their toes.
"L4D2's" new survivors don't add as much as one might hope: They say little between missions, and they pretty much just emulate "L4D's" foursome when the heat is on. Much more impressive is weapons list, which expands to include better rifles, upgradable ammo rounds, new explosives and some disgustingly effective melee weapons.
But "L4D2's" most notable (and necessary) bump is in the modes department. The Survival mode, added to "L4D" as downloadable content, is intact from the start, while a new Scavenge mode tasks survivors with collecting fuel for an escape before time runs out while playable infected try to stop them. The standard Versus mode also returns, and this time it supports all five campaign maps and features a more inclusive scoring mechanism. "L4D2" introduces three new special infected types, and all three are a treat to play as in Versus matches.
The only thing "L4D2" doesn't improve is its general indifference toward solo players. The single-player suite consists strictly of the campaigns — all other modes require multiplayer participation — and if you refuse to play with friends or head online, too much of the experience remains off-limits to recommend this as a full-price purchase.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.