Left 4 Dead 2 is a classic game. It debuted in 2009, merely a year after the first Left 4 Dead came out. But, a decade later, it’s understandable to worry if this classic zombie survival game is still engaging or if you should move on to some fresher meat.
So, is Left 4 Dead 2 worth playing in the modern age, or has it gotten too long in the undead teeth?
Something Old, Something New
Left 4 Dead 2 is, of course, a sequel. And one of the ways we measure the success of a sequel is by comparing it to the original game. By this metric, Left 4 Dead 2 is something of a mixed bag.
On one hand, it adds a number of welcome improvements. This includes better melee combat, improved level diversity, and even higher visibility in the levels (with many daylight levels replacing the “all dark, all the time” vibe of the original game.
On the other hand, there is little that this sequel is doing that is really and truly “new.” Instead, it’s tough to shake the feeling that this is the game that the first one should have been. And that makes the first game retroactively feel like a beta test for this, the real thing.
Fortunately, this refinement of the survival genre ends up really shining in many key areas.
It’s easy to feel like zombies are, culturally speaking, pretty played out. But Left 4 Dead 2 came out a year before The Walking Dead TV show, back when most of our pop culture understanding of zombies came from movies like Dawn of the Dead.
Left 4 Dead 2 wears its zombie influences proudly on its sleeve. Each level has a very cinematic feel, both in terms of how the action is presented and how that action is influenced by a number of zombie and horror genre classics.
This works well to build up an atmosphere and suspense within the levels. While the “meat” of this game usually involves frantically fighting through hordes of zombies, there are many quiet areas where you are trying to simply survive (and avoid running into that damn Witch).
Being on the constant alert for the sights or sounds of the enemy builds up an atmosphere of tension and terror. Fortunately, this is broken up by appropriate doses of grisly humor.
Much of Left 4 Dead 2 is bleak. After all, the setting is a zombie apocalypse! But the game finds chances to insert some grim humor wherever possible.
You can sometimes find funny things scribbled on safehouse walls by survivors. However, the bulk of the game’s humor comes from the different characters you can play as.
Each character has a distinct personality and quirky characteristics. At various times, you may hear quips, backstories, or just unexpectedly humorous responses to the insanity happening all around you.
This humor provides a nice relief from the tension mentioned above. And it helps to flesh out your team of heroes as actual individuals instead of random video game characters.
A Team Effort
Left 4 Dead 2 is a team game. In fact, there is no option for you to play truly solo. Instead, if you don’t have actual players playing as the four different characters, then the game’s impressively competent A.I. will take over as long as needed.
While the computer control means you don’t have to worry if you can’t find enough players or someone drops out, this game was ultimately designed to be played with other people. Communication with each other is vital if you are going to survive the zombie apocalypse together.
There is also a fun kind of parallelism because the bad guys have their own team. In addition to countless nameless zombies, you have to worry about special undead creatures such as Hunters, Smokers, Boomers, Tanks, and more. These guys always show up at the worst time and make whatever terrible scenario you are in even worse.
For players, the main danger of a game like Left 4 Dead 2 isn’t the zombies. Instead, it’s repetition.
There are only so many characters, enemies, and level scenarios. What’s to keep things from feeling really stale after you’ve played through several times? Two words: The Director.
That is the name of the system that controls the levels as you play through them. And while the levels themselves are relatively linear, The Director helps to keep things fresh. This means you might encounter bursts of random zombies at different times, or deadly named enemies like The Tank might appear much earlier than expected.
Ultimately, The Director is very successful in its mission: no two playthroughs are exactly the same, and there are constant surprises for even the most veteran players.
Not Just Cooperative
The main draw of this game is the cooperative gameplay. However, Valve threw in some fun alternative game types to help keep you and your friends occupied.
While there are some special modes such as Survival and Scavenge, the main alternative game type is Versus. The premise is nice and simple: four players try to play through a level as normal while four others take control of the named creatures in each level.
This is the perfect way to double the amount of people playing while adding to the overall difficulty. While you can eventually predict how the game’s A.I. will react to different actions, there’s no telling what your friends will try to do in their mission to take you out!
Left 4 Dead 2 is still very much worth playing. Even though various zombie modes have been added to FPS games over the years, there is still no other game quite like this one. Come for the zombies and stay for the surprisingly-deep cooperative gameplay!