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After playing Left 4 Dead 2, I realised that Left 4 Dead was merely a prototype for its sequel to refine. Now surely that would mean that Left 4 Dead 2 is unquestionably a better game than its “prototype”, right? Well, no.

When I play the original, it’s kind of like ordering a regular cheese and tomato pizza. It’s satisfying but plain. L4D2 is like ordering one of those pizzas where you choose your toppings. It can be what you want it to be, has a lot more variety but you damn well know that something you hate has found its way into it and it’s enough to make you survey each remaining slice with a grimace on your face. In this instance, it’s mushrooms; I despise them. But on the contrary, when you do get what you expected; it’s bloody marvellous.

And that’s Left 4 Dead 2: a game about killing zombies that is helluva fun, but sometimes misses the mark.

Line of Zombies

Backstreet’s back…eh, alright?

The game doesn’t take the co-op zombie survival mechanics of the original to a whole new level, rather it evolves them and builds on what the first game started – you might even say it’s almost like they got that aforementioned cheese and tomato pizza base and added a variety of toppings which include three new special infected, new campaign maps, new characters, new weapons and items plus a few new modes and revisions to the original’s offerings. Yum.

Five new chronological campaign maps are featured – set in the American South between Savannah and New Orleans – which include set-pieces in a shopping mall, a swamp, a sugar mill and even a tunnel of love. There’s no denying that Valve have enjoyed making the game, but there’s no campaign map that has the universal appeal of “No Mercy” from the original. Yet “Hard Rain” is certainly the best new campaign in terms of what it does gameplay-wise and graphically.

Ducatel Sugar Co. in Hard Rain 2

A pretty big hint at what is in store for you…

You make your way towards a sugarcane mill to find some fuel for transport. When you get there, you’ll be met by heavy resistance a certain special infected (the mini-bosses of the game). If you don’t know about what special infected I’m referencing, then keep it that way until you play it. If you do know, let’s just nod our heads in approval at how awesome that moment is. (/nod) There’s a couple of other twists to be found in “Hard Rain” that I won’t give away, but I will say that my favourite part of the map is eponymous with it’s name. I’d say it’s easily the best campaign of the series thus far, but just lacking in accessibility in comparison to No Mercy.

It’s a shame then that the other scenarios can’t match the quality of the aforementioned campaign. While still playable, they don’t make the same impact. “Swamp Fever” sounds like it has the potential to be fantastic, but instead it’s rather dull. “Dead Center” – the initial campaign – is fairly solid, “Dark Carnival” is delightful but a bit too long for its own good and “The Parish” fizzles throughout but only explodes into excitement at the finale.

Still, there’s a lot more use in the campaign maps this time around as they extend beyond Campaign, Versus and Survival. “Realism Mode”, which removes player outlines and makes it so that you can’t come back from the dead in a level, is interesting. It makes teamwork and communication – plus all that other socialising stuff – essential.

Scavenge is a competitive take on the finale to Dead Center with players on both the human and special infected sides – just like Versus. Teams take turns as the humans as they try to fill up a car with gas. Sixteen gas cannisters are scattered around the map and it’s the job of the opposing team to stop them. It’s round-based and works with a ‘best of (x) rounds’ system, so all is not lost if your team gets embarrassingly owned within 30 seconds.

Left 4 Dead 2 scavenge

Spitter goo will set alight any dropped canisters, making them respawn in their original location.

The other modes, Versus and Survival, remain largely unchanged gameplay-wise. Well, slightly different due to the addition of new guns, a vaster range of items and the new special infected.

The original game kept things basic on the gun front, but Valve have really gone to great lengths with weapon variety this time around. Not only are there a number of variants to the original’s basic shotgun/pistol/sniper/rifle load-out, but there are also melee weapons too. Given that the game applies a system so that you can’t melee spam with your guns as you could in the original – even in the campaign – they happen to be particularly useful.

But you won’t want to be meleeing the new special infected – you’ll be wanting to shoot them before they get close and deal damage. The ‘Spitter’ is both a long-range attacker and a kamikaze tool. It spits acid to stop players from camping a spot and when it is killed, it will leave a pool of acid on the ground that should be avoided.

The ‘Jockey’, or the “little guy” as the survivors call it with affection, will jump on a survivor’s head, beat them with its little arms and try and ‘ride’ them off from the rest. It may seem like a pointless addition at first, but you’ll soon realise what a devastating foe it is if the timing is right. As Coach likes to say: “It ain’t right for a man to be ridden like that.”

Attack by Zombie

But it seems the guys don’t have a problem with a woman on the receiving end. Sexists.

The ‘Charger’ will charge, grab a survivor and pound them into the ground. It looks like a mini-tank, but it doesn’t have much health in comparison.

New items include ‘Adrenaline’ which makes you super fast and strong for a short period, a ‘Defibrillator’ to revive dead allies and a new grenade in the form of ‘Boomer Bile’ which does what it says on the tin; or “jar”, rather, as Coach will let you know when he tells you that he’s “grabbing a jar of puke”. Lovely.

In fact, it’s worth briefly going through the new characters. While they may not have that sentimentality that the original cast bestows you with, they are a better written bunch. Ellis is an outrageously hilarious redneck who is a few spokes short of a wheel. His anecdotes about “Keith”, his buddy, are a joy to listen to; all the way from when Keith apparently drowned in the tunnel of love, to when 95% of his body received third-degree burns over already existing third-degree burns.

Left 4 Dead 2 screenshot

“I am the God of hell fire, and I bring you…Fire” bobeepboo

If Nick was a real person, you could imagine him doing a lot of facepalming. He’s not from the great South and he’s often expressing his displeasure about being there. He’s a conman and a d*ckhead, but funny and the one you will relate to the most. Rochelle is quite similar to Zoey from the original and often has bright ideas while Coach is a loveable dumbass who you know has the best intentions at heart.

Winding up, a lot of the original game is left untouched. Sure, the hunters might be harder to kill when they’re jumping around, there might be female ‘Boomers’ now too and witches may now roam (eek), but the stuff from the original is still primarily there and intact – just like a solid cheese and tomato pizza base. But my main gripe with the game is to do with the amount of new items; it’s quite cluttered when compared to the original. But for the most part, it feels very right. But sometimes, it will feel very wrong and disorientating. I see no reason why the original game should suddenly die in the water. It’s similar, yet different to its sequel. The two compliment each other, as opposed to the latest game replacing the older one.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a superb game with flaws. If you loved the original, then there’s no reason as to why you shouldn’t get this. I’ve already had some great co-op experiences with this game. While maybe not as powerful as the original was in that regard, the refinements are certainly appreciated and despite a part of me saying this is an 8/10, I know that it’s much better than that…when it works.