Left 4 Dead 2 Review – Too Little, Too Soon?

Amongst being disappointed by Doctor Who, socks and the fluctuating fortunes of Doncaster Rovers, I spent last Christmas holed up with my kid brother in his bedroom shouting things like “Boomer!” and “Safe house ahead!”, engrossed in Valve’s (‘Half-Life’, ‘Counter-Strike’) pioneering first person zombie shooter ‘Left 4 Dead’.

This was only the cusp of an obsession which went on to define my 2009. By February I’d garnered all of the game’s Gamerscore achievements. By March I had written a 1,000-word short story chronicling the back-story of the game’s grizzly Vietnam vet character Bill. By April I’d more or less come to terms with the fact that it was unlikely anyone would want to sleep with me ever again.

I didn’t mind, truth be told.

The premise of the game was simple. The world is overrun by zombies (and we’re talking speedy ’28 Days Later’-style Usain Bolt-undead here, not lumbering Romero ghouls) and you and three other survivors must survive four four-part campaigns. There was no story. There was no grand finale. Just four slabs of 60 minute carnage – charmingly divided into plots of B-movie zombie films – and a whole load of spilt brain.

Sure, some people found the linear nature of the game meant the whole experience was rather insubstantial – this was no cinematic ‘Resident Evil’-style opus. But if you had an Xbox Live account (or even a friend/kid brother to play split-screen with), I don’t understand how you could ever become bored of playing. Repeated play meant you could create your own stories, and there were no fucking puzzles – in ‘Left 4 Dead’s case, less really was more.

The game came into its own when you replaced the other three AI controlled characters with real life players/hormonal helium voiced American teenagers. And if you died? Well, then you got the chance to continue playing by taking the part of one of the game’s zombies, or ‘special infected’, reaping revenge on the SELFISH PUSSY-ASS PLAYERS WHO’D LEFT YOU TO BE PUMMLED TO DEATH BY THE TANK WHILE THEY RAN OFF TO REPLENISH ON AMMO AND SWEETS WHILE YOU LAY THERE STARING AT YOUR OWN GUTS AND WIMPERING FOR MUM. Not that I’m speaking from my own experience. Oh no…

Truth be told, it seems a bit premature for a sequel. ‘Left 4 Dead 2’ is certainly a better game than its beloved predecessor – it’s harder, the campaigns are longer, it looks better, none of the playable characters are anywhere near as infuriating as gay biker dude Francis. But in many ways it’s exactly the same game.

There may be five campaigns this time around – the best of which are definitely the ‘True Blood’ indebted swamp level, and the fairground, complete with rotting faced clowns. There may be more zombies on screen at any one time than in the first release. And there may be a few more types of playable modes – ‘Realism’ is the most significant, taking the campaigns and stripping them of collectable ammo like a piranha strips a drinking llama. Yet the most significant addition to gameplay is the addition of three more types of special infected.

You’ve still got ‘The Hunter’, ‘The Smoker’, ‘The Witch’, ‘The Tank’, and the infuriating ‘The Boomer’. But say hello to ‘The Charger’ (kind of like The Tank’s slightly malnourished cousin), ‘The Jockey’ (a goblin-type thing that springs onto your shoulders and makes you jump off buildings and stuff) and ‘The Spitter’ (someone at Valve has definitely seen the first ‘Jurassic Park’).

All of which makes me think the game would provide more value for money if it was made available as a DLC release on Xbox Live – especially when you’ve got the likes of Bethesda making great new ‘Fallout 3’ content available like ‘Broken Steel’ for just over a tenner. Okay, so I’m well-versed enough in the realities of capitalism to understand why they haven’t – ‘Left 4 Dead’ was one of the biggest games of this year, and Christmas is just around the corner. But if the world was free and true and everyone had pet unicorns and we didn’t have to wear clothes and stuff, then I would have made it downloadable. Despite writing about games on NME.COM, I still buy 90% of stuff I play, and there’s not enough new here to warrant shelling out £40 if you’ve got the first instalment.

Valve deserve their dues. They’ve taken ‘Left 4 Dead’ and made it better, and when you’ve got a game as great as that one was, what more can you do without just making a new game and losing the essence of the former? But if you’ve got the first game, I wouldn’t be in too much of a rush to spend your money on this.

That said, I will probably write a short story about Nick, the game’s new card hustling character. Hey laaaaaadies!