‘Left 4 Dead 2’ breathes new life into zombie franchise

Left 4 Dead 2 updates the infectious world of its predecessor with new strategies and weapons. (AP Photo).
Left 4 Dead 2 updates the infectious world of its predecessor with new strategies and weapons. (AP Photo).

by Alex Sisko

“Left 4 Dead 2” was the target of one of the largest fan boycotts in gaming history due to its suspiciously swift development and release on Nov. 17, just one year after its predecessor, which was a first-person shooter/survival horror hit. Yes, as fans have held, this game would have been more appealing if it had been a free expansion to “Left 4 Dead.”

That said, fans of its developer, Valve Corporation, have been spoiled by the astounding value of many of Valve’s previous products (The Orange Box video game compilation comes to mind, as it was possibly the best-ever value for a new game release). The fact is that the value point of “Left 4 Dead” exceeds most games released this year, and some of the most bitter supporters of the boycott bought “Left 4 Dead 2” on the day of its release.

The recent announcement of a massive free expansion to the game that includes a new multiplayer mode, weapons and a new campaign further bolsters the game’s value. “Left 4 Dead 2” adds a new multiplayer mode, called “scavenge,” that is possibly the best part of the game. Scavenge matches are quite short and exciting. Gamers playing as the “survivors” scramble to gather gasoline and protect their buddies, while those playing as “the infected” take advantage of the predictable areas that the survivors must enter in order to ambush the survivors and score points.  This mode promotes more complex cooperative play than the original’s cower-in-a-corner-and-don’t-stop-shooting gameplay and is a significant innovation.

The characters in “Left 4 Dead 2” are more interesting than those in “Left 4 Dead,” but that’s not saying much as the characters in both games seem to have just met and appeared out of thin air on the roof of a building. Besides that, the perplexing arrangement of weapons, which lay in neat piles as if someone has scouted areas ahead of you, and other things interfered with the experience and felt contrived. Valve made a point of trying to expand the storyline and believability of the franchise with “Left 4 Dead 2,” and they failed miserably.

It seems that the design team was split between people who didn’t see the need for deeper characters and people who wanted a more immersive game world. As a result, what “Left 4 Dead 2” created was not a convincing alternate reality but a comic and over-the-top fiction where the specifics often feel unnatural.

Still, the game world is varied and original. The monsoon-like episodes of the hard rain campaign were especially engrossing and overall, the level design is a big improvement over the first game. The meticulousness with which the new infected zombies were designed results in neat combinations, such as when a bedeviled “Jockey”-type zombie jumps on you and steers you into a pool of acid spit, created by another player using the “Spitter.”

The new weapons and special “infected” unquestionably deepen the gameplay. The true accomplishment of “Left 4 Dead 2” is this masterful level of balance between the “infected” and the survivors. This game should appeal not only to fans of the original but also to new players.