Valve has had to eat up a degree of unhappiness from its user-base for the mere existence of Left 4 Dead 2, which arrives just a year after the original game. Beset by controversy when it was announced, the game was threatened with a boycott by fans who only months earlier had bought the original game and feared that online support for it would switch to this one. If they boycott this, though, they really are the ones missing out.
That said, you can understand the concern. While Left 4 Dead has a single player campaign you can play through, the games have been built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind. As such, especially given the acclaim that the original game had attracted, it was crucial that Valve would keep support for it going for some time to come. Valve, it seems, is willing to do that. Yet more than that, it’s given us in Left 4 Dead 2 a sequel that provides a compelling argument for leaving the original behind altogether, which we now suspect many will do.
For those who didn’t play the first game, Left 4 Dead 2 is a first person shooter that pits you against an awful lot of zombies. However, it soon becomes clear that this is a title that relies heavily on teamwork. If you go against the zombie horde single-handedly you’re going to be cut down to size, and quickly. Work in a team, however, and the game strikes gold.
And while this works surprisingly well in single player mode, thanks to some solid artificial intelligence work on your computer-controlled character, it really is enhanced tremendously when you take the game online. Thanks to some strong level design and some of the most manic action you’ll see on a PC screen this year (unless, er, you’re still playing the first Left 4 Dead), it’s often breathtaking fun.
Furthermore, Valve damn well knows it, and throws in lots of weapons and game modes to allow you to maximise the glee. The weaponry is terrific, from the abundance of firepower to the far more entertaining melee weapons (which are very much improved from last time round). A mixture is needed, especially given the variety of foes that you face and the equally varied powers they possess. But when there’s so much that you can pick up and use as a weapon (the chainsaw is our predictable favourite), then your cause – however it may appear on-screen – is never lost.
It isn’t easy, though, and often you’ll just stare at the hordes coming your way and think you’ve got no chance whatsoever. This makes for lots of frenetic, crazy and panicked action, and many times we were just sat there fighting away with a huge cheesy grin on our faces. It’s that kind of game. And because it’s Valve behind it, there’s a sheen of quality that provides the foundation for the ample fun on offer.
On the downside, there’s not, inevitably, been a massive jump forward in the game mechanic over the past year, even though there have been improvements. The formula is still effectively the same, although there are tweaks and new additions running right through the heart of it.
Is it enough to warrant a full-on sequel? Just. Is it one of the best PC games of the year? Most definitely. But we can still wait two years for Left 4 Dead 3 if it’s all the same.