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Left 4 Dead 2

I’ve never understood video game boycotts. From Diablo 3 to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a small segment of fanatic gamers responds to seemingly any sequel with rage normally found in only the worst fanboys. Left 4 Dead 2‘s recent release was yet another surrounded by threats from gamers angry that developer Valve was releasing a sequel so quickly. After spending countless hours filling forums with post after post listing a litany of reasons why they weren’t going to be providing Valve with their (parent’s) “hard-earned money,” they then went out and bought it. They appear to have a serious misunderstanding of what the word “boycott” means. Either that or these protesters are just full of shit. Check out the official boycott page for Left 4 Dead 2 to see this phenomena demonstrated further.

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It’s easy to say you’re not going to buy something when you can’t get your hands on it. It’s a lot harder to say the same thing when you can readily purchase it, as dozens of gaming’s “protesters” have discovered. I imagine it’s a lot harder to keep the boycott going when the protested game is really good, which is likely why the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott failed so miserably. Despite all the nerd rage decrying the game’s release, it is in every measure a substantial improvement over the original, surpassing even my extremely high expectations and making any trip back to the original seem like a journey to the Dark Ages.

While the core gameplay remains largely the same, a new cast of characters stars in a sweeping campaign that opens in a mall, travels through swamps and flooded suburbs, and finally concludes in a gritty battle through New Orleans. Each character has their own background stories that are relayed in a limited narrative as you play through the campaigns, but they play a secondary role to the game’s real stars: zombies, and lots of them. The goal of this game may be to get rescued, but along the way, your only job is to slaughter as many zombies as possible.

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Recognizing this, Valve upped the zombie ante, including three additional special infected to join the Hunters, Smokers and Boomers from the original. Continuing the simple-but-effective naming scheme, Spitters spit acid, Chargers charge, and Jockey’s jump on and steer players into danger. Like the Smokers, who use frog-like tongues to pull players away from their group, each new special infected is intended to break up groups and create more chaos. These additional special infected provide a welcomed increase in difficulty versus the original game. On the difficultly front, players looking for a real challenge will welcome realism mode, which makes slight, but significant, changes to the game. Valve also ramped up the number of witches and tanks that players will encounter along the adventure.

As the army of the undead has grown, so has the arsenal players will have in their hands. Most of the core firearms have remained the same, though each weapons class has been expanded, so there are now a handful of assault rifles, a handful of shotguns and so on. The biggest addition over the original, and the one that now seems absurd that it wasn’t in the first game in retrospect, is melee weapons. Instead of a secondary pistol, players can choose to pick up swords, baseball bats, crowbars and even frying pans. While guns are always great, there’s nothing more satisfying than swinging a cricket bat into the skulls of four or five swarming zombies.

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Though it can be played offline, to get the most out of Left 4 Dead 2, you have to take it online. In addition to the five cooperative campaigns for up to four players, eight can square off in Versus mode. Each side takes turns playing as the survivors and special infected. The teams are scored based on how far they were able to get through the segment before they either become overwhelmed by the other team or reach the saferoom that marks the end of each area. Versus mode marks an excellent combination of both cooperative and competitive gaming. The only real complaint I have for the mode comes from matchmaking. With no online ranking system for players, you’ll often be matched up with players across a spectrum of skill levels. Suffering round after round of crushing defeat from unbalanced teams isn’t fun for anyone.

The best addition is the new Scavenge mode. Again, two teams square off, alternating roles as survivors and special infected. Unlike Versus mode, the match takes place on just one small segment of a campaign map. Survivors are tasked with gathering gas cans to turn on a generator or fill the tank of a car. The team that can score the most points over the course of the round wins. Being confined into a single arena adds a deathmatch dimension to the game that isn’t found in the other modes. Similar matchmaking issues can come into play, but the game is faster, so this issue isn’t as noticeable. If any complaints can be made, one that is most noticeable is scoring. You square off in either best-of-three or best-of-five rounds with no option for cumulative scoring.

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Could Left 4 Dead 2 have been released as an expansion for the original? Sure. While the new modes, weapons and infected add a lot to the game, it isn’t a remarkable leap forward for the franchise. That said, it is still worth paying for. It is a much more refined game than Left 4 Dead and an improvement in every way. The additional game modes add new depth to the multiplayer experience and the new special infected change the dynamics of the combat substantially. Add in new weapons, both guns and melee, and Left 4 Dead 2 comes out as a well-rounded, balanced game that fans of the first are sure to love and newcomers will definitely get a kick out of, too. And if you were involved in the boycott, well, we’ll even forgive you if you’ll just give this wonderful game a chance.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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