How Left 4 Dead 2 Finally Won Me Over
I was one of those Left 4 Dead 2 “haters.” No, I didn’t sign a petition, post on message boards, or promise to boycott the game. I decided that I’d try it, but I wouldn’t spend full price on the game, as the preview coverage – aided by community criticism – led me to believe the game was more of an expansion pack than a full sequel. Let me state that I was a huge fan of the first Left 4 Dead on PC, and logged over 150 hours on multiplayer. I’m also a giant Valve Software fanboy who usually plays every game the Washington-based company publishes, but some inner voice kept urging me to skip Left 4 Dead 2.
Fortunately, my little brother’s friend brought his copy of the game over for Xbox 360, and we delved into the first story campaign. It took a mere ten minutes to be reminded how great the first Left 4 Dead game was. After twenty minutes I put the controller down and drove to Electronics Boutique to buy the game.
I played the first Left 4 Dead on PC and it looked fantastic. Let it be known that the sequel on Xbox 360 doesn’t look nearly as good as the first one did on my PC. The Source Engine is finally starting to show its age, and to some 360 gamers this will be a fatal flaw. Despite the graphics not making the greatest first impression, the game functions perfectly on a mechanical level. Valve and Turtle Rock also manage to keep the core gameplay elements the same, while improving on almost every other aspect of the first game. New weapons, more options, wider branching paths, and additional enemy types all add new dynamics to the relentlessly paced campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2.
When I sat down and tried to figure out what it was that made Left 4 Dead 2 different than other games, I factored out all of the minor improvements to the mechanics. The improvements help justify the price tag, but Left 4 Dead 2 (just like its predecessor) is about the cooperative experience. It really does feel like your team mates are counting on you with life and death at stake. It’s more intense than any other cooperative gaming experience I’ve had up to this point, and that intensity almost makes you forget you are playing a video game.
Left 4 Dead 2 = Portal 2?
It is important to remain skeptical of quick sequels (think of Tony Hawk), but sometimes studios do rush out a follow-up that’s worthy of your money. If you are like I was and still haven’t given L4D2 a chance, compare the L4D sequel with the Portal sequel.
Portal 2 came out 4 years after the first game (compared to the one-year difference with L4D). One could make a somewhat objective argument (although I won’t do it here) that L4D2 introduced as many new mechanics as Portal 2. I also found Portal 2’s story to be weaker than the first game, whereas L4D2’s stories were much better than in the first game. Don’t get me wrong, at this point Portal 2 is my game of the year 2011, but the argument could be effectively made.
Left 4 Dead 2 has officially won me over, and I haven’t even jumped into the online features yet, which I’m sure will only heighten my respect for Valve. If you skipped over this game when it was released in 2009, but were a fan of the first Left 4 Dead, I strongly suggest picking it up ($20 at EB/Gamestop) and giving it a second chance. It’s definitely proven to me that my skepticism was unfounded and that Valve will continue to put out only high-quality titles.