Last week's launch of a certain game may have eclipsed the first-person shooter landscape for some time, but there are other gripping, visceral shooting experiences to be had at the tail end of 2009. Last year's Left 4 Dead found Valve adapting its skill at multiplayer online gaming to a co-op grindhouse-style horror genre, one in which cooperation played more of a factor than lone-dog competitiveness. While the original Left 4 Dead had only four campaigns and was a chiefly online experience, it sustained some criticism for being too short and for not having more multiplayer modes.
The new Left 4 Dead (we played the Xbox 360 version) has only five campaigns--one more than the original--but they proceed through much larger, far more interesting zones, all set in the deep South. Heavy thunderstorms, a bizarre carnival, and lots of swampy backwaters add great environments. On top of that the game features additional infected zombie types, weapons, and items to acquire, all of which make the game more unpredictable and diverse--our one complaint with the original was that it started to get a little repetitive over time. Shoulder-riding Jockeys are the best of the new, while fast and cruel Chargers seem to pummel too quickly. The new Infected can also be controlled in Versus mode, adding new playable characters.
Also new are a collection of chainsaws, frying pans, and other hard-core bludgeoning weapons. They aren't always the most efficient tools, but they feel great to use and can cut through Left 4 Dead 2's zombie swarms better than rifle-butting. There are also new items like the adrenaline boost to speed up play.
We had as much fun, or more, playing the sequel than we did the original, although the graphics and general feel don't fall far from the zombie tree.… Read more