Left 4 Dead 2

By Shamus
on Jul 20, 2012
Filed under:
Game Reviews

l4d2_cast.jpg

After I dumped on Left 4 Dead 2 yesterday, a few people wanted to know what I didn’t like about the game. As of this writing I have clocked 269 hours of Left 4 Dead, and 8 hours of Left 4 Dead 2. And yet, I can’t point to any single mechanic or problem that’s a definitive failure. I just… I like the original better.

This is going to be kind of vague and mealy-mouthed, which is why I haven’t covered this game in the past. If you’re looking for deep analysis then this is not the post for you. But remember, you asked for this…

I liked the original cast better. There’s nothing wrong with the sequel cast. I don’t dislike any of them. Rochelle seems kind of dull and Nick seems like a set-up for a joke with no payoff, but I’m sure veteran players could point to cool Rochelle moments or funny things that Nick has said.

The levels didn’t “flow” for me. In the original game, the levels seemed to pull you along naturally. In the sequel, I’d frequently come through a door and have no idea which way I was supposed to go, both on an immediate and overall sense. I didn’t know if I should turn left or right, and I didn’t know what general direction I was going. The spaces felt a little more disjointed, and the brighter color palettes sometimes made the scene feel too busy. Not that I wanted all-brown or anything. In the original game, it was night and the game led you along using pools of light and islands of color. The brighter maps in Left 4 Dead 2 – like the mall or the daytime section – don’t have this, which made it feel unfocused.

Of course, I’m sure this isn’t a big deal once you get used to the levels, and I’m willing to bet the more open design was so that in versus mode there would be more angles of attack. I’m not saying it’s invalid. It just didn’t scratch my itch and I didn’t enjoy taking in the sights.

The new mechanics didn’t really do a lot for me. A box of universal incendiary rounds for all guns was kind of… odd. I mean, it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t really fit with the whole “Zombie movie” motif the game has. While I’m sure it adds damage, it was never so much that I thought it really made a lot of difference. It just adds a bunch of particle effects to a scene that, typically, is already a confusing mess of flying limbs and screaming.

The defibrillator was a nice idea, but in the six games I’ve played I’ve never seen it used once.

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A few things I did like:

The new special infected were great. In the original it was too easy for a group of players to stack up in a corner and melee their way to victory. The spitter does a nice job of scattering clustered players, and while I can’t speak for their usefulness in versus mode, the charger and jockey are both good at keeping the specials varied and interesting.

The melee weapons seemed like a nice alternative to the infinite-ammo pistols and helped at selling the zombie movie idea.

The “gather up a bunch of stuff” gameplay was a pretty good idea. It fit the setting, it gave you a chance to really explore a little area, and it provided a nice trade-off between expedience and safety.

But still… meh.

I also didn’t like the way it bifurcated the player base. I would much rather they just sold more episodes for the original game. Maybe add one new character that interacts with the original cast. I didn’t mind Valve trying to make money off the franchise, and I’d be happy to pay for more game, but by putting out a sequel they kind of killed the game for me. Most players moved on to Left 4 Dead 2. I didn’t like L4D2, so I stopped playing altogether.

This is why I never reviewed the game. I prefer to analyze a game and point out why it does or doesn’t work, and I don’t know why Left 4 Dead 2 doesn’t work. I think I gave it a fair shake. 8 hours is plenty of time for a game to sell itself, and Left 4 Dead 2 just never charmed me.

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20209Feeling chatty? There are 49 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Stephen says:

    For me, L4D1 felt more… pure. The upgrade path for weapons was much simpler and the levels were more streamlined, so it was easy to let the complexities of gameplay slip away and just focus on the core concept: team-based zombie killing.

    Although I’ve only ever played campaign (and mostly bots at that – thanks crappy internet), so my words don’t carry much weight.

    • Cineris says:

      L4D1 was a lot more minimalistic in its approach. I tend to think L4D2 might be a better game if you’re playing it for coop, but almost everything that was added in L4D2 was a bad distraction from the gameplay.

      Melee weapons trivialize common hordes. (Making the Boomer even less useful.)
      Ammo packs are gimmicks.
      Bile jars are generally counterproductive.
      More guns for the sake of more guns.
      Jockey, Spitter, and Charger give Infected players less control and less ability to coordinate attacks.

  2. Kdansky says:

    I prefer the second one by far, because of its plain better shooting and fighting. More gun variety, melee weapons and more special infected add so much. But my primary issue are the levels, or rather, how much everyone dislikes the new levels. They all have some gimmick, and people hate them for it, and you have to play Parish all the time. Nobody ever bothers with Rain, especially at higher difficulties where you run into witches every seven seconds.

    What you say about getting lost: You do know that L4D2 shuffles its levels around? Every time you play it, the way to go is somewhat different. The second game is also far more difficult, because it has more randomisation and more options. You can’t plan quite as much, and you have to ad-lib more. That’s why I like it.

    As for the cast: The first cast is hands down better than the second one, probably because I have trouble identifying with any of them.

    That said, I totally want to play it some more. Anyone up for a few games? Add me on Steam and ask! Where’s LashLightning?

    • MelTorefas says:

      Wait, it does? Since when? I’ve never noticed a difference. I have parts of Hard Rain memorized (it is my favorite level). I do get lost but only because I suck at directions. My friend I play with who doesn’t suck at directions knows how to get through every level by heart and always remembers the specific spots where ammo and supplies usually show up (I know the drops/supplies are sometimes random).

  3. GM says:

    More people think this that´s why there is mod that makes the l4d2 char look l4d character but no voice change shame oh

    and there is a dinosaur mod for the survivor heh.

  4. The jockey and the charger have become my favourites in versus games – they are both very good at pulling the group apart. One of my fondest memories of L4D2 was almost losing a versus match and then turning it around by using the jockey to ride one of the survivors into a crying witch. Which woke her up. Ah, good times :)

  5. Zaxares says:

    Obligatory “I never asked for this…” comment.

    And now that that’s out of the way… I’m in the reverse position from you, Shamus. I never played L4D1, but got into the second game. I can’t go back to the first game, because the mechanics and options feel underwhelming compared to what’s available in the second game. (I DO agree with you in that I liked the original cast more than the new group. The interactions between the two groups in The Passing is hilarious though!)

    Spitters, like Boomers, are an infected that’s utterly useless on their own, but when paired with the other special infected, can turn a standard assault into an “OMFGwhatjusthappened?!” wipe. Standing in a Spitter’s goo for the full duration deals a whopping 80 damage, so if the Survivors have already taken some knocks prior to the assault, a good spit on Survivors that are trapped in a small location (say, for example, by a well-timed Boomer horde) can bring the entire group down.

    Jockeys are similar to Smokers in that they’re used to bring Survivors to places they don’t want to be. This includes places like Spitter goo (see above), off high ledges, and moving them into location for a Charger to death charge them off a high place (the final stage of No Mercy and the first stage of Dead Air are notorious for this).

    Chargers are probably the infected that MOST break the original maps. There’s SO many places where a Charger can charge a Survivor off for an instant-kill, so much so that Valve frequently patches original maps in L4D2 to put up fences and railings so Chargers can’t get death charges every 10 metres.

    I like the original maps of L4D1, but I also appreciate the maps of the second game. They offer very different experiences; the first game was more dark, cramped and scary. The second is more frenetic, and it also offers a better (in my opinion) contrast of seeing what the fall of civilisation to the zombie apocalypse looks like. It’s eerie in an entirely different way to see places like a shopping mall or an amusement park overrun by zombies.

    I will say that the melee weapons in L4D2 are probably overpowered though, the way melee shoves were overpowered in L4D1. Having two guys on the team with melee weapons makes dealing with hordes laughably easy if there aren’t Special Infected around to complicate matters.

    • Newbie says:

      I have this exact experience. Although with the charger’s hit two people send one flying attack I have managed to make instant kills an art form (though I do only play on the xbox 360 version due to friends which is probably much easier).

  6. TightByte says:

    I’d call myself a religious reader of your blog, Shamus, and it’s not every day that I feel the need to chime in, but now and again you hit a nerve, and you’ve done so today.

    I absolutely LOVED the original L4D. I cannot really comment on whether it truly was as original as it felt to me personally, in terms of cooperative team play that would more or less punish those who felt too superior to work with the rest of the team. For once, being “best” didn’t much matter when you could be pushed off a ledge or hunter-pounced as soon as you strayed too far on your own — you needed the helping hand of the others as much as they needed your standout FPS skills.

    So, that’s why I loved L4D, and I’m fully aware that those mechanics are intact in the sequel, but I just couldn’t see the need for one. It didn’t add enough new material and by its very nature it obsoleted the original, which to me was the far superior offering. I didn’t like the L4D2 characters, or the maps, or the overall mood, and even though there were some “neat” new modes of play (I forget the name, but the one where you have to tank up a car in versus mode) it just seemed, much like you already said, they could have easily extended the original.

    To those who say they prefer the sequel: Honestly, couldn’t every aspect of what you appreciate have been effortlessly added to the original without breaking the mold?

    I have nothing but endless respect for Valve and Gabe Newell, but they tell me the L4D(1&2) writer/producer/whatever was Chet Faliszek of Old Man Murray fame. Well, Chet, you used to be funny, way back when, centuries ago, but man did you deliver us a royal stinker with L4D2. I’m glad you remain employed, but I hope you learned from this gaffe.

    • MelTorefas says:

      Just goes to show how subjective a medium this is. While I will always love the original L4D a bit more because it was the first game of its kind I ever played (seriously), I really enjoy the second one. I especially like Ellis’ stories, and some of the other character interactions. I would say I like the second group of survivors nearly as much as the first group.

      That being said, I am not entirely certain why they needed a second game and could not have added new survivors and such to the first one. Which also might have allowed for 8v8 maps… man. Imagine the chaos.

  7. Even says:

    I think the one big difference between the two games is the change in the overall rhythm of the gameplay. Random weapon spawns, much less reliable ways to refill your ammo, the new special infected all more or less made the game feel that much more random and it took me personally a good while to get used to not being able to always hold on to my favourite weapon(s). I still don’t like having to do it, especially if I’m carrying something like an AK-47 with a laser sight. I can see why they made the changes, since after playing long enough, L4D becomes fairly predictable. When you know all maps through and through, there’s only so much ways they can surprise you. You can learn to even predict the AI Director with some accuracy once you get used to its shenanigans. With the arsenal of whopping 5 main weapons plus the pistol, there isn’t that much depth in the shooting either. Ultimately it all leads to stagnancy so it’s easy to see why they possibly wanted to change things around.

    I’d say it’s understandable if it puts people off. I’d have rather had new campaigns initially as well, but I’ve grown to like L4D2 more over time simply because it still manages to feel fresh occasionally. Only times I’ve been back to L4D for a good while now have been mainly to test out some custom maps and some bouts of nostalgia. If there’s one thing I really miss from L4D, it’s the feel of the old weapons. The overall feel was just so much more organic and satisfying. The same weapons in L4D2 just feel either nerfed and/or arcadey and the shooting in general just feels so mechanical in comparison. I can’t really put my finger on all of it, but it’s the one thing I wish they hadn’t changed so fundamentally. It’s still definitely not bad.. it’s just missing that something.

    The other thing is the old characters. I believe it’s an almost universal thing at this point. They just simply were that much better written and more relatable than the new ones. What bugs me most about the game currently is the apparent lack of lines for new items when you play as the old survivors in L4D2. Playing with pubbies it’s really grating trying to report the items since they most of the time just ignore me when all the character says is “Hey, Check this out!”.

  8. swenson says:

    That’s a very reasonable point of view to take on it, I think. However, my experience is pretty much backwards.

    I never played the original L4D. I should clarify that: I played the demo a few times, thought it was an interesting and enjoyable game, and then never bought it, mainly because I am an absolute wimp and the game legitimately freaked me out, especially because I didn’t have any friends who also played, so I played with just bots. A similar thing happens when L4D2 comes out.

    Fast-forward a bit, and I end up getting both games for ridiculously cheap as part of a Valve pack, but I still don’t play them. Finally, a friend says “Hey, you should play L4D2 with me and my friends!” So I do. And I discovered… I actually really, really like these games when I’m playing them with real people!

    But I never actually played L4D to any extent; it’s only L4D2 that I’ve played to any significant degree. So to me, all those things you mention are just a normal part of the game. I know my opinion would change if I’d played L4D first, but from the viewpoint of never having played L4D, I think L4D2 is an awful lot of fun on its own.

  9. Darren says:

    I think part of the problem with the cast is that only Ellis really seems like someone you might actually encounter (I grew up in the South, and while he’s certainly exaggerated, he’s not completely unrealistic). Coach isn’t anywhere near assertive enough for me to find him believable as a high school coach, and Rochelle is so bland that I have no other description besides “black” and “female.” I can never remember the older white guy’s name, and I’m not sure what his backstory is supposed to be, which is all that needs to be said.

    LfD1’s cast, on the other hand, managed to be both stock characters as well as people who you could conceivably meet in the real world. Louis is bland, but he’s exactly what you might expect from a young male professional from an urban/suburban environment (an IT friend of mine considers Louis his favorite character largely because they are fairly similar), while Zoey is a believably genre-savvy co-ed.

    EDIT: I would also like to say that I enjoy the Southern Rock-infused soundtrack of LfD2 more than the original’s. That’s one bit of regionalism I thought they got right.

  10. Matt says:

    I liked the original L4D more, but all my friends prefer L4D2, so I’ve put in more hours on 2. My main problem with 2 is that everything is more cluttered in general. Yes, it’s nice to have more weapon/item choices, but I really just liked the simplicity of the original. I enjoyed clearing Expert modes with my friends, with only our wits and skills to survive, since we all had basically the same items, with maybe a couple different primary weapons. I’m in the d20 steam group as Darios, if you want to play either.

    • Jake Albano says:

      Same here; I vastly prefer L4D, but by friends have all moved on to L4D2, so that’s what we play. As someone with over 250 hours logged in both, I can attest that L4D2 doesn’t really get better. All of the characters are just kind of bland.

      I agree about the weapons, too. They’re more varied, but not in a good way. In the first game you have three tier 2 weapons that all have their respective places; the shotgun with high damage but low accuracy, the assault rifle with average damage and accuracy, and the hunting rifle with high damage and high accuracy if you’re standing still. Everything has a focused role.

      In the second you have the slow-reload sniper with higher capacity, the inaccurate ak47 which stumbles witches with headshots, the accurate assault rifle with slow reload, the completely superfluous extra shotgun…etc, etc. It’s not as tight as the original.

      The addition of melee weapons is nice, I guess, but I never really use them. I prefer the melee attack, and I really hate the cooldown.

  11. fenix says:

    Guess I’ll throw in my two cents.

    While I liked Left 4 Dead 2, I prefer Left 4 Dead 1.
    The reason is pretty simple, L4D2 is stiffer. The guns all have more weight and power while being less smooth and controllable. Too many things reduce your speed and interrupt your flow, like when a random zombie hits you and you start walking, forcing you to deal with them somehow. And then there’s the melee cooldown (specifically the regular melee pushback, without a melee weapon), I understand why it’s there, but it just feels like it slows you down.

    I understand why changes like these were made in terms of gameplay balancing but the game lost a lot of ‘flow’ compared to it’s predecessor.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I never asked for this.

  13. McNutcase says:

    I haven’t played the original. Left 4 Dead 2 has been enjoyable for me, but there have been times that it’s given me too many options. I will agree, having played the ported L4D maps, that there’s a better pull on the L4D maps, at least those which came with the game. The later ones become less strongly linear.

    If L4D scratches your itch, and L4D2 doesn’t, play L4D. If I pick it up, I’ll cheerfully come play with you, because the teamwork elements are what draws me in.

    Besides, L4D2 took a step backwards. Feet became invisible again.

  14. Aanok says:

    If I’m not mistaken, as I haven’t been playing in a while, I think the defibrillator is mostly used in realism, where you don’t find new survivors hidden in closets as soon as one of them dies.

    I completely agree on the characters, those of L4D2 are much blander.

    I completely disagree on the levels, though. I found those of L4D2 to be much more complex, structured and interesting than their predecessors. I had the exact opposite feeling of Shamus, that the map creators had come a long way since L4D1.

    In my opinion, the biggest flaw of L4D2 is the old argument that, when it came out, it was too small to be released as a stand-alone, full priced game, especially so close to L4D1.

  15. Fleaman says:

    I got bored of L4D after a while. The tight focus of the maps and lack of variety in item choices means that the main source of freshness in the game is new circumstances in which to die. My team and I just reached this point of player skill where any campaign on Veteran was an extremely brisk walk in the park, while any campaign on Expert was still a desperate and potentially endless death march of constipated frustration.

    L4D2 alleviated much of this for me mainly because it was in many ways less focused. There are more types of items that require more consideration of their tradeoffs when grabbing them, there are more ways in which special infected can disrupt the team, there are more nooks and crannies to check for preferred gear, and most of the new crescendo events require you to navigate a gauntlet so you can’t beat them all in the same way just by finding the best corner to hide in. I’m still driven by habit and experience to bulldoze through a campaign as fast as possible, but I have more bulldozers to choose from.

  16. RCN says:

    I never even bought Left 4 Dead 2. It was the first (and so far only) time I felt Valve did something out of greed or corporate pressure. It was too soon since the first game, there wasn’t really anything that wrong with the original and still the just remade the whole engine to change a few things. It is even worse because they launched it as they were still making new content for the original. For a game so centered in its community, dividing a community like that is just wrong. Financially or otherwise.

    They should’ve either waited longer to make sure they had gave the original all the tools and resources they intended, make sure the community had already exhausted it, or made it an expansion pack still compatible with the original in some way.

  17. Eärlindor says:

    It’s funny. I’ve played L4D2 at friends’ houses a couple of times, and I’ve never played the first game, but for some reason I cannot describe, the first game has always seemed like it would be more interesting. There’s something about the cast that draws me. When I first saw the L4D2 cast, the first thing that crossed my mind was “meh”.

  18. Cyber_andyy says:

    For me, the pistols in L4D2 felt awful where as the pistols in L4D where amazing

  19. Brandon says:

    I have to agree with you, Shamus. I played the crap out of both games, both Coop vs AI games and Versus mode. I had a group of friends and we had a game at least once or twice a day for a good year and a half or so, playing Left for Dead 1, and then switching to Left for Dead 2 when it came out. I always liked the first one better though, and pretty much agree with all of your points.

    The cast is downright awful in L4D2. The extra firearms and ammo types just feel unnecessary. The melee weapons and the new special infected were great additions, but the levels weren’t as interesting or fun. Being in daylight or a well lit mall really sucks any feeling of tension out of the game, completely ruins the atmosphere.

    Yeah. Pretty much sums it up. L4D1 is the better game in my opinion.

    • MelTorefas says:

      Man, I consider Dead Center one of the more tense maps. Being inside a completely ordinary building like a mall, in the dark, with THINGS running at you out of the dark while screaming… yeah. Dead Air and Hard Rain are the only ones I find more nerve wracking, usually. Well, and the level with the bridge, for different reasons.

  20. Nonesuch says:

    I have to say, I prefer L4D2, but I don’t play online. I do co-op with by brother. And I personally prefer Nick (the fellow in swank suit) to the others. He does occasionally get lines, but people are correct in saying that the survivors in L4D2 don’t quite get as much time as the ones in L4D.

    Ellis seems to stick out because his voice has the highest pitch and what he says is (in its own way) kind of funny.

    My big problems with L4D are and will always be the flashlight/lighting. In that the second you get close to a wall, your flashlight doesn’t work.

    The levels in L4D2, even those at night, weren’t as oppressively dark as /any/ of the levels in L4D one. And yes, oppressive darkness is useful. You get it quite a bit during sections of dark carnival from what I remember.
    But when you can’t see what’s going on, it does tend to ruin the game. I don’t know if it’s a problem with my hardware (a large, if old, television and a 360), or what the game was intended to be played on a PC so that the player would be closer to the screen…

    I like the melee weapons, I like the different guns. Adrenaline shots are fantastic, if only because they feel more… viscerally useful than pills. I think the same can be said of the incendiary ammo packs.

    But bear in mind, that I don’t really play versus. Though, I sympathize with the people who hate the sugar mill sections of Hard Rain. That level is a thing of pure evil.

  21. Bodyless says:

    I completely agree on the characters. It feels like they made them bland by design so you dont prefer anyone of them and dont just disconnect when your favorite is already taken.

    On the level design:
    I dont like how you are supposed to run and gun all the time.
    If you are not running and gunning, gunning and running and running and gunning then you are playing l4d2 wrong or broke the game. There are no breather minutes like in l4d1. And this is extrememely tiresome. I could play l4d1 coop all day (and i did for some time), while i am usually exausted after playing one or two l4d2 campaigns. There are no adrenalin rushs because you never get to calm down in the first place. The randomness, which is not bad itself, makes it even worse.

    The mechanics are very unpolished when playing with the old survivors and overall it feels a bit overloaded.
    Valve was going for more action, speed and complexity but that ended up killing the game for me.

  22. MelTorefas says:

    I found this discussion very interesting, having come in long after L4D2 was out. I actually bought L4D and 2 after playing the SCII map Left 2 Die. My friend and I were still calling Tanks ‘Stanks’ for our first several plays of L4D.

    Now, I *did* play the original through before moving on to the sequel, because I thought they were actually separate games and didn’t expect to be able to play all the original campaigns in the second one. I like the maps of both games equally well. I enjoy the cramped darkness of the original while also appreciating the variety of the second game. I really like how the second game subverts things. I expect to find zombies in the dark. Fighting them in the light of day made it all feel more real to me, like, “This really is the world now”.

    I do like the original survivors more than the second group, who are more bland as has been pointed out. But it isn’t enough of a problem for me to really be too bothered. The high point of my time in L4D/2 was one time at the end of a map’s finale. Louis had gone down and the truck had arrived, and as I was jumping in I heard Zoey say “Oh god, Louis, I… I’m gonna miss you.” Her voice actress did a really good job capturing the raw emotion of the moment and it just fit together so well.

    One of the main things I dislike about the second game is the greatly increased spawn frequency of the special infected. I liked that they felt like a surprise/important when they showed up in L4D1. In two, they feel like a constant presence a lot of the time, so there isn’t as much tension.

    The other main thing I dislike is how much brighter the L4D1 maps are when played in 2. I feel it really detracts from the atmosphere those maps had in the original game.

  23. Alex says:

    thats precicely how i felt. had 60 hours of left4dead and 20 on left4dead2. it just dident pull me in :P and they gave it out way too soon. they shoulda waited for atleast another year before making it. oh and i clocked nearly 160 hours into the early demo :P (when you prepurchased left for dead 1 you got early access to the demo for 1 month. i ruined the game since i loved it so much)

  24. Zukhramm says:

    I feel like I’m the only one who liked the characters in L4D2 here. That and I liked the setting and the music a lot more. Which means it’s clearly the better game. And before anyone starts going on about gameplay: It’s an FPS, I don’t care about gameplay in an FPS, especially not one where you don’t play against other peopler (versus does not exist).

  25. Can’t wait until you review the new Diablo 3 vs. Diablo 2, Lord of Destruction.

  26. Scerro says:

    The second game is better for me in these regards:

    – More Special Zombies
    – Melee Weapons
    – Increased weapons variety
    – Realism mode
    – Has all the original maps now, with the characters from the first game!

    However, it falls short for me in these areas:

    – Worse looking UI
    – Characters are a tiny bit… lacking? They just feel a little bit less cohesive
    – Regular Pistols feel worthless, unless you get the Magnum
    – Some environments didn’t feel right (Cold Stream)
    – Layout felt a little bit less awesome. Then again, I really enjoyed some others. (Graveyard on the Parish Campaign)
    – Tanks feel less tanky, although that may be just from playing for a lot longer.

  27. Wraith says:

    I have to agree with most of the stuff said here. I mean, I have more hours in L4D2 than L4D1 now but that’s because the community I used to play L4D with all the time migrated to the sequel almost universally (but I’ve been bored of the game after 250+ hours of repetitive multiplayer so I haven’t played in months).

    L4D1 always felt better for me. The one thing in this post that really spoke to me was Shamus’s mentioning of “level flow.” Ever since the old L4D1 maps were ported I have almost universally played those maps alone, simply because I have always felt they were more aesthetically pleasing and, it is difficult to explain in words, that they felt open while remaining linear. The L4D2 levels, to me, always felt open to a fault, where you would miss the meatiest parts of the scenery when playing to win in favor of speedy completion. I’ve never really thought about it in that way before.

    I have, however, always thought of it before in the contrast of night and day when it comes to L4D campaigns. The night campaigns (and latter half of Hard Rain) are universally superior. I hate the lighting effects in the day campaigns, the extremely bright color is just displeasing and overwhelming to me. There is also the fact that I have actually listened to the dev commentary in L4D1, which was very interesting to me. In that they specifically cited the universal night of each of the original campaigns as being used to guide the player using light sources, because during play-testing they saw that the players would naturally gravitate toward the light. It’s ingenious and subtly thematic in its own way, the sort of way you integrate gameplay mechanics with a game’s story, characters, and the player itself. In the day campaigns, the lack of real guidance using, say, a car’s headlights or intact lamppost often leads to confusion that, to my frustration, I have witnessed in teammates myself.

    Then there are the characters. As with Shamus, I have nothing against the L4D2 cast, I just didn’t particularly care for them as much as the old. Partly, it’s a case of First Installment Wins. For me, though, L4D1 really felt like a homage to zombie movies, including the stereotypes any gamer could have seen in a zombie movie or identify with – the jerk biker, the white-collar everyman, the old war vet, and the nerdy but attractive college girl. They had such great chemistry together that their successors simply could not measure up. L4D2 felt more like a sequel than a homage to classic zombie tropes. There were fewer Shout Outs in dialogue, characters, and scenery. And this leads to another beef…

    I really preferred L4D1’s style of lacking story and continuity. Some hated it, but I was not among them. I really enjoyed thinking of the four campaigns as stand-alone zombie movies featuring no continuity but the same cast of characters rather than a continuing, cohesive story. When you create a project that has no background and allow the fans to fill in the gaps their own way, the project is just not same once you dispel those mysteries with a concrete backstory. I’ve never like the direction the series took once they started making L4D2’s campaigns a cohesive story and, above all, including the concept of “carriers.” I always loved the mystery and lack of explanation behind the disease, and the fact that fans could imagine a hope and future for the survivors after they were rescued. But ever since the term “carrier” was defined…it just means that it would really suck to live in this universe.

    There’s also the music. I won’t go much into it, but I found the original game’s music vastly superior. I understand what they were trying to do in L4D2, what with giving it a more regional culture and feel for being set in the Deep South, but music is a VERY important part in setting a game’s atmosphere. The haunting, sorrowful chants and chorales of L4D1 gave the game intensity and a horrific atmosphere, whereas the bouncy banjo twangs make me feel that L4D2 is more comedic in tone, and it is.

    I’m getting really long-winded here, but then again I’ve always been very passionate about L4D. In short, L4D2 is by no means a bad game, it’s simply inferior, aesthetically, atmospherically, and artistically, to its predecessor. To put my opinion of the games in a single sentence: Left 4 Dead is a zombie film, Left 4 Dead 2 is a zombie comedy.

    • Cineris says:

      I agree with almost everything you have to say, though the one thing I find unusual is that the L4D1 survivors I think are actually quite a bit funnier than the L4D2 survivors. But strangely I don’t think this really compromises the overall feeling of L4D1 as being more serious than L4D2. Probably because all of the humor the survivors inject is something they’re doing, while L4D2 sticks you in “wacky” situations, the new SI all have a “silly” component, etc. It’s understandable to have people stuck in a terrible situation making jokes for morale, but the way that humor is presented in L4D2 saps the dramatic threat and mood from the environments and foes.

      Like you I didn’t care for the music in L4D2 at all. I actually played L4D1 entirely with the music on … And in L4D2 I turned it off entirely after a month or two, even though it’s somewhat detrimental to do so (can’t hear tank music cues).

  28. JPH says:

    I prefer Left 4 Dead 2 because it has more variety in weapons, infected, environments, all of that. But I do like the human cast of L4D Vanilla more.

    Incidentally, your reaction kind of reminds me of my reaction to Fallout: New Vegas. It was an improvement upon Fallout 3 in a number of ways, but for whatever reason, I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much.

  29. Sumanai says:

    The defibrillator has been used once when I’ve been playing. One of us died near the end of a horde and someone remembered there was one laying nearby.

    The times we’ve gotten lost in L4D2 is really high, so I completely agree the maps are confusing. I have a pretty good sense of direction, so I don’t get lost in games often, but in L4D2 it still happens even though I’ve played enough that it shouldn’t.

  30. GTB says:

    I liked both games a lot, they’re basically everything I want out of a shooter: Co-op, not stealth based (mostly), and with enough variance in the levels that I don’t get bored. I was going to say that I liked the cast in the first one better, but then I remembered Coach. Coach is awesome, and his awesomeness makes up for how blah the rest of the cast of 2 is. If L4D2 really was a movie, Coach would be the only high paid star. The rest would be the actors that you see and then say “oh yeah, I remember him from… hm. what was that movie, he was a.. police officer or something, right?”

    L4D2 also has more weaponry, and I appreciate the options that it adds to gameplay though I find that there is a steep usefulness cut-off with the new stuff. Im with you on the weapon mods though. I get what they were trying to do, but it ends up being kind of gimmicky.

    I also agree that the levels in L4D1 seemed more thought out. It was clear that they were figuring out how the lighting-to-attract-attention was going to work, and they were very careful how they placed it, for really good effect. The second one feels more like a standard run-n-gun with less thought to layout, and especially to atmosphere (ugh, the music).

    I too would have preferred more levels for L4D1 rather than a sequel, I still think that it’s only basically half a game, as far as content goes. But since I don’t do PVP maybe im missing out on half of the game. It would have been better to release the L4D2 content as new maps for L4D1, which would have driven the content up into “worth the money I paid for it” levels. Note that this whole issue didn’t stop me from buying L4D2, again with only about half of the content I would have expected for the money. Curse you valve, and your excellent game play!

  31. Abnaxis says:

    Good lord.

    I actually caught myself getting heckles raised. I am just too much of a fanboy…

    That said, I have played 400+ hours on both games (they are the only game I play consistently–anything else I play in little spurts). I almost unilaterally like 2 better.

    This is probably because all of the issues people have listed here (and the ones in your article) are pretty much non-issues/a feature of the new game. In both games, there’s exactly one cast member I really identify with, while I see the other three as shallow/stereotyped. I must be too dense to pick up on map clues (a distinct possibility), because I got completely bugnuts lost in both games until I learned the maps. I’ve used the defibrillator, not every game but often enough (though I usually still have my kit when I find them, so they normally get left behind). I like the melee weapons (they are probably overpowered in co-op, where the common are the most powerful infected at higher difficulties–not so overpowered in versus, where the SI are the main threat). I avoid incendiary rounds like the plague (they actually put out tanks lit previously by mollys), but that’s about the only issue of those Shamus brought up.

    I play Versus/Scavenge for the most part (the AI director hasn’t been able to ambush me since L4D1), so I can’t really say much about the co-op stuff. However, for all of the L4D franchise, I have loved the versus gameplay not for the shooting, but for the tactics, and I think the variation in tactics is where L4D2’s strength lies. In 1, it was a formula–you nearly always got 2 hunters, a smoker, and a boomer. Boomer goes in first, pounce the clean ones, tongue the stragglers. As survivors, grab your favorite weapon (always available), crouch and corner when boomed, watch the roofs for the smokers and hunters, watch around the corner for the boomers. There’s no force of infected powerful enough to overcome a group of four clustered survivors short of a tank (which will still go down if he doesn’t have team support). There are places where the smoker will always spawn, whether you’re infected or survivor.

    In L4D2, there is enough variety that the tactics vary wildly. The next SI wave might have either a boomer or a spitter–or both–and the different layouts require different tactics, on both sides. Survivors have to carefully decide just how close together they want to run, because clustering isn’t the sure path to success. A lot of the guns are similar, but that just means you have to adjust when the weapons cache doesn’t have a shotgun or rifle you want and justifies more scavenging for resources instead of bum rushing the whole map.

    To me, L4D isn’t really a shooter. You can be complete rubbish at shooting (I am), and still be a great L4D player. It is a game of timing and tactics (I was shouting at the screen when Shamus bemoaned the respawn time in 8 by Zombies, “You should be planning now!”) that is much improved by the additions in L4D2.

    Now, about whether it’s enough to be a new game, or whether it was released too soon…meh, I dunno. The original maps had to be modded heavily to balance the new SI, and I don’t know how much the original code had to be modified to accommodate the new infected types. It feels like it’s not much, but I’m willing to bet the amount of work required to expand the original would be on par with the work required to make an entirely new game, and then you run into the problem of some people having one version versus another…It just seems like the additions made would only work as a new game, rather than an expansion.

    • Shamus says:

      “You should be planning now!”

      Easy to say once you know the flow or rhythm of the game.

      When you’re new, you don’t know what to plan. How do I know where they will be? There’s no point in devising an ambush for a spot they will pass thirty seconds before I spawn. I can’t position myself until I’m ready to spawn. I don’t know where the good/rubbish ambush points are. I can’t talk to my team because they’re still active and talking about their current attack. How can I plan when I don’t know what classes any of us will be a minute from now?

      Oh? I’m going to spawn as a charger? Is that good? How much of a running start do I need? Should I attack from the front or the back? Should I be looking for places to drop down, pop up, or run in?

      So “planning” wasn’t an option available to me. Or it was, but it would have been pointless.

      In any case, I generally hate games with a lot of downtime. I don’t like multiplayer turn-based games. I like TF2, but I usually quit when I die and see a long respawn timer. I don’t want to “plan”, I want to “play”. If planning IS playing, then I’d rather do it at a table and leave the computer out of it.

      Which should explain why I don’t really go for PvP gameplay.

      Which should explain why I wasn’t really having fun in 8 by Zombies.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Erm…It seems you took what I said as an insult. I didn’t mean it as such, and apologize if what I said came off stronger than I meant.

        Something that isn’t readily given in the tooltips is that when you are infected (or if you die a survivor), you can press spacebar a couple times and you get a view that floats around, letting you zoom all over the map. When you’re new, this can be invaluable for learning the map, because you can zoom all over the place and see it from a bird’s eye view, letting you get a better idea of what paths there are to take on the map. When you’re not so new, you can use it to scope out all the usual weapon caches to see what’s there and plan your route if you’re going second. It’s probably the best advantage of going second–when you’re losing you get to start the map with far better knowledge of what’s coming.

        As far as what the appropriate thing to do with the charger is…that’s just something you have to learn. One of the problems I think both games have is that the learning curve for versus is very steep, because there’s no way to practice other than join a versus game with people who are probably way more experienced than you (though this is largely true of most any multiplayer-focused game, it does seem a bit worse in L4D). However, if you’re using the recon ability I outlined above, you can scope out where the survivors are going and basically run through the list of SIs and figure a bunch of hypotheticals, “if I’m a smoker, that would be a good spot, there seems to be a good place to charge, up here’s a good hunting spot…” With experience, you’ll also get a decent idea of what you’ll be next and you be all set when everyone’s timer is up.

        I also hate downtime, which is why I haven’t clocked any more time on TF2 than what I have. When you’re dead in TF2, you get to sit on your hands and stew in your defeat. In L4D2, I don’t think I ever stop playing, even while dead. It might not be your cup of tea, and understandably so, but I enjoy it.

        I realize this is all a matter of opinion, and I understand the complaints everyone has put up. I just either don’t agree with them (I love the style and score of the sequel) or they aren’t issues for me personally

        • Shamus says:

          I get it now. I thought you were saying, “Shamus, you would have done better if you had been planning!”

          But you were just expressing the normal frustration of watching somebody do something when you understand it and they don’t. See also: Helping Grandpa use the computer. Which is a pretty appropriate metaphor in this case.

  32. wererogue says:

    I primarily play co-op, and overall, I like L4D2 better. I like the less-well-travelled art direction and setting, I like the design and diversity of the characters (although I definitely concede that their execution is better in L4D), I like the updated gunplay and I love the melee weapons.

    More than any of that though, it’s some of the stuff that people hate that I love love love in L4D2. In 1, you could learn to be great at the game – learn the maps, learn the tactics, learn your favourite weapons, and then you were done. No more challenges, just repeating the same levels. You could see it coming, too – “If I just get better at this part of the level I’ll be untouchable.”

    L4D2 makes that nearly impossible. The extra diversity of items and weapons means that one playthrough you might have an advantage in an area that you were weak in before, and vice versa. More special infected means more variations on ambushes at any point in a level. More weapons, even if they’re similar, means that you might have to [gasp] challenge yourself for a while, and encourages more cooperation – “Hey, I super suck with the Uzi, do you guys mind taking them while I take the only hunting rifle? Oh, you already took it. Damn it.”

    Less direction in the levels, combined with the AI director’s new power to mess with the path, meant that it was possible, and in fact likely that you’d go the wrong way. I know, I know, game design lead the player frustration blah blah blah, but having to make those choices and knowing that you might be wrong, and have to fix the problems that you get into gives that game a lot of longevity for me.

    The things you rely on in L4D2 are much more satisfying to me. Your weapon skill. Your reactions. Your tactical decisions. And more than anything else, your teamwork and drive to look out for each other. And whenever a new map comes out, those things transfer really well – you don’t need to learn the new map so much, you just tackle it as a team.

  33. Phantos says:

    There’s nothing wrong with the sequel cast. I don’t dislike any of them. Rochelle seems kind of dull and Nick seems like a set-up for a joke with no payoff, but I’m sure veteran players could point to cool Rochelle moments or funny things that Nick has said.

    I disagree. I disagree so hard, I will now thrust in the general direction of something I’ve already written on this subject, because I’m too lazy to elaborate in the comments…

    What I will say is that I’m glad you’ve finally written something about this, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on all of it. And on stuff we do agree on: I too felt the open-spaces and day-time aesthetic hurt the level design more than it helped. The DLC maps are much better at keeping that L4D style in mind.

    I will also say that I hope new DLC comes out, where Nick replaces bill in the original lineup. Since… well, you know. X_X

  34. V8_Ninja says:

    While I have played more of Left 4 Dead 2 than the first game, I always liked the first game better. To me, it mostly has to do with the weapons. In the L4D1, the weapons seem more “Contained” in the sense that they all serve a purpose. In L4D2, the weapons are all over the place. I’ve never found the melee weapons useful, there is just a bit too much variants in the normal guns, and bile boomer felt unnecessarily tacked on. Also, I always found the characters in the original Left 4 Dead were much more likeable. They had interesting dynamics and unique personalities while the characters in L4D2 just felt stock. Granted, they were not stock in the sense that they were boring, but they felt more generic.

  35. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    Uhh.. not sure if you know this already but L4D2 actually has the entire L4D campaign inside it, with the characters as well. Then again I have never played L4D so I wouldn’t know about the differences at all.

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