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.
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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