Left 4 Dead 2 review

  • Brutally intense campaigns
  • Far deeper than it lets on
  • Ellis and his buddy Keith
  • Solo AI is awful
  • New weapons not new enough
  • Some glitchy moments here and there

Unlike most other shooters, Left 4 Dead hinges on cooperative multiplayer. You and three friends must shoot, tear and slash through an unrelenting mass of raging zombies. From the moment you leave the safe house to the final rescue chopper, you are completely dependent on each other and constantly hunted by special boss zombies that behave with their own aggressive, strategizing intelligence. Thanks to Valve’s omniscient “AI Director,” the zombies spawn differently every time, the special infected try alternative attacks, and even weapon drops are changed based on your performance. This makes every single playthrough slightly different, and the resultant strategy to survive much more organic and integral than any other FPS on the market. Just like Street Fighter is much more than mashing on buttons, Left 4 Dead is far more than mindless shooting. Played properly, L4D offers 100+ hours of unrivaled co-op insanity.

Above: Ellis, Coach, Rochelle and Nick, just trying to stay alive

Surprisingly, Left 4 Dead 2 is able to out-gore, out-scare and out-explode the original in just about every way. Instead of a very grey, kinda boring cityscape, you’re running through hotels, swamps, plantations, riverfronts, malls, abandoned highways, amusement parks… we could go on. The diversity is staggering and ultimately makes each movie-like campaign more exciting, tense and memorable than the first game.

Above: Eerie sunsets and daylight make the horde even more frightening

There’s also a sense of immediacy to the new campaigns not present in the original. L4D2 begins just as the government realizes the infection is widespread and not containable, so you see evidence of the underwhelming CEDA response (that’s a knock at FEMA, btw), and eventually the military’s “blow it to hell” ultimatum. This makes the entire trip, from Dead Center (a blazing hotel) to The Parish (an amazing scramble across a bombed bridge) a hellish nightmare of not just the zombie apocalypse, but also how harshly the outside world is willing to deal with the threat.

Above: A small sampling of what you’re in for

This in-your-face, “apocalypse in action” scenario is further bolstered by the addition of vicious melee weapons like crowbars, axes and katanas. Regardless of how good you are, at some point there’s gonna be a wall of zombie flesh up in your shit, scratching and pounding without rest. Normally you’d have to shove them back, shoot and turn to help your friends out. Now you can swing blindly and chop these guys into bloody stumps. Seriously, the blood and gore are much, much nastier this time around.

Above: You’ll see spines, guts, brains - all kinds of innards flying around

And finally, no zombie game/movie/book is complete without a shrieking, rusty chainsaw. Mysteriously absent from the first game, you can now get your zomberjack fix in the most gloriously violent manner possible.

Above: Melee weapons make L4D2 an unapologetic bloodbath

The amped intensity, combined with new guns, items and infected, would have made for a strong successor. But Valve didn’t just push the “sequel” button and give us the same shit on a different day. Next page we’ll explain why.

Each campaign is divided into chapters (five usually, though Dead Center and Swamp Fever have four), and somewhere in there is an “event” moment where you have to trigger something loud enough to attract an entire horde. The typical strategy was to hole up in a corner and wait for either the rescue vehicle to arrive or for the horde to dissipate. Now, not only do the Charger and Spitter force you to break up, you also have to accomplish actual goals while the whole place goes to hell around you. It’s no longer just about surviving.

Above: Dead Center ends with you gathering gas for this supercar

Above: Tactical cola extraction marks the first time we loved a fetch quest

Above: Hard Rain ends with a disorienting, blustery tropical storm

So, not only are the locales new and exciting, but the game’s most famous feature has been radically altered. The original’s crescendos required minutes of preparation, from placement to equipment to overall battle plan. Now, you barely have time for any of that, as there’s now an alarm to deactivate or a roller coaster to run. Yes, there are still a few “normal” events, but we’re incredibly pleased with the variation.

Masterclass multiplayer

The main game is designed for co-op, and you won’t find a better shooter in this regard. Beyond that, the versus mode returns (pitting teams of survivors and special infected against each other) along with Survival (stay alive the longest, best time wins) and the new Scavenge mode. The latter is like versus in that you take turns playing as humans and specials, but now there’s a goal instead of just making it to the end of the level.

Above: Gas cans are quite far apart, so you have to stick together

There are several gas cans littered around a small area, and the survivors must venture out for them to keep a generator running. Once the timer runs out, the round ends and you switch sides. On the surface it’s like versus, as the special infected have all the same tricks (Smokers pull you away, Hunters pin you, Jockeys force you in a different direction etc) but now you’re impeding an actual process instead of the survivor’s quick run to the end of the map. Furthermore, Spitters can ignite cans when they’re held, or spit a glob of burning acid right over the generator, preventing the humans from filling for a few seconds.

Above: As the special infected, it's your job to mess with the survivors

As with versus, you have to learn the nuances of the special infected to truly appreciate the balance. We heard a lot of complaints about L4D’s vs mode, usually that the specials were too weak, died too fast or were too hard to use effectively. All those are true, but learning how to pull off amazing combo attacks is part of the charm. Scavenge takes this one step further by allowing you to execute elaborate plans built to stop the survivors cold.

Obviously we weren’t able to play truly online (game’s just out today, after all), so we can’t comment on matchmaking or the new team making options. Odds are they won’t affect the score or magically be so bad we’d have to revisit the review, but just for honesty’s sake, we played in a Valve-controlled environment and it worked just fine.

But it's not perfect

Even though we’d argue L4D2 outdoes its predecessor in several key areas, it still stumbles in enough ways to prevent us from scoring it higher. Chief among our complaints is the single-player AI, which is absolutely abysmal. If you want to run through solo for Achievements or general practice, putting up with those assholes is one of the most frustrating aspects of any game in history.

They take forever to save you from special infected, usually running all the way up and shooting instead of shoving them away like a human player would. Or they dick around outside the safe room while you scream “GET IN THE GOD DAMN DOOR FUUUUUUUUUUUUU” for 30 seconds. Or, in this wonderful scene, they fail to do anything when a witch incapacitates and kills us.

Above: Oh my god

The rest of our concerns are slight, but do add up. There’s a grip of new weapons, most of which are forgettable and nearly indistinguishable from one another. They do have small pros and cons, but we play that shit on expert and rarely found a need to stray from the tactical shotgun/assault rifle combo from L4D.

Above: But the grenade launcher is badass

Level design is somewhat confusing too. The maps are expertly laid out so there’s a few different ways to tackle them each time, but the first trip through is unnecessarily labyrinthine. We know to run up these stairs or through that alley, but what clue was there that some random door, that looks like every other door, was the one and only way through this area? Meanwhile, the horde has spawned, a Jockey pulled someone away and a Charger smashed Ellis up against the wall. Game over.

Finally, and this is definitely subjective, L4D2 feels considerably harder than the first game. Specials spawn more frequently (we feel) and coordinate better than they did in the first title. The zombies themselves tend to run in front of you and surround faster and more efficiently than before too, making even a regular group a hazard if you’re playing on Advanced or Expert. Then there’s the Realism mode, which takes away highlighted objects and cranks the damage levels from “wow, really?” to “OK I quit.”

Fun for some, ruthless for everyone else.

We did want to give a special shoutout to the aforementioned Achievements though, as they’re part of the driving force that keeps you playing (aside from the Director’s random decisions). Dark Carnival alone has four specific goals to shoot for, like punching 10 clowns in the face or using an adrenaline shot to pound a “test your might” attraction.

Above: But our favorite’s Gnome Chompski 

God damn that thing. You win it by beating a shooting gallery, and then have to carry it through the rest of the campaign. Yes, all five chapters. It’s quite a task, and a perfect example of how developers can use Achievements (or Trophies) to suck us in well after the credits have rolled. We were already planning on playing this for dozens of hours, and now we have 1000 reasons to go beyond.

Is it better than?

Left 4 Dead? Honestly, they’re dead even. We adore the new campaigns, setting, characters, dialog and special infected, but the exact same can be said for the original. Both are amazing multiplayer experiences and are essential in their own ways. The plus side – the first one’s way cheap now, so getting both is a reasonable (and suggested) course of action.

Modern Warfare 2? Depends. They're not the same at all, but as the fall’s two premier shooters there are bound to be comparisons. Both contain senses-shattering spectacles, violence galore and exemplify multiplayer heaven, so it’s more your call than ours. Do you want a more strategic take on shooters, or do you prefer bullet-bathed Free-For-All?

Borderlands? Yes. Again, markedly different experiences, but in our eyes L4D2 offers more gameplay variation and more guaranteed entertainment than the MMO-esque Borderlands. As fun as it is, four-player Borderlands is quite the grind-fest, leading to more than a few hours of repetitive tasks. Churning zombie faces into paste never has to worry about getting stale.

Just for you, Metacritic!

More maps, more enemies, more weapons, more glorious spectacle than the original, and that’s just the co-op. Fresh versus modes and intense violence make this the apocalypse to beat.

Nov 17, 2009 

More Info

Release date: Nov 17 2009 - PC, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Valve
Developed by: Valve
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending


  • positivepiano12 - July 14, 2014 1:22 a.m.

    Damn all those comments saying the first L4D is better than this one, and Damn all those comments stating L4D2 to be too hard for them. As for the AI, I find no problem at it really, because, they ARE bots aren't they? I stormed through all the game modes, even that Expert Realism or mutation Hard Eight on Expert, and to sum up, this game is NOT made for amateur gamers who basically give up because "the game doesn't go my way". I liked all the challenges: the maze-craze level design (oh the sweet moments of frustration when a Tank is on your ass and you are soaked wet and basically kind of blind in the goddamn rain), the goddamn zombies in Expert difficulty, not-so-smart bots... This is a BRUTAL game. Not recommended for noobs who rage-quits after getting lost for 15 minutes or died because they think they shouldn't have. P.S: this game is AWESOMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
  • LMS69 - January 30, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    I loved the first one.
  • LMS69 - January 30, 2010 7:57 p.m.

    Ok, I have this game and love it. Except for two things. ITS WAY TOO SHORT and the online is not what I thought it was. Why? In my book, its an 8.
  • patri0t - January 23, 2010 10:05 p.m.

    in all truthfulness, THIS GAME BLOWS. not nearly as good as the first one
  • PiscesIscariot - January 9, 2010 11:48 p.m.

    It's alright, for some reason though, it seems that no one really plays on the Xbox. Might just be me
  • Shell90 - December 25, 2009 10:32 a.m.

    your joking they took out all the dismemberment and gore for the australian version. goddammit that takes away most of the charm of it, 90 bucks wasted. screw you australian censorship!
  • CreeplyTuna - December 23, 2009 2:10 a.m.

    iplayed the first, but didnt think id get this, but i played the demo and it was sick. more brutal, bloody, and what i finally wanted valve to do with the director ai, change around the routes you have to take to finish the level. so i bought lvd2. im disappointed. the director ai i think got worse in the real game. as in, doesnt do anything. the only differences if seen noticed is how many witches are spawned right in the path you have to go. also, bodies disappear in about 10 seconds. not kidding. a whole room full of them that i had just mowed down with the ak and caused limbs and heads and blood to litter the floor, are gone. i wish this was dlc like Ballad or Gay tony or something like that, because it feels to mush the same. and seriously, i think it would be AMAZING if valve could make the director ai really change around the level comepletely, so you dont play the same level twice, so it'll be like instead of going down the street you went down the first time you played the level, now there's a fence there, and you have to find away around the buildings surrounding it. im just pissed right now
  • VideoGameKing - November 22, 2009 2:36 p.m.

    i wish xboxlive was free like PSN,id play more online,i like vers mode the most
  • Makk_Mizzy - November 21, 2009 12:51 p.m.

    OMG! I must say this time around I still feel like the Left4Dead series is gonna be around and as well an inspiration for other shooter games to come. Its amazing and I admire he melee weapons that alone made the replay value much higher for me than in the first Left$Dead. One thing I will admit is that his time around I notice myself dying more than did in the first one, not because of poor executions but, because this time around A.I is more likely to run into previous areas that we've wiped out and get swarmed by zombies or special infected, can't take down a tank as fast and effectively as in the first one, and there are more swarms of zombies to attack this time around.
  • Remake - November 19, 2009 6 a.m.

    Addressing the flaws of both review and comment - Computer AI - You're right. It's bad. - Aiming - How can you complain about aiming in this game? The only weapon that really needs the accuracy option is the sniper rifles, and they have it. Just because games like CoD and Rainbow Six sponsor an aim button doesn't mean all shooters have to. - Solid motivation to kill? - They're zombies, and they are KILLING YOU. What motivation ISN'T there that's in other games? - Finally, concerning the single player campaign - It's still very playable. A good player can easily get through normal. But yes, the AI is the one drawback to L4D2. 9's about right.
  • _D-Man_ - November 19, 2009 1:08 a.m.

    I'm asd they didnt fix the AI, I was playing the demo, and noticed how damn horrible it is. I was hoping it would be fixed, but seeing that its not, I would reconsider buying it for Christmas,or just borrowing it from my cousin once he gets it.
  • Amatarasu - November 18, 2009 6:36 a.m.

    thank you! the AI in l4d was...not good, they didn't understand that i;m going to shoot the gas cans their so happy to be standing next to, and then when they start burning,they run outside were i can't save them instead of comming to the nice,safe little corner i had i mean, me and my pal ben, we beat 2 expert campains with 2 ai partners, and we couldn't do ANYTHING in advanced l4d2 they are DUMBASSES! i am incapped, in the finali, i only need to pour ONE mor gas can to win, i was about to throw it down to ben when i got incapped, AI coach came right up to me, but as soon as he started, he jumped off the second floor to help ben, who was at full health, with a smoker,that was on fire
  • Cwf2008 - November 18, 2009 3:56 a.m.

    Dont care what this was scored i didnt like L4D1 and didnt like the demo for L4D2 either...its a pretty underwhelming game IMO ahd why the hell are weapons so inaccurate?
  • JustTheBoBreaker - November 18, 2009 2:04 a.m.

    I got the first L4D pretty late and still had an absolute blast. Hopefully I can scrounge enough money to buy this one.
  • mentalityljs - November 18, 2009 12:44 a.m.

  • FamousMortimer - November 17, 2009 11:46 p.m.

    How about a Green Box combo? Both L4D's, #1's DLC included, and... I dunno... free token for the inevitable L4D2 DLC for, let's see... $80 sounds about right to me. Of course I'll buy it anyway, but it'll be a nice space saver my way.
  • Yeager1122 - November 17, 2009 10:52 p.m.

    Can't wait to pick this up.
  • patri0t - November 17, 2009 8:03 p.m.

    i loved L4D1 but this one is as appealing to me. i played the demo but never really got into it.
  • Samael - November 17, 2009 6:50 p.m.

    @oryandymackie I literally don't understand your post. Did you play the original L4D? Single-Player in L4D is the exact same thing as multiplayer, but with A.I. controlled allies. Completely baffling. "And for L4D?" What the hell does this mean? *brain explodes*
  • oryandymackie - November 17, 2009 6:22 p.m.

    I'm scared that Valve is focusing more on the online multiplayer market. Is there a decent single player campaign? And for L4D?

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