Why Left 4 Dead 2 is one of the greatest games ever made

It’s a massive understatement to say the game is difficult. Each level starts off relatively easy, but by the time you’re facing the final showdown as you wait for your means of escape (be it a boat, helicopter, or whatever), the game turns into a nightmarish flurry of clawing zombie limbs and snarling undead faces. And when your ammo’s run out and your melee attacks are starting to move more slowly thanks to the brilliantly-weighted stamina system, you really feel like you’re there. Slowing down with exhaustion, trying not to succumb to the inevitable.

Then there are the limited slots in your inventory for special items like Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs. Using up your pipe bomb is like using a ‘get out of jail free’ card in Monopoly. Sure, it’s invaluable for getting you out of a sticky situation, but you’re always left wondering whether you could (or should) have held onto it a bit longer. Playing without a safety net is much less comfortable.

Likewise, you only get to carry one health item. It restores you to full health, but it can only be used once. As a result, every safehouse becomes a frantic race to pick up a medipack, use it to heal up, and then grab another one to put in reserve before your mates (or the idiot computer) get there first. Are you kind enough to use your only medipack to heal a friend? Let’s find out…

But enough talk about the psychology of survival situations. You mainly just want to shoot some bad guys, right? Fortunately, L4D2 has some of the most enjoyably brutal core FPS action anywhere. The gore has been turned up compared to the already wince-inducing original, and zombies can now have individual limbs blown off. Sick though it is to find an arm lying around, there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun.

It’s also a technical marvel. With only a couple of zombies on the screen, you could be forgiven for thinking that the game isn’t particularly good-looking, but the slight visual sparseness makes sense once things get more hectic, allowing literally hundreds of zombies to come running towards you in frightening detail. The frame-rate usually holds up too, even in split-screen two-player mode, which isn’t to be sniffed at these days.

Left 4 Dead 2 is one of those games that never really gets put on our shelf to collect dust. Sooner or later it’s downloading on Steam or being popped into the Xbox 360, putting grins on our faces and gnomes into zombies’ skulls. There aren’t many current-gen games that come back out so regularly, but this one is always dependable when there’s a need for some concentrated multiplayer fun. It’s not just one of the best games of the generation, it’s one of the best games ever made. One of the top 100 best games of all time, to be precise.

"Why _____ is one of the greatest game ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.