Left 4 Dead 2
This is a review of the game, and as such it contains spoilers. To tell you right off the bat, if you like the first game, you'll like this one. I am a fan, and I do tend to rant and go off on tangents. I'll try to focus it.
Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2), released a year after its predecessor, is a first-person shooter survival co-op horror extrrrrrravaganza. It hasn't changed much from its predecessor. The core gameplay elements are still the same. It's just been coated with a jambalaya-flavored candy covering filled with extras that range between awesome to confusing.
The Core Gameplay
The game hasn't changed much from the first game: You are one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse infection and must fight your way through hordes of infected zombies to the end of a four (or five) level campaign to escape. Teamwork is essential as among the horde are a number of special infected which can take you out if you don't have backup to help you. Throughout the campaign you will start with some simple weapons and health packs and find, littered along the way, better weapons, grenade-like weapons, more health (packs, pills) and the like. Certain moments in the campaign are known as 'events' which attract the zombies, until you reach the final level and you enter a 'finale' and defend yourselves while waiting for a rescue.
The Extras, and what's been changed
The first thing that strikes you when you play L4D2 is that the characters are quite different than those in the original. We have Ellis, a mechanic who likes to joke around and has the feeling of being a southern country boy. We have Nick, a riverboat gambler/con man, who says nothing but wise-cracking one-liners but actually does give a care. Then we have Rochelle, a young TV production assistant who is kind and considerate. Finally we have Coach, the big guy. A former college football player turned-varsity coach, who kinda looks like Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince (big bonus points there).
The characters are unique, but it's really up to you whether you like any of them. Ultimately, you only really have to LIKE one of the four. For me, that was Coach. Rochelle is bland and uninteresting. Ellis is goofy. Nick is an *******. But everyone will relate to someone.
Compared to the original four characters of L4D, Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey, they have more character, but they don't have as much group cohesiveness. The L4D survivors seemed like a tight-knit team. In L4D2, they seem like a hodge-podge. A tradeoff. Both teams fit for their respective games.
In the first L4D, the zombies you face are pale and ghost-like, running at you full-tilt when alerted and stumbling like mindless ghouls when they're inert. Each area has its own groups of infected zombies, wearing outfits that match the area: Doctors/nurses/patients in the hospitals, cops in the streets, airline employees in the airport, and hunters/military personnel in the countryside.
In L4D2, the outfits that the infected wear run together far more. It makes their identity far less interesting. The infection seems to have killed their wardrobe, as well as their behavior. When inert, they seem to be like feral animals that haven't yet found a meal. When alerted, they behave more like monkeys than the walking dead.. well, monkeys with bloody faces and wounds.
The only thing that L4D2 has over its predecessor is 'Uncommon Common Infected' (UCI). Each UCI is specific to each campaign. In 'Dead Center', CEDA (Civil Emergency and Defense Agency--a thinly veiled caricature of FEMA) has agents in HAZMAT suits. Well, the suits didn't stop the infection and the resulting zombies are immune to fire. In 'Dark Carnival', zombie Clowns have squeaky shoes that attract undead. In 'Swamp Fever', Mud Men are zombies that emerge from the swamp and can glob mud all over your view to obscure your sight. In 'Hard Rain', construction worker zombies wear reflective outfits and can't hear the beep of pipebombs and other loud noises, plus they're tougher to kill. Finally, in 'The Parish', riot cop zombies wear bulletproof armor making them impossible to shoot from the front.
Not to mention, the violence is ramped up in L4D2. Before, you could blast off an infected's head or four limbs, but not much else. In L4D2, you can destroy them in countless ways; holes in their bodies. Crushing their skulls. Decapitation. Slicing their bodies open. Tearing off limbs. Blowing their bodies open. It's much more visceral, but a gory game does not equal a great one.
In Left 4 Dead, your weapons were relatively limited: The pistol, which had unlimited ammo, upgradeable to double pistols. The submachine gun, which was relatively effective. The pump-action shotgun, which was more effective. The M-16 rifle, which was accurate and powerful but ate ammo fast. The auto-shotgun which was just as effective as the pump-action, but had a larger magazine and reloaded faster, and the hunting rifle, which was chamber-loaded and very accurate and powerful.
In Left 4 Dead 2, the weapon repertoire is expanded. The pistols are back but not as powerful. There's also a magnum pistol, which has less rounds per magazine but much more powerful. We also have the pump-action shotgun, the silenced submachine gun, the uzi, the auto-shotgun, the combat shotgun, the semi-automatic desert rifle, the M-16, the hunting rifle, a high-powered semi-auto sniper rifle, and an explosively powerful (and potentially dangerous) grenade launcher. The power of the guns vary: The M-16 is awesome. The uzi? Not so much. The pistol has also been extremely nerfed, mostly because you can replace it with...
Melee weapons! A big and awesome improvement in the game is the addition of several melee weapons that replace the pistol. The frying pan, the paddle bat, the tonfa, the guitar, the machete, the fire axe, the katana, the crowbar, and the fuel-powered chainsaw. (For those who preordered the game, you can also get the special baseball bat.) These weapons are a lot of fun to use, some more than others. Nothing beats slicing through a horde with a machete or carving through them with a chainsaw. The chainsaw has a limited amount of fuel, so you can't use it forever. The tonfa is probably the least fun of the weapons.
In the original L4D, you also carry some extra gear: The first-aid kit which can heal you permanently. Pain pills, which give you a temporary health boost, and either a pipebomb or a molotov: to either attract and obliterate a horde of undead or spread a swath of fire to burn any infected inside (very effective against special infected).
L4D2 has all of these, plus new equipment. The defibrulator, which replaces a first-aid kit: Capable of reviving dead allies. Very useful in harder difficulties. The adrenaline shot, which replaces the pain pills: Somewhat effective if you want to rush through a horde. Incendiary and/or explosive ammunition, which replaces the first-aid kit. Somewhat useful, especially during a boss fight with a tank or a finale event. Finally, there's the Boomer Bile grenade, which, when thrown, creates a green mist of bile that attracts undead. Somewhat useful for diverting a horde. L4D2 also includes the laser sight, which you attach to your gun to improve accuracy (and it lets you see your allies' beams).
All of this gear is useful, but sometimes it's hard to decide what you'll need down the road. Sometimes you'll get lucky and that grenade launcher is awesome. Sometimes it causes a problem and you're out of ammo with just a crowbar. I thought picking between the molotov and the pipebomb was hard enough to do!
The Special Infected
The boss infected are back from the original L4D. The Hunter, a hooded leaper with powerful legs that screams and leaps on survivors and tears them apart. The Smoker, a coughing coward that finds a high spot and spits out a long tongue to tangle its victim and drag them off. The Boomer, a fat infected that vomits bile that blinds survivors and attracts undead, as well as spraying the bile when it's popped and killed. The Tank, a boss infected that's a mindless raging Hulk. The Witch, a passive infected that is deadly if you bother her.
In L4D2, these infected are back, but with new skins (Boomers are guys and girls now, Tanks look more tanned, Smokers are more reddish.) and new friends. The Spitter, an ugly bitch with a long neck that spits acid and creates pools of it when she dies. The Charger, a 'half-tank' hillbilly with a huge arm that tackles through survivors and pounds one into pulp. The Jockey, a tiny ravenous undead that leaps on a survivor's shoulders and drags them off.
The new infected are... decent. The charger is incredibly potent, reminding me of smokers. The jockey is incredibly hard to kill and very annoying. The spitter reminds me of the boomer, but with a different flavor of spit. They are different and unique enough to fit in the repertoire of L4D2, but they also feel unnecessary. The original specials were nasty enough.
In the original L4D, the campaigns and story weren't the focus. They are loosely (very loosely) tied together. In L4D2, they are tied together much more neatly. In the beginning, the survivors get to know each other and discover the infection slowly and surely. By the end, they have travelled from Savannah, GA to New Orleans, LA over five campaigns, and are very much used to killing the infection.
That's where the campaigns succeed. Otherwise they're not as effective. Each campaign has its own flavor, but they all taste similarly. The gameplay elements are incredibly similar across the board. The difficulty curve is flat, but it's also higher than the original's. Even on Easy I had much more trouble than I ever would with L4D. I know it'll get easier the more I play it but... I feel like they took the fact that the first one exists too much into consideration.
I feel like I'm rambling at this point. L4D2 has some good stuff: The weapons, the story. Some elements are bland: The common zombies, the campaign gameplay, a lot of the weapons. Some elements are tough: The difficulty is ramped up, and overall it feels more sluggish in pacing.
If you like Left 4 Dead, you'll like Left 4 Dead 2. The gameplay hasn't changed. It's just been colored differently. Personally, I will always prefer the original.