Left 4 Dead 2 is better than its predecessor in nearly every possible way. It’s more demanding, more varied, and more entertaining. Once again, this is the story of four human survivors and their desperate, bloody bid to outrun a zombie apocalypse. We’re finally told what happened to unleash hell on Earth as the group attempts to travel from Savannah, Georgia to New Orleans, Louisiana. Five individual campaigns are linked to form a loose story that adds context and detail to the world, but still serves primarily as a framework for zombie-killin’.
It’d be easy to look at this sequel and assume Valve simply added more. There are more unique Infected: the Spitter hawks acidic loogies, and the Jockey is a giant giggling aphid that takes unwelcome rides on players’ backs. There are more weapons, from a grenade launcher to mêlée options that include axes, a katana, and the deliciously satisfying chainsaw. Most notably, there’s more stuff in each environment: The journey to Nawlins involves stops at a roadside motel, a carnival tunnel of love, crude walkways over swampy muck, and a plantation showdown. There are small touches, like zombie eyes glowing in the dark, and big changes, like daylight levels that are no less intense for being sunlit.
The AI that dynamically controls dangers and assistance has been made more robust and given a better sense of timing. Each campaign masterfully blends furtive darting through deserted areas and waves of zombie attacks that build to devastating conflict. Rather than just holding out against a horde at the end of each storyline, you’ll repel enemies while gathering gasoline to power an automobile, trek to a waiting boat through a blinding tropical storm, and race across a shattered bridge to the last helicopter able to offer safe passage.
The only aspect left largely unchanged is offline AI, which remains cautious, though reliable. Playing without other humans, the CPU-controlled survivors are never surprising, and you won’t have the pleasure of playing as any of the new special Infected. Playing with a human team online is the way to go. Successfully using zombie attacks to massacre rival survivors has been one of gaming’s great pleasures for the last year. Left 4 Dead 2 demands better communication and strategy, and rewards those who step up with primal, gleeful victory.