So I’ve been killing a lot of zombies this week.  I’m probably the only person around who has mixed feelings about Left 4 Dead 2.

On the plus side– it’s a really well done game, much more polished than L4D1… and that looked mighty good just a year ago.  The operative word is more… it has more zombies, more specials, more maps, more game types, more weapons, more gore.  Plus melee weapons, fancier models, special ammo types,  and more varied gameplay that emphasizes movement.

Zombiein' in the rain

There are some pretty amazing experiences in L4D2.  The thunderstorm in Hard Rain is the most visceral and convincing I’ve seen in a game; the level also has a unique there-and-back structure, where pure mirroring is avoided by having the return journey take place at night and in a flood.  The swamp in Swamp Fever would be, as a friend noted, scary enough without the zombies.  And Dark Carnival is a great time, complete with clowns that attract zombies with their squeaky shoes, playable arcade games, and a rock concert.

There’s a new Scavenge mode that seems fun– a mini-versus game that takes 15 minutes or so instead of an hour and a half.  Well, except when you get rolled, but in that case at least it’s over quickly.

This time the five maps form an overall story, which is a nice touch.  Ellis is pretty amusing; the rest are a little generic.  It’s a little strange to have a game with a disaster motif set (partly) in New Orleans… it’s not insensitive exactly, since it can get you thinking about the Katrina catastrophe.  It’s just a little odd.

Never too busy fighting to get in a game of whackamole

L4D1 addresses some of the frustrations of versus mode: scoring is not so weighted toward survival; the new specials and maps discourage holing up; the additional specials also add a lot more variety– you’re not likely to be assigned Boomer three times in a row, a real drag for me.  It’s sad and hilarious to watch a Charger miss his target… unless of course you’re playing him.

Cons… well, overall it feels something like Civ4: a bunch of nice improvements to a game I’m less interested in than before.  I was particularly sick of Versus, and I’m not sure the changes make it enough fun to play.  Playing Infected is still generally a matter of getting a single attack right or waiting half a minute to respawn, while playing Survivor is hard on new maps.

I had a really unpleasant time tonight in the bridge finale.  They’ve either buffed the hordes or nerfed melee and weapons, because it’s just a horrible struggle to move, not fun at all.  Pretty much all the other levels are interesting in campaign or coop mode though.

Edit: Got it.  The trick is a) run along the extreme left, so the zombies are funneled into a single file; and b) aim for the heads to bring them down faster.

I do think ordinary melee has been nerfed— it takes 4 or 5 punches to down a zombie, way too slow in this level.

Some of the levels could use more clues where to go.  I don’t know why they’re so restrictive about inventory… e.g. 2 pistols now work really well, but prevent you from using melee weapons; deploying the special ammo removes your health pack even if you deploy it immediately.  Many of the new weapons are neat– the grenade launcher is particular fun– but they tend to run out of ammo sooner (though this is partly balanced by having more of them).  And it’d be nice if they’d had some smaller maps, like Crash Course.  Oh, and the game can lag out sometimes at intense moments, such as tank fights.

But I really wish they’d put the zombies to bed for awhile and go back to HL2 or Portal…