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The sequel to last year's well reviewed first-person zombie-killing shooter makes a dramatic return in Left 4 Dead 2 with a whole host of new campaigns, enemies and survivors. Left 4 Dead 2 is based entirely in the Deep South of the States, you'll be fighting off the hordes of infected in the streets of New Orleans and getting to grips with the new melee weapons - which finally include the long-awaited chainsaw. With more co-operative action and a heightened sense of atmosphere brought about by the new AI Director 2.0, Left 4 Dead 2 for the Xbox360 and PC is the ultimate zombie video game of this generation.
With only a year since the first Left 4 Dead it would be easy to be swept along with the vocal cynicism about how much of a sequel Left 4 Dead 2 really is. Even a quick look at the game shows that it's a superior product to last year's effort.
The moodier visuals of the New Orleans setting give off a very different vibe to the industrial and wooded environments of the first game. This is joined by the new playable survivors that exude just as much personality and charisma as before.
What purchasers of the first Left 4 Dead game will notice is the addition of daylight. But rather than reducing the suspense and horror, this change helps paint a bleak picture of a city that's fallen into the clutches of a terrible infection. It also means that the first game's infamous Witches now wander around in the daylight and subsequently increases the likelihood of running into them and having half the cast of Hell converging on your position. This is unavoidable as another less-than-subtle change is how agitated the zombies are in the daylight. There aren't any shuffling infected standing aimlessly about here; it's either empty streets or full on assault.
To combat this heightened threat, the game adds a good (and entertaining) variety of melee weapons into your arsenal. Previously, these attacks were merely space-creators; to push crowds of zombies back and giving you room to unleash a little more shotgun justice to the world. Now, melee attacks are more effective and can even silence the aforementioned Witch without too much fuss. Though the fireman's axe was my weapon of choice, the sound of whacking zombies with a frying pan is just as satisfying - and far more entertaining.
Another change in Left 4 Dead 2 on 360 is that the campaigns are now all connected. You'll see a definite progression through the different environments and a much more coherent story, as opposed to the disparate tales from the original. Aiding this new direction are subtle touches to art and architecture. You start off in the relatively beautiful and safe Savannah, but rapidly end up in New Orleans itself which is on the verge of utter chaos.
Some of these scenarios are much spookier than the first game. The Dark Carnival campaign sends you to the Whispering Oaks Carnival and is a nightmare for anyone who has a phobia about clowns. Evil undead versions roam around the level and if disturbed will scream like banshees to attract more infected towards you group. The subtle lighting effects and this new location make playing through Left for Dead 2 a much creepier experience than before. It sure doesn't get scarier than undead clowns anyway.
The new forms of infected don't help either with the Charger able to move at high-speed, breaking up tight groups with dramatic and usually fatal results. The Jockey is a mutated hunchback of a zombie but with one quick leap he can suddenly be on the back of one of the survivors and steer them into even more danger.
For me, all these touches made the game feel like a proper sequel. The new campaigns, different visuals and the addition of more unique infected give Left 4 Dead 2 that same awesome addictive multiplayer experience that the first game had - this time with just more action. The variety on display compared to the first game is what eventually won me over and I firmly believe Left 4 Dead 2 is a worthy iteration of the series and well worth buying. I had more fun when playing the versus mode thanks to the new infected characters and the whole change to New Orleans sets an entirely different tone for the whole experience.
Although other games will be chewing up the competitive multiplayer scenery, Left 4 Dead 2 is the ultimate team-based multiplayer game this year. Nothing matches the thrill and tension of creeping through an eerie Savannah level, only to have you all collectively jump and gasp as you stumble across a Witch. Left 4 Dead 2 for the Xbox 360 and PC is an essential purchase for any fans of the original game and a great introduction to the world of co-operative zombie slaughter.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: