Left 4 Dead 2 is a cooperative first-person shooter game. It is the sequel to Valve Corporation's award-winning Left 4 Dead. The game launched on November 17, 2009, for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 in the United States and November 20 in Europe. It builds upon the cooperatively focused gameplay of the original and uses Valve's proprietary Source engine, the same game engine used in Left 4 Dead. The game made its world premiere at E3 2009 with a trailer during the Microsoft press event.
Like the original, Left 4 Dead 2 is set during the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic, and focuses on four survivors fighting against hordes of the infected. The survivors must fight their way through levels, interspersed with safe houses that act as checkpoints, with the goal of reaching a rescue vehicle at the campaign's finale. The gameplay is procedurally altered by an artificial intelligence engine dubbed the "Director" that monitors the players' performance and alters the scenario to provide a dynamic challenge for the players as they progress. Several new features have been introduced, such as new types of infected, melee weapons, and a story-arc that connects each of the game's five campaigns together.
The game attracted an unusually high volume of pre-release controversy,receiving a combination of positive, negative, critical, and community reactions. There also have been concerns about the game's graphic content, as seen from the alterations made to the cover art as well as the refusal of classification by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification for the unmodified edition.
Like Left 4 Dead, the sequel involves the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic. There has been an outbreak of a rabies-like pathogen that causes infected humans to behave like zombies. The four survivors have to fight their way through the hordes of infected, using safehouses along the way to rest and recover, in order to reach extraction points. Left 4 Dead 2 is set in the Southern United States, starting in Savannah, Georgia and ending in New Orleans, Louisiana. Left 4 Dead 2 introduces four new survivors, whose backstory is again provided through dialogue. Unlike the first game, where there was no significant story development, Left 4 Dead 2 features a story arc.
After climbing a hotel in Savannah to achieve rescue, the survivors find themselves abandoned by helicopters, and make their way to the local mall after hearing word of a second evacuation point there ("Dead Center"). Following a brief encounter with a gun store owner, Whitaker (voiced by Dayton Callie), the mall is found to be overrun, and the four use a stock car to bust out of the mall and travel towards New Orleans. Following an encounter with the survivors featured in Left 4 Dead ("The Passing", a downloadable mission set to be released in Spring 2010), the group finds the highway completely blocked by wrecked vehicles, and the four are forced to travel through a still-operating (but abandoned) amusement park, and start a huge fireworks-and-lights show used by the fictional band, The Midnight Riders, in order to attract the attention of a helicopter pilot ("Dark Carnival"). Though rescued, they find that their pilot has been infected, and Nick is forced to kill him. This causes the helicopter to crash into a bayou ("Swamp Fever"). Finding brief shelter in a plantation mansion, they make radio contact with a boat captain named Virgil who rescues them, but informs them that he needs additional diesel fuel to make it to New Orleans. Amid a torrential downpour, the survivors go ashore, making their way through an abandoned sugar mill to a gas station to get fuel supplies, and return to the boat ("Hard Rain"). Virgil takes them to New Orleans, where the military appears to still be evacuating civilians, before travelling upriver to find more survivors. But as the group make their way to the extraction point, they find that the military is actually bombing bridges to cover their retreat ("The Parish"). The survivors then make their way across a lift bridge amid a mass of infected and board the last military helicopter leaving the city before the bridge is destroyed.
Although the survivors' fate after evacuation is left unexplained, Chet Faliszek, the game's writer has said that the military is taking survivors to cruise ships in an attempt to escape the infection.
Like its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 is a first-person shooter with a heavy emphasis on cooperative gameplay, with some cutscenes presented in the third-person or using pre-rendered movies. The game presents five new campaigns, each composed of four or five smaller maps. In the first three or four maps of any campaign, the survivors attempt to reach a safehouse, while the final stage requires the survivors to call for rescue and hold against a large horde of infected while they wait.
Each survivor can carry one main weapon, and either one or two pistols, or one of several melee weapons (introduced in Left 4 Dead 2), such as frying pans, fire axes, katanas or chainsaws. Players start levels with a single pistol, and the choice to upgrade to double pistols or trade for a crowbar; players who preordered the game received the ability to start with a baseball bat as a downloadable extra. Though melee weapons cause extra damage to the infected when struck, the survivors can use any other weapon or item for weaker melee attacks and to temporarily push the infected back. Players also carry a flashlight, which can be used to maneuver in dark areas but may startle the infected; a first aid kit or defibrillator kit which can be used to heal or revive other survivors respectively; pain pills or adrenaline shots that give a temporary burst of health recovery and agility; and a throwable weapon—a Molotov cocktail to set an area on fire, a pipe bomb modified with smoke alarm to attract a large number of infected before detonating and, new to Left 4 Dead 2, a vial containing Boomer bile, which can be thrown at infected to cause them to turn on each other. A supply of these weapons and items and additional ammunition are generally found at the start of each campaign and within safehouses, but may also be found scattered about the level.
As the survivors make their way through the campaign, they must work together to make their way to the safehouse and rescue. Players are shown the health and status of their fellow survivors, and should they not be in sight, will also be shown the silhouette of the other survivors. Taking damage from the infected causes the survivor to lose health, and their actions become slower as more damage is taken. If a survivor takes too much damage, they become incapacitated, and forced to fight off the infected using pistols until rescued by another survivor or dying from further damage; the character remains dead until the next level, or, in Campaign mode, reappears in a "rescue closet" to be freed by the other survivors. Many of the special infected can quickly finish off a survivor if they are not rescued, and thus the game encourages players to stay as a group and work together to traverse the level safely. Should all the survivors be killed or incapacitated, the game is over, and players must restart that level. While most events the players experience are semi-randomly generated by the game's AI Director, some levels feature staged events which, when triggered by a survivor, cause the players to be rushed by a horde of infected.
Left 4 Dead 2 retains the three game modes of the original game—Campaign, Versus, and Survival—and adds a new game mode called Scavenge. In Campaign mode up to four human players fight against the computer-controlled infected to make their way between safe houses and eventually to rescue; any survivors not controlled by a human player is controlled by the computer. In Versus mode up to four other human players take control of the various Special Infected who try to prevent the Survivors from reaching the next safe house. The two teams swap sides once per chapter and are scored based on their play through as Survivors, with the scoring based on factors such as health, distance traveled and the number of Survivors alive at the end. Survival mode is a timed challenge where the survivors are trapped in a section of the campaign maps, and try to survive as long as possible against an unending onslaught of infected. In the new four-on-four Scavenge mode, the survivor players are required to collect and use as many of the sixteen gas canisters scattered about a level to maintain fuel in power generators, extending the time in the round, while the infected players attempt to stop them, or at times, detonate the canisters themselves. New maps specific for this mode have been distributed with the game.
The game also features a "realism" mode, which can be enabled at any difficulty for any of the game modes. The realism mode removes some of the video game artifacts from the gameplay: survivors are not able to see the silhouettes of their teammates, and should they die, they can only be revived with a defibrillator kit and will no longer respawn later in the level. Damage dealt to Infected is also changed, with headshots dealing more damage to enemies, rather than limb or body shots, making gameplay even more of a challenge. The realism mode, which is designed to force players to work closely together and rely on voice communication, was created to give players a way "to be challenged as a team" without having to increase the difficulty level of the game, according to Valve's Chet Faliszek.
Left 4 Dead 2 features a new cast of human survivors, which include Coach (voiced by Chad Coleman), a portly high-school football coach with a bad knee; Rochelle (voiced by Rochelle Aytes), a low-level production assistant reporting on the evacuation for a local television station; Ellis (voiced by Eric Ladin), a laid-back (and rather talkative) mechanic; and Nick (voiced by Hugh Dillon), a stoic gambler and conman. While the game is intended as a continuation of the original, occurring a week after the first game begins, Valve decided to create a new group of survivors because of the change in location. In addition to the four playable characters, Left 4 Dead 2 also features a supporting character in the form of Virgil (voiced by Randall Newsome), a Cajun boat captain, who appears in the game's later three chapters. This differs from the original game, where NPCs made little more than a single appearance.
The infected in Left 4 Dead 2 are largely unchanged from Left 4 Dead. While referred to as zombies, the infected are humans that have been infected with a mutated strain of rabies. The most numerous infected encountered by the survivors are the "common infected", individually weak, but can swarm and overwhelm the survivors with large numbers. In Left 4 Dead 2, damage dealt to the infected are portrayed more realistically, with bullets tearing off bits of flesh and in some cases, limbs. A new addition to Left 4 Dead 2 are the "uncommon infected" unique to each campaign. By virtue of equipment worn before infection or mutation, they possess an ability that separates them from the common infected. For example, in the Parish campaign the player encounters infected wearing riot gear, making them almost impervious to gunfire from the front, while Dead Center features infected with Hazmat suits immune to fire.
As in the first game, there are "special" or "boss" infected in addition to the common infected whose mutations grant them special attacks that make them much more dangerous. The presence of such infected nearby is hinted at by sound effects unique to each type, or with certain musical cues. The five special infected from the first game return in Left 4 Dead 2, some with modified behavior. They are: the Boomer, a bloated infected whose vomit and bile (which may be released at will and upon death) blinds the player briefly and attracts a horde of common infected; the Hunter, an agile infected that can pounce on survivors from great distances; the Smoker, an infected that can ensnare survivors with its long tongue from a distance and, upon death, releases a cloud of smoke that obscures vision; the Tank, a gigantic, muscular infected that is powerful and difficult to kill with the abilities to knock players backwards, dealing massive damage, and attack from afar by throwing a lump of debris or bashing a heavy object towards survivors; the Witch, a passive female infected, who, when provoked by loud sounds, lights, or proximity of survivors, will attack her provoker - she is able to incapacitate or kill the provoker (depending on the difficulty setting) in one hit. If her victims survive, she will attempt to kill them if not killed herself.< In Left 4 Dead 2, the Witch now has the ability to wander aimlessly in certain campaigns, such as "Hard Rain" and "The Parish."
Several new Special Infected are introduced in Left 4 Dead 2, all of which are playable in versus and the new Scavenge game mode. The Charger is an infected with a mutated, oversized arm, able to move quickly and knock players in its path off their feet. It can also grab players and smash them against the ground to deal major damage. The Spitter can project balls of stomach acid that splatter across an area, eroding the survivors' health as long as they remain within it. The Jockey can jump onto the back of a survivor and steer them into other infected or terrain traps set by the Director.
As in the first game an artificial intelligence system called the A.I. Director drives gameplay by procedurally spawning enemies, weapons and items based on the players' performance. In Left 4 Dead 2, the Director has been improved to encourage more participation by players, forcing players through difficult gauntlets to reach the extraction point. It also has the ability to alter elements of the level such as placement of walls, level layout, lighting, and weather conditions, making each play session unique. The Director now rewards players for taking longer or more difficult paths through each episode by providing more useful equipment, such as incendiary or explosive ammo, along these riskier paths.
Development for Left 4 Dead 2 started shortly after the release of the first game—following a short break—building on ideas from the development team to make the next game "bigger and better". The game was given the code name "Carnation" to prevent revealing its details before its official announcement.
Chet Faliszek stated that Left 4 Dead 2's story would explore more of the world of the game, and that Valve had created a full story for the cause and effects of the infection pandemic, including terms that they have used for the AI Director. Faliszek wanted to include a "no-nonsense" woman from a Department of Motor Vehicles, but this character did not make the cut. The developers solicited several bands to include them in the game; Depeche Mode responded eagerly, and allowed Valve to use their music and other imagery in the game, such as on Rochelle's T-shirt.
Doug Lombardi, vice-president of marketing for Valve, noted that the SDK released for Left 4 Dead would also be compatible with Left 4 Dead 2.
PC and Xbox 360 players who pre-ordered Left 4 Dead 2 through participating retailers gained early access to the game's demo, which was released on October 27, 2009 for Xbox Live and October 28, 2009 for PC players, and an exclusive baseball bat melee weapon to be used in game. Pre-ordering the PC version of the game through the Steam network also unlocks Bill's beret from Left 4 Dead for use in the PC version of Team Fortress 2. The demo became available for all PC and Xbox Live Gold users on November 4, 2009 with Xbox Live Silver users gaining access on November 11, 2009. The demo features the first two maps in "The Parish" campaign.
On October 5, 2009, Valve announced that Left 4 Dead 2 would be promoted by a $25 million advertising campaign, exceeding the $10 million that supported Left 4 Dead. The campaign includes television advertisements during sporting events, on billboards and magazines; and more aggressive advertising for Europe.
Left 4 Dead 2 was released on Steam on November 17, 2009. Retail copies were made available some days after, depending on the country. Shortly after the release, Valve launched a mock website for The Midnight Riders, a fictional rock band referenced in the Dark Carnival campaign. This lead to speculation that The Midnight Riders could become playable characters in an update, as there are four members in the band, and guitars are featured as weapons in the game. Valve has yet to address these rumors.
Left 4 Dead 2 has been a central issue on a number of critical discussions regarding its timing and its graphical and mature content. John Walker of UK-based gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun has theorized that this is due to higher expectations for Valve, due to the perception of its status as an industry leader.
The weekend following the game's announcement at the 2009 E3 Convention, some Left 4 Dead players called for a boycott of Left 4 Dead 2 in the form of a Steam community group called "L4D2 Boycott (NO-L4D2)", growing to over 10,000 members by the end of the weekend following the game's announcement, and reaching more than 37,000 about a month later. The group noted that in addition to the length of time - post launch - that it took for many vital issues to be addressed and patched (map exploits, balancing issues, poor AI pathing, scoring balance, collision detection, and bugs of all sorts), as well as the potential for lack of additional Left 4 Dead content, they were concerned with several of the aspects such as characters, visuals, and music, shown in the E3 demonstration video, feeling these were inappropriate to the first game's aesthetics, and that the release of the sequel so soon after the release (and aforementioned gradual debugging) first game would fracture the community. It also questioned the timing of the sequel so soon after the first game and noted the lack of additional downloadable content for Left 4 Dead based on comments from Gabe Newell made during October 2008.
In response to these complaints, Valve marketer Doug Lombardi stated that the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 at E3 should not be taken to indicate that Valve would no longer support the first game. He also noted that what was shown at E3 was only a fraction of the new content and atmosphere for the game. He asked the community to "trust [them] a little bit", and noted that their team was eager to get new material out to a large body of players of Left 4 Dead and determined that the sequel would be the best option. Lombardi also stated that the most common desire from players was the need for more campaigns, and felt that the addition of these along with new enemies and weapons made the content much more than downloadable content as was the case of Left 4 Dead's "Survival Pack". Both Faliszek and project lead Tom Leonard stated that the team, in putting down ideas to add to the original game, found that too much of the content relied on each other, making incremental patches in the same style as Team Fortress 2 very difficult to do. Leonard stated that he suggested rolling up the content into a sequel to be released a year after Left 4 Dead's release, an idea that the rest of the team eventually warmed up to. Faliszek stated that Newell was skeptical of the idea when the team brought the sequel forward, but still allowed the project to go through. Faliszek noted that the boycott did not change any work on the development of Left 4 Dead 2, but did affect "how we talked about it and how we talked with everybody". Some of the player community has also supported Valve, forming a "L4D Enthusiasts" group in response to the boycott group.
In September 2009, Valve flew out two of the boycott group leaders to playtest Left 4 Dead 2, to which they responded that they felt that the sequel was well done. This opinion was not shared by some of the members of their Steam boycott group. This event, through a series of correspondences made in jest, shortly led to Valve's Gabe Newell and designer Erik Johnson flying to Australia to visit "Joe W-A", a Left 4 Dead modder. Newell jokingly reported that Valve was "boycotting" Joe's new mod for the game when Joe asked when he would be flown to Valve in the same manner as the Left 4 Dead 2 boycotters, but whimsically offered that if Joe was to pay to fly him to the country, he would take a look at it. Joe was able to raise the required funds, $3000, through donations through his website, though ultimately Newell paid for the trip himself, with Joe's collected donations going to the Child's Play charity.
On October 14, 2009, the boycott groups' leaders announced that they had ended their boycott and were shutting down the 40,000-plus group. The leaders were satisfied that Valve was retaining their promise of additional content and fixes for Left 4 Dead, as evidenced by the then-recent release of the "Crash Course" campaign, believing their boycott helped to assure this commitment. The leaders also believed that the group itself was losing its purpose, being populated by those that were simply trolling to bad-mouth Valve and other players. In a video interview posted on October 29, 2009, Gabe Newell stated, "for people who joined the Boycott Group on Steam, we can look at their pre-orders, and they're actually pre-ordering the product at a higher rate than Left 4 Dead 1 owners who weren't in the Boycott".
Valve was forced to alter their original cover art for the game by the ESRB; the original image showed the little and ring finger of the iconic hand (belonging to Valve artist Andrea Wicklund) torn off in addition to the torn-off thumb, but to appease the ESRB, Valve changed the image so that the fingers were merely bent back instead. The cover was further changed for release in the United Kingdom, as the two-finger sign with the back of the hand faced toward the viewer is considered an insult; the UK cover features the hand facing the opposite direction to avoid this.
Willie Jefferson of the Houston Chronicle, after seeing initial promotional material for the game, considered that several of the infected "appear to be African-Americans" implying a racist approach to the game, and also noted that "setting the game in a city that was a scene of dead, bloated bodies floating by" some years after the impact of Hurricane Katrina was "a bad call". While this last objection veers slightly off the issue of racism, it is hard to deny that Left 4 Dead 2 is rich in imagery from stock footage of the Katrina evacuation and flooding.
Faliszek, commenting on Jefferson's claims, considered the supposition to be "utter insanity", and commented that the infected are a mix of all races, and that the game's version of New Orleans is "not a brick-for-brick representation" of the city and were not trying to make any statement about it with the game. Others noted that the appearance of African-American infected simply reflected the racial diversity of New Orleans. The accusation is further rebutted by the fact that two of the survivors are African-American.
Banned in Australia
Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification in Australia by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). It failed to gain a MA15+ rating, the highest possible rating for video games, thus preventing the sale of the game within the country. In its report, the OFLC cited the reason for refusing classification as "The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons aged under 18 to play." However, a small number of members of the OFLC board believed the game could merit the MA15+ rating which was used to publish the first Left 4 Dead. It was expected that changes could be made to the game, as had to be done with Fallout 3, to allow the game to be classified as MA15+ and thus sold in Australia. Both Lombardi and Newell were "surprised" by the classification refusal. Valve appealed the OFLC's decision about a week after being notified of the ruling, comparing the sequel to its predecessor, which had been classified as MA15+, and the mature ratings the sequel had received from similar rating organizations around the world. However, as the appeal process, expected to end on October 22, was close to the planned release date, Valve submitted a modified version of the game for classification addressing the concerns the OFLC has stated. This version, which no longer contained images of "decapitation, dismemberment, wound detail or piles of dead bodies", was classified as MA15+ by the OFLC, thus allowing for the game's release in Australia, though Valve and Electronic Arts still hoped to have their preferred, unmodified version classified by the OFLC for release. The appeal of the decision to deny classification to the unedited version of the game was conducted by the independent Classification Review Board, and resulted in the previous ruling to deny classification being sustained. The Classification Review Board cited "insufficient delineation between the depiction of zombie characters and the human figures" as one of the key factors in its classification refusal. Zombified gamers involved in the Epic Zombie Lurch•Left 4 Dead 2's classification refusal, as well as for other recent games such as Fallout 3 and Aliens vs. Predator, has reignited debate over the current prohibition of sale and exhibition of video games for mature audiences. On November 14, 2009, approximately 170 people participated in the "Epic Zombie Lurch" protest in Sydney, Australia, organised by local video gamers in protest of the lack of an R18+ rating for video games in Australia. In mid-December 2009, the Australian government sought public opinion on the adult classification rating for video games, despite statements by South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson believing the issue to only affect a minority of the country's citizens.
Left 4 Dead 2 received strong positive reviews from game journalists, praising the changes made with the new melee weapons and firearms, the new strategies introduced through the new special infected, and the details of the southern locale and individual campaigns compared with the campaigns of the first game. Ars Technica praised the game's replayability and the attention put in every detail. Libération, one of the French mainstream newspapers, also praised the game, commenting that Valve was one of the last game studios making games geared toward hardcore PC gamers. IGN considered that the game improved on the first on every way, and that anyone who liked the concepts introduced by the first game should buy the second. Eurogamer also praised the game, and considered that it was "overflowing with personality". Left 4 Dead 2 received the Best Xbox 360 Game award at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards.
The Xbox 360 version of the game was noted at launch for having serious issues with lag and slowdown in online game modes, the majority coming from using the game's dedicated servers. According to Valve, these problems were due to an unexpectedly huge number of players online on Xbox Live. It was shortly fixed after release by a server infrastructure change and adding new dedicated servers although there are still few who have lagging issues and other issues such as getting kicked off Xbox live or not being able to connect to the servers.•Steam acknowledged problems with the PC version of the game upon launch, including inability to install the game, or users finding it crashes within minutes. As of Late December, 2009, the current version of Left 4 Dead 2 is 188.8.131.52, with most users reporting success with bug fixes.
Pre-release sales estimates for Left 4 Dead 2 have been positive. As of July 2009, Left 4 Dead 2 ranked fifth in purchase intent out of all upcoming games, with 6 out of 10 polled stating that they would buy the game. According to Lombardi, pre-orders for the sequel within the month following the announcement are double what Left 4 Dead were at the same relative time before their respective releases. In a press release on October 5, 2009 Valve announced that based on the strength of pre-orders they expect Left 4 Dead 2 to be the fastest selling product in the company's history, with the game's pre-release sales averaging 300% greater than Left 4 Dead. In an interview in November 2009, Chet Faliszek claimed the number of pre-sales of Left 4 Dead 2 were four times that of the original game.•On December 1, 2009, Valve reported that more than two million retailed copies of Left 4 Dead 2 were sold in two weeks, which represents "more than double" the sales of the original game's two week debut. According to the NPD Group, the Xbox 360 version of the game was the fifth best-selling title for consoles in 2009, with over 744,000 copies sold.