It has been a while since Left 4 Dead 2 took the zombieverse by storm on the PC and until today, many players still consider it one of the best multiplayer experiences available in terms of hunting down zombies. It is frightening and exciting - balancing out the feelings of intense action with the tension of facing down some of the scariest things even seen onscreen. At the same time, the game brings a solid multiplayer experience as well - allowing you to share the scares with your buddies.
Game Design: Scaling the Scares
One of the things that video games have taken away from zombies is their scare factor - sure there are still plenty of survival and horror style games out there that put players in a rather vulnerable position against zombies. Once you get armed with a good gun or a handy melee weapon however, the perspective changes as you gain a way to fight back. Of course, there is always the prospect of overwhelming odds that makes things a little more challenging. But L4D manages to keep its scare factor through other means. Giving you allies and weapons to deal with the undead threat means that you no longer get the feeling of fear and paranoia of dealing with zombies alone; but what this game does is constantly remind you that you are all in constant danger.
The game puts players in a position where communication and tactics are the only ways to win - enemy spawns are randomised, and the variety of zombies that will come after you changes each time you play. While this forces players to learn how to play together, the game is constantly trying to pull you apart and pick you off one by one.
This mechanic gives players the constant worry of having to watch one another's backs while also trying to stay alive - and it makes for excellent tension while playing. There is an emotional rush for wanting to ensure that you and your allies are safe (regardless if you are playing with real players or AI bots).
Of course, the biggest credit for scares goes to the Director AI - the game's system for creating a reactive behaviour from zombies. Sometimes, the hordes will try to charge you down head-on, sometimes, they will split up and attempt to flank you, in some cases, they will force you to make a run for the exit only to ambush you right before you make it out. This level of unpredictability (which takes out any sense of security one would normally gain from being familiar with a game), combined with the heavy focus on teamwork, will leave your heart racing every single time.
Delivery: Dark and Gory
Smashing and shooting your way through zombie-infested urban areas allows the game to show off some snazzy visual combinations of the bright and sparkly with the gross and bloody; you get to explore some pretty modern buildings and then repaint the interiors with guts and entrails as you crowbar your way through waves of the undead. The graphics are pretty splendid - yes there are a few polygon collision/clipping issues that pop up every now and then, but the environments are huge and the character movement and animations are top notch.
Speaking of which, the animations are outright spectacular to watch thanks to the amount of detail that has been put into their design, hunter zombies will slowly crawl into your line of sight before suddenly leaping up into the air and jumping in your face. Others will tackle you from behind. Some will try to distract you while others converge on your position. These context-based movements add a dynamic feel. And of course, the zombies are just outright relentless. They will chase you down narrow ledges, dark corridors, and try to break down anything that gets in their way. Best of all are the parts where the environment is much darker and your vision becomes reliant on the flashlight - zombies will tend to stay just in the corner of your eye and constantly psyche you out.
Creepy Sounds Add to a Feeling of Anxiety
Not to be content with scaring you with what you can see (or what you can barely see), the L4D developers also decided to bring back the creeptastic sounds of the first game. Basically, when it comes to dealing with the stronger zombie types (particularly, the Witch) unique audio cues will play once they are spawned in a stage, and once players get within the proximity of these 'boss' type enemies, it goes from subtle creepy to downright frightening (even more so when you have surround sound set up on your gaming rig).This sort of sound design takes you back to the Doom days where when approaching some of the most formidable monsters their distinctive sounds would become stronger and stronger. Take the Spider Demon for example, you would literally c**p yourself as you got closer and closer.
Conclusion: Waiting for a Sequel
Left 4 Dead 2 is everything that the original L4D game wanted to be and a little bit more, in terms of being a proper sequel - it isn't, this game is actually more of a full-scale improvement despite the fact that it has completely new characters and environments. It will be hard to top the game experience you can get from the multiplayer mode and this becomes more evident when you play the game on the harder difficulties. Of course, nothing beats the way that the Director literally sics zombies on you when you least expect it, and that's where most of the surprises and fun really comes from (and the occasional antics you would get from being in a multiplayer game). Oh, and don't worry about the game being a bit 'old', it actually gives the graphics that old school campy feel that makes it all more enjoyable to play.