Left 4 Dead 2 still great after 10 years

It will be 10 years this November since “Left 4 Dead 2” released online and there’s no better time to look back at the fond memories it has given its players and see how the game holds up.
“Left 4 Dead 2” was released by Valve, creator of online game market Steam and the cult classic series “Half Life” and “Portal,” in November of 2009. The premise of the game is simple: play as one of four survivors and shoot zombies as you run through a series of maps to be rescued.

It is not the premise that makes the game great, but the world and mechanics that allow it to stand out amongst a surfeit of cooperative zombie-shooter games. There is a wide variety of zombies in the game, a diversity that isn’t often found in the genre. They fall under two wider categories – common or special infected. Special infected include long-tongued smokers which will strangle you with their tongues and hoodie-wearing hunters who will pounce on you and rip your organs out. The massive difference in special infected mechanics hasn’t been replicable in modern zombie games, although certain ones have tried.

There are two species of special infected that act almost as bosses for the game: tanks and witches. Tanks look a lot like an extreme bodybuilder who skipped leg day. They have devastating attacks and large health pools. They target whatever survivor is healthiest, but can change targets if it detects a survivor helping another one up. Tanks will throw concrete, dumpsters, or cars to cover the distance that survivors may have, which deal huge amounts of damage to survivors. Witches are depressed women who are essentially stationary. They sit and cry, and only really go to attack you if you stand too close to them or shine your light on them, and even then she stops crying for a few seconds to growl at you to stop.

If you don’t take that warning, then when she winds up targeting you, instantly downing you with her bloody 12-inch claws, and doesn’t stop attacking you until you’re dead or your fellow survivors kill her, then the result of it is on you. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid “startling” her, the game’s term for getting her to attack, and then you have to choose which of your friends you’re willing to sacrifice to continue on with the game if you’re unable to kill her before she kills whoever got her attention. The rarity of these infected makes each time you play through a campaign new, you never know what you are going to encounter, no matter how many times you play. There is fear when you first hear the whine of a witch or the guttural growl of a tank and know you are unprepared.

“Left 4 Dead 2” has the right balance of lightheartedness in a world gone bad. One campaign is set entirely in a carnival with a concert becoming the summons for a rescue party. Clown zombies attract other common zombies with the squeak of their shoes and survivors can bring a gnome statue named Gnome Chompsky all the way through to the final level to get an achievement.  Safe houses are written all over, the result of unseen survivors trying to get one last message out to whoever else is alive. Some of these messages are warnings, some are poetry, some are yo’ mama jokes but all feel like a completely natural response to the end of the world.

The game also has an incredible amount of trolling potential. Gas cans and propane tanks which explode after they’re shot are scattered throughout the world, along with molotov cocktails which spread fire for a short amount of time after they’re thrown down. Survivors caught in these areas of effects take damage per second they’re in the fire. That means it’s entirely possible to light yourself and your friends on fire, particularly at the very last minute of a campaign when rescue is in line of sight. I’m not going to say it’s my favorite thing to do in game, but it is up there.

Campaign mode isn’t the only game mode there is either. Survival mode relies on surviving as long as possible as the game barrages you with hordes of zombies and tanks. Versus is a 8v8 mode where four people are the survivors who try to get to the end of the map and four people spawn as special infected and try to kill the survivors as soon as possible. Points are given through each round based on how many hits each side landed on the other and the team with the most amount of points at the end win.

This is a game that is fun alone, but made infinitely better with your friends. Being a 10 year old game, it can be hard to find a good group of people online to play with. Over the course of the several years that I’ve had the game, it has quickly become one of the games I give to people the most. It goes on sale often enough and cheap enough that it makes for a nice surprise for friends, and the time we spend playing through the campaigns together is cherished, even when I wind up friendly firing everyone at the very end of the mission and make us restart the level all over again.