If there’s one rule to surviving the inevitable zombie apocalypse, it’s this: No man is an island, and you’re going to need some help. With this in mind, Valve has offered Left 4 Dead 2, the sequel to its groundbreaking Left 4 Dead cooperative first-person shooter for the Mac. Like the original, Left 4 Dead 2 places you in the role of one of four survivors who must fight legions of zombies across multiple levels in order to reach a safe haven.
Blood spatters everywhere, zombies climbing the fences...just another day at the office.
Along the way, you’ll make use of almost anything you can get your hands on, including rifles, shotguns, handguns, axes, katana swords, pipe bombs, incendiary and explosive ammunition, machine guns, cricket bats, and the occasional chainsaw. It’s more messy than subtle, but if it gets you to the next safe room before the game sends another mob to rush your group, anything’s welcome.
Complete with beautifully detailed graphics, terrific modeling, interesting characters, and amazing use of both ambient sounds and vocal work, the game casts a worried, suspenseful mood before unleashing the next wave of zombie attackers. A near-perfect physics engine creates a realistic feel, and whether you’re being mobbed by undead or constricted by a special unit, there’s a genuine, trapped sense of panic as you try to fight your way out by any means possible.
This is a survival title through and through, and the game never lets you forget it. The Director (the game’s artificial intelligence) keeps you on your toes with varied waves that come from almost any direction. Perhaps the best example of this is the use of special Infected units that can attack you from a distance, pull you across the map, maul you, scatter the group, and vomit substances that either burn your character or signal large groups of the undead to attack you. If you think you can defend a certain area or structure, the Director has a way to disrupt this and will do its best to do so.
It’s the groups that work together that actually survive in Left 4 Dead 2’s multiplayer mode, in which you fight through the levels together. Multiplayer’s variations include Scavenge (where you must stay alive while gathering gasoline for a generator), Mutation (where every special Infected will be a colossal Tank unit that can only be brought down by multiple players), and Realism (where the undead are that much harder to kill, and accidental friendly fire hurts that much more). Throughout multiplayer, groups will have to quickly shift strategies together if a current one isn’t working. Lone-wolfing it proves more dangerous than working together, and you’ll have to think of the group’s needs before your own to make it.
Left 4 Dead 2 performed well during testing, but a few bugs surfaced that will need attention. While the frame rates in both single-player and multiplayer modes were generally great, occasional brief pauses surfaced. A single crash under Mac OS 10.6.4 was a little strange, but not bad given dozens of hours of testing. And the game stopped responding to my USB headset during multiplayer gameplay. None of these are deal-breakers, but could stand to be fixed via one of the frequent updates available via Steam.
In spite of a few blemishes, the game is as fun as a first-person shooter fan could ask for. The game’s characters are engaging, an interesting but fairly basic story holds the game together, and both the single-player and multiplayer modes are wickedly fun. The $20 price tag is spot on, and the game’s graphics and multiple difficulty levels keep you coming back for more. If you’re looking for a marquee strategic shooter on the Mac, gory bits and all, you’ve come to the right, zombie-packed, place.
Left 4 Dead 2
REQUIREMENTS: 2GHz or faster Intel processor, Mac OS 10.6.4 or later, 1GB RAM, ATI Radeon 2400 or NVidia 8600M or better video card, 7.5GB free disk space
Great graphics and sound, engaging characters, incredibly fun and challenging gameplay modes, terrific use of strategy keeps things interesting. ESRB rating: Mature.
Occasionally stilted frames, occasional crashes, multiplayer voice function could stand to be more consistent.