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Best of 2009 - Left 4 Dead 2

As one year transitions into the next, I find it a healthy and refreshing endeavor to look back upon the past year and reflect upon those experiences which touched me the most; to discover which games stood tall above the rest and, for one reason or another, made a lasting impression.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing my own personal list of the ten best games of 2009, followed by those that didn't quite make the top ten and even a few of my greatest disappointments of the year. These are in no particular order, but they are the games I found most worthy of praise. Reflecting upon them makes one thing clear: it was a great year for gaming.

Let’s ignore the controversy for a moment. Let’s ignore the fact that some think this game shouldn’t have been made. Let’s ignore the fact that it spawned countless heated debates and nearly soured the almost untouchable image of Valve as Gamer’s Best Friend. 

Let us instead try to focus on what was ultimately delivered: A full-featured, cohesive package that is truly better than the original in just about every way and makes it hard to go back to the original game - a reliable sign of a worthy sequel.

For the price of the original game you get far more content than the first time around, with five campaigns to the original’s four, survival mode from the start with plenty of levels to play on, and the wonderfully addictive new scavenge mode which adds a much needed way to jump into Left 4 Dead multiplayer for short bursts of time. Not that you’ll be able to stop playing after just a short period of time, mind you.

Everything feels so much more polished and well-rounded than its predecessor. The new level designs make the original’s look bland and uninspired by comparison, with far more memorable moments and thrilling set pieces. One run through Hard Rain was all it took to make the idea of playing through Death Toll or No Mercy again far less appealing. The new melee weapons are visceral and satisfying and there’s been just enough done to the regular weapons to keep things from feeling stale. 

The three new special infected are each truly terrifying and really change the way you play the game. The uncommon infected are also a nice touch, with the clown zombies being a personal favorite. And, lest we forget, the Witch is far more terrifying when she’s wandering around during the daylight. Admittedly the poor Hunter has been rendered kind of useless though. I feel sorry for him.

The game is also better at forcing you to use all the tools at your disposal than the last game was, though this does lead to some quibbles over the difficulty that just won’t go away. Still, as easily frustrated as I can sometimes be, the game manages to be immensely thrilling more often than not and manages to provide a great sense of satisfaction when a difficult obstacle is overcome that normal difficulty in the original could not. 

Not sure how the AI actually managed to get dumber, though. That’s unfortunate. 

At least the characters themselves are more interesting. I know it’s almost blasphemous for me to say this as much as I loved the original cast, but the new folks are more interesting. They simply have more dialog, are more environmentally aware, and have more distinct personalities that are displayed through their dialog more clearly than in the original game. 

Well, except for Rochelle. She would feel more at home in the first game in that regard. Bit of a bland girl, that one. Still, three out of four isn’t bad.

The more vivid characters come at the cost of dialog that repeats itself a little more often, but that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make in this case.

On top of all this goodness, there’s also the strong possibility that Left 4 Dead 2 will bring with it all of the downloadable goodness and long-term support that people were hoping for from the first game. Knowing Valve’s track record, this is something I’m greatly looking forward to, even though I’m stuck on a platform that’s going to force me to pay for most of it. Grrr….

Left 4 Dead 2 isn’t revolutionary, but it didn’t need to be. The original was perhaps my favorite cooperative gaming experience of all time, so more of the same but better is certainly not a formula I’ll be complaining about just yet for this franchise.

For overcoming all odds and delivering a zombie shooting experience that is decidedly better than the already awesome original, Left 4 Dead 2 is one of my Best Games of 2009.

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