I’m getting kinda sick of first person shooters, but that hasn’t stopped me from picking up one of the best games of this year, Left 4 Dead. The first-person shooter sets you up in a post-apocalyptic world filled to the brim with blood thirsty zombies. These zombies aren’t the slow, stupid Resident Evil type. These zombies run at you and swarm around you, pulling you down and attacking you with the most primitive of weapons: their own hands. So yeah, we’ve all seen games from the horror survival series, but what makes Left 4 Dead so unique? Keep reading to find out.
Welcome to the zombie apocalypse.
Left 4 Dead is one of the best looking games that I’ve seen so far. It might not look all that great on the first play through, partly because you’re running through each level incredibly fast and nerve-racked, but also because the detail in this game is very subtle. Zombies are animated extremely well, and as long as you haven’t alerted them of your presence yet, you can sit and watch them stumble around, puke, or even fight amongst themselves. Up close the zombies look very well, as do the survivor character models, their clothes being detailed down to the zipper chain. In addition to the character models, the environments are incredibly detailed and realistic. You will see sleeping bags, cooking pots, graffiti (fun to read), coffee cups, newspapers, televisions, and all kinds of other everyday objects that have been left behind in the ensuing madness of the zombie plague. Thanks to the Source engine, most of these objects will fly about and can be knocked over by bullet fire and melee, and rooms will be disfigured after an abrupt battle.
On the audio side of things, the game sounds great too. Zombies sound disgusting, especially special zombies, like the Boomer, who will make nasty puking noises to alert you of his presence. These sounds are eerie and will help you become a more informed player if you listen to various cues within the game, and overall make the game a much more immersive experience. Your survivor teammates will also shout and yell when various things are happening, and their conversation is usually pretty varied, as each character has something like over 1,000 different recordings, each one for use in different situations.
Single player is a blast while it lasts, but the multiplayer component is where the game really shines.
This is a unique game in that it’s single player will be very short. Single player is fun, but if this game was a single player only title, it’d only be a rent most likely. As for the details, those will all be in the multiplayer section, because the single player and multiplayer both are essentially the same game, the key difference being that in single player, you have bots controlling your three teammates, and in multiplayer, those teammates are controlled by humans… And now the multiplayer section. While this next section is the multiplayer, I’m using it to go into all the details of the game, as the game is, in and of itself, a multiplayer title.
Briefly, I’d like to go over the four types of “special” zombies that you will see in this game.
Sure, you can play the game a couple times through on single player, but you may be asking, what will keep the game’s replayability up? Vault’s new concept, the AI Director, does just that. In Left 4 Dead, you might breeze through an apartment building one time without encountering any zombies. The next play through maybe there’s a few zombies milling about. Yet the next time, you could be rushed by swarms of zombies, fighting a desperate close quarters fight for survival. The AI Director ensures everything is random and different, zombies will come at different times from different directions in larger or smaller groups, depending on how well the group is doing. Weapons, ammo, and health will be set up in different locations, and the game rewards you for checking and searching rooms often, as health will never be in the same location twice (with the exception of safe houses).
The Director will also control the sounds and lighting of Left 4 Dead’s various campaigns, ensuring that each play through gives you a different horror experience each time, and the unique audio cues fit in very well with the game’s atmosphere. While the audio changes are somewhat tough to pick up on, they are there and they do make a difference, often at the subconscious level. This isn’t an essential feature, but it’s noteworthy, seeing how most games will just put in set tracks to play at set times, creating a linear sequence of events. Sounds will also change depending on the level, and while some sounds are the same throughout the game, certain cues will be unique to a specific environment.
Speaking of levels, the game’s got four total campaigns, all four of which are playable in single player and multiplayer campaign modes, and two of the maps are playable in multiplayer versus mode (more on that later). Left 4 Dead features rural, urban, and forested areas, as well as several unique locations, all horrifying in their own right and littered with debris and graffiti that hint at past events relating to the zombie apocalypse. It doesn’t seem like a big variety at first, but because each map takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes or more to complete in campaign mode (depending on difficulty), and almost double that amount in versus mode, you’ll come to enjoy the enormous size of each level and the linear-yet-non-linear feel to the game’s various stages. Each map is set up with four safe houses and five areas in between each safe house, ending with a “finale,” or a huge battle between the survivors and the infected whilst the survivors wait for their evacuation vehicle to come pick them up.
No matter which mode you are playing, team work is essential to success.
No matter which mode you’re playing, the game pretty much revolves around you and your team and their movement from one safe house to another. Along the way you’ll kill zombies, find items, and revive teammates, as I’ve said before. However, thanks to the AI Director and the game’s steep difficulty settings (easy is easy, anything else gets real tough real fast), Left 4 Dead can keep you entertained for hours on end. Personally, I like the Campaign mode, and enjoy getting a full party of four players and going through the campaign, preferably on advanced mode, the second highest difficulty. We generally don’t have any problems until the finale, at which advanced soon becomes impossible, and after a few failures (I blame my incompetent team members), we vote (yeah that’s right, you can vote to change the difficulty, kick a player, or to restart the chapter) to switch the game back to normal. Left 4 Dead has a pretty steep learning curve when played on the top difficulty levels, and I’m sure it’ll be a while before teams are assembled who are good enough to regularly go through a campaign on expert.
Cooperative mode defines the game play experience for Left 4 Dead, but if you don’t stay hooked on the cooperative campaign portion of this game, you’ll probably find the game’s versus mode very enjoyable. While versus mode is only playable on two out of the four campaigns, it effectively doubles the length of each campaign, giving each team a chance to progress through a chapter. In versus mode, one team controls the “special” zombies (Boomer, Smoker, Hunter, or Tank) while the other controls the survivors. The four survivors must try and make their way through the selected level, killing the AI-controlled zombie hordes in addition to the human-controlled special zombies. When the survivors either reach the safe house or die, the teams switch sides and the survivors become the zombies, trying to take out the new survivors as they try to beat their opponent’s score. Scores are set by the survivor team, who can increase their points by moving farther along on the map, making it to the safe house, and by keeping their health up and their buddies alive. While players control the infected, they gain no points, but instead try to prevent the survivors from gaining points.
Left 4 Dead is some of the most fun I’ve had in a video game in a long time. It’s not revolutionary (although in a way, it kinda is), it doesn’t have the best graphics (but they are pretty sweet), and while the game play is awesome, it’s not the most expansive FPS in terms of maps, weapons, and equipment. However, where Left 4 Dead really shines is its fun factor and the immersive, replayable, unique experience that it offers. It’s a one of a kind game and I’m really looking forward to further expansions and DLC that will come out for the game in the future, further expanding the game’s value.
Left 4 Dead is hectic and chaotic, yet still maintains a deep, unique cooperative experience.
One of the most addicting and fun games that I’ve played in a long time, Left 4 Dead, thanks in part to its revolutionary “AI Director” and its incredible cooperative experience, is a Great Buy for any PC or Xbox 360 owner. However, it’s worth a mention that if you don’t have access to the internet or are otherwise unable to play this game online with multiple players, I would limit the rating to a Good Rental.