Turn off the lights, turn up the volume and load your guns, as we’re jumping into the creepy, spooky, atmospheric Zombie Slay-‘em-up that is Left 4 Dead. It’s been hailed as one of the best multiplayer games Valve have released since Counter Strike: Source and Team Fortress 2. Does it deserve the praise? Does it live up to the legacy of Valve’s previous efforts which posts the epic Portal? Let’s unlock the door and see…
Well, let’s take a look at the characters, because they follow you around like flies around a zombie – although they are actually useful, but that’s a point for later. In the quartet that you’re trying to keep alive, or “Survivors” (Except in versus mode, but again…later point) we have the grizzled war Veteran Bill, the tough biker Francis ((Anyone else find that a funny name for a biker?)), the generic Office worker, Louis and the girl, Zoey. There’s also the Special Infected which are far different from the grunt zombies, four of them being playable in versus. We have your fat, hideous Boomer, whose main attack is puking on the survivors, summoning a horde of Infected as well as blinding them, and he explodes when shot, the Hunter who can Wall Jump and pounce Survivors – a lot more fun than it should be, the Smoker who uses his frog-like tongue to grab Survivors, and drag them to him, before hurting them by either hitting them, or strangling them, and the final playable Special Infected, the Tank – who more than lives up to his name. The Tank is a mountain of muscle that, with one punch, can send a Survivor flying. They’re rare, and may not even feature in a round…but when they do, they’re either a nuisance or a Godsend – depends on your team. Finally, we have The Witch, the deadliest enemy in the game…or ally, again depends on your team. She hates flashlights, guns…she just hates everything, and has quite a bit of a temper. When provoked, she’ll charge at the offender and incapacitating them, and then proceeds to gut them. She takes a few hits to take out, so it’s recommended you sneak around the poor girl – no one ever does.
The gameplay features the most advanced AI system I have ever seen. One play through of a Movie-esque Campaign is never the same as another thanks to the “AI Director” who will adjust the upcoming obstacles on the fly. If you’re breezing through the level, taking no damage, killing everything, he ups the number of zombies, and lowers the amount of ammo, health and grenades you find, while the opposite holds true when you’re getting obliterated. There isn’t a moment’s respite from when you leave one safe room until you reach the next. The rule to follow is “If you can get there, so can the zombies,” which is true. You are never safe, except in those rooms at the very start and very end of the levels, and it adds to the Atmosphere of the game, not knowing if a Boomer is waiting to shower you all in bile, or if a Smoker is hiding on the rooftops, ready to snatch you. The lighting, the city, and the random graffiti – they all add to the sense that the apocalypse has arrived.
The Campaigns go through your usual Clichéd Horror movies – get to rescue point with a few panic points in-between. The main thing with Left 4 Dead is that it’s just one big cliché with one minor difference. The grunt zombies move faster than you, so none of this “Oh dear, I guess I’ll have to sneak around…” – you need to fight your way through with either a sub-machine gun, Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Auto-Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, Pistols – single and dual wielding, Pipe Bombs and Molotovs, as well as some stuff that explodes into fire when shot. Valve is attempting to appeal to a gamers’ sadistic side…and they succeeded. There’s something satisfying about watching a hundred zombies chase a bleeping Pipe Bomb, then vanish into red mist. It’s highly addictive, and although I doubt it’s going to last as long as Team Fortress 2, you should still enjoy it while you can.
I’m not quite done, because I saved the deal breaker for last – the versus mode. How much you like this game will depend on what your teammates are like. If they are helpful and realise that L4D is a Co-op game, as in, you need the others to help you, then it will be one of the most satisfying experiences in your gaming history. At other times? Let’s just say it’s more difficult and unlikeable as someone with two fingers trying to play Through The Fire And Flames on Expert. In the past twenty four hours, I’ve been forced off the edge of a thirty-storey high building, set on fire, shot by my teammates until I died, left for dead when I could have been easily saved and other irritations. Admittedly, the IQ of the average 360 gamer isn’t as high as the PC gamer ((Ha! I said average! No insult, just an observation! Huzzah for loopholes!)) I’ve played both the PC and 360 versions for L4D and there are no differences in gameplay. Your “teammates” are a different matter, entirely. The ratio of idiots was certainly higher on the 360, but that may have just been my bad luck. With friends, it’s the best game you may play for a while.
Final thoughts? Well, it certainly has its moments which will go down in Gaming History, but the potential of getting idiots on the squad lowers the awesomeness. It’s a well-made game, with potentially thousands of hours worth of fun thanks to the AI Director. For a guaranteed good time, play with trustworthy friends, or stick with Team Fortress 2. A Very nice nine out of ten. A short review, but to be fair – it’s a short game.
PS – Not telling you what I’m reviewing next, only that I’m going retro 😛