Left 4 Dead

by Logan

November 10, 2008

Left 4 Dead is the latest shooter coming from superstar dev Valve. Rather than sticking with the linear story-centric Half Life model, this game ops for very, very little story and quick campaigns. This game is all about one thing: survival. Every campaign is comprised of the same 4 survivors trying to slay their way through hordes of zombies to one main extraction point. What ensues is some of the most satisfying gameplay that I have experienced in quite some time. As I stated, L4D has no overarching story. Hell, even each campaign doesn't have a "story" per-se. The only cinematic is the badass video you see when you start up the game. The approach to presentation is that of classic zombie movies. Every campaign is presented as such and they all have their own corny titles such as "Dead Air" and "Death Toll". This is complete with a movie poster and the whole shebang. Every campaign ends with a nifty credit sequence which basically runs down you and your friends stats throughout the whole affair. Nice touches like the credits beginning with "In Memory of RRROID RAGE" only compound to the fun.

The gameplay of Left 4 Dead is very watered down and very twitch. There aren't many weapons at all and there are no vehicle sections or anything like that. It's a simple Point-A to Point-B kill or be killed scenario. The game is all about Co-operative play and it's some of the best around. You constantly have to watch your friends backs and your own surroundings. This means protecting your friends, healing your friends, and even saving your friends from death.The game is rather forgiving with death. You're able to lose your health 3 times and go into a "Last Stand" mode where you're down on your back with nothing but your pistols available to fight off zombies before your rescue. After 3 times, you die and it's up to your team to find certain spawn points and respawn you. However, if everyone dies, it's back to the very beginning of the level no matter where you all died. The stress on this Co-op environment is what makes this game a cut above other games that try to do the same thing. The only other thing I can think of that has come close recently is Gears of War 2 and the Horde mode. The computer AI is actually rather decent and does a pretty good job of helping you if you don't have 3 other friends to play with, but they're no substitute for an actual human. The game is balanced rather well on the difficulty side of things, however you will see a spike. Easy, Normal, and Advanced seem appropriate as the standard ENH difficulty. However, Expert seems far above all the rest and presents a brutal challenge.

Another touted aspect of L4D was the "Director AI" system. It's basically an omniscient system that watches over the game and the players as they progress. It's used to pace the game and make it different every time. Enemies never appear in the same spot and the difficulty is never the same. The game will punish you with enemies that force you to slow down if you're going to fast. On the other hand, if you try to stonewall yourself in one area, you'll quickly hear one of your friends begging for help as they get drug away by another enemy. The audio cues are also nice and add to the game. It keeps with the zombie movie theme with no actual music in the game. There are just ambient sounds and ominous piano chords that play occasionally. There is the infamous "Tank Music" which signals the appearance of the games most fearsome enemy. Nothing is better than your team doing great on a level only to turn a corner and hear that music start playing. You'll hear one collective "AW SHIIIT" come through your headset as you all brace yourselves for the battle.

While the Director system certianly adds replayability, the one misstep for L4D has to be the lack of campaigns. The disc only ships with 4 and they keep with the movie aesthetic by being about an hour a piece. I've played through many of them more than once, so they certainly don't get old, but 3 months from now I doubt they'll be as appealing. A decision that baffles me is the Versus mode. It's actually a very fun mode that pits 4 human survivors against a team of 4 humans who get to play as the "special" zombies. This actually adds a lot of strategy to the game and is really entertaining when you get a good group of people together. The only thing that I don't understand is the fact that only two of the campaigns are initially playable in the versus mode. I'd be shocked if this wasn't patched later, but we've yet to hear any word. Valve is famous for great support of their games on the PC, but a lot of that comes from the niche PC mod community. While I'm positive we'll get some DLC campaigns down the road, I can only hope Valve sticks with this game for a while.

Overall, L4D is a very focused game. Passing on the Portal cannons or Gravity guns, this game is an old school game that simply screams Quake, Unreal, and twitch shooters of the past. However, the co-op element is so well implemented, it feels like a totally fresh idea. The same scenario rarely shows up and playing with three other friends is an absolute treat. This game is certainly a must buy and must play out of this '08 Holiday gaming rush.