- Scribbled on November 18th, 2008 by Jonah Falcon
- Filed in Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Reviews, Shooter, Steam
Left 4 Dead was one of the most anticipated Valve games since Half-Life 2, preselling 40% more copies on Steam than The Orange Box. It’s not surprising – the concept of being a quartet of lone survivors in a city full of rampaging undead is undeniably attractive. As Mirror’s Edge proved, however, high concept is nothing without sound design. Fortunately, Left 4 Dead is everything a zombie hunter could want, and more. The game comes with a single player campaign, a co-op multiplayer campaign, and a versus campaign mode.
Starting off with the “weakest” mode is the single player campaign. The player can choose between four scenarios of five sublevels within. Each campaign is a “movie” in which the player stars as one of the characters, called Survivors: Bill, a grizzled Vietnam vet, Francis, a biker, Zoey, the rich girl with attitude, and Louis, the businessman who enjoys the rifle range. The computer AI takes control of the remaining characters (playing “themselves”) and have one single objective: get to the safe house in each level before finally escaping.
The gameplay is tense, as not only do you have to wade through droves of shambling undead who occasionally turn into 28 Days Later-like hurtling masses of zombies, otherwise known as “the Horde”. Making matters worse are special “boss” zombies. Hunters are throwbacks to the leaping fast zombies from Half-Life 2, pinning Survivors and ripping at them til another Survivor knocks them off and kills them. Smokers are creeping undead who lash out with prehensile tongues to grab Survivors and drag them back to their position to shred them; killing them cause them to create a choking fog. Witches are crouching, seemingly defenseless women who cry and wail interminably, and only attack when started by a running Survivor or a flashlight. Boomers are belching, burping Mr. Creosotes who vomit on Survivors to cause the Horde to zero in on the infected Survivor, and explode when killed. Finally, Tanks are monstrous undead resembling Rumblers from System Shock 2, who are nearly impossible to kill without a molotov cocktail (or a glitch in the pathfinding.)
Players begin with a first tier of weaponry of a pistol, shotgun, and submachine gun, but can improve to akimbo dual pistols, sniper rifle, 12 gauge rapid-fire shotgun, and assault rifle. They may also find pills, medkits, pipe bombs and molotovs. The players all have 100 health that when reaches zero incapacitates the player. In a genius stroke, a downed player slowly bleeds out but can still fire at enemies with their pistol(s), allowing them to protect themselves and others while they wait for a teammate to recover them. Once recovered, they slowly continue to bleed to 1 health, until they find a medkit or another player uses a medkit on them.
The weakest element of the single player mode is the teammate AI. They will occasionally make confounded idiotic moves, especially when dealing with vertical pathfinding. A player may find himself downed on an awning, while his teammates jump away to the ground and attack undead.
Such conerns are moot when playing the co-op mode, with human teammates – and this is where the game truly shines, especially when using voice communication – a given on the Xbox 360, though almost every player on the PC seemed to have a headset. The game becomes a scintillating experience, especially when a tank is nearby, and members are shouting at each other to get that molotov ready.
The use of audio is ingenious – experienced players usually learn quickly to identify noises. A blare of a trumpet on a soundtrack indicates an imminent Horde attack, allowing players to find cover just before a mass of undead rush in. A sickly burping noise means a Boomer is close. A low growl indicates a Hunter, though the sound is a close cousin to the Tank’s simian grunting. A slurping noise indicates a Smoker, while anyone can identifying the Witch’s bawling; however, there’s subtlety with the Witch as well, as the soundtrack grows in intensity the closer to the Witch the team comes.
Versus multiplayer is almost as fun, in which two teams of four play through a campaign, each taking turns at being the boss zombies. While it’s a nice competitive mode, it pales to the co-op mode. In the single player and co-op modes, the difficulty levels run from normal to expert, with expert being bonerattlingly devious – tanks become almost unkillable without a molotov that DOT’s (damage over time) them as Survivors run for cover.
Finally, the Achievements on the Xbox 360 and PC version are very well thought out – unfortunately, the PC achievements are Steam, not Live, achievements.
This is a game for anyone who love playing co-op – there isn’t a better game this side of Halo 3 for four player co-op insanity. If you want a shooter that’s a little different, that is the Team Fortress 2 of zombies, this is a must buy.