Left 4 Dead
: Turtle rock Studios/Valve South, Valve Corporation, Certain Affinity
: Valve Corporation
: XBOX 360, PC
: First-Person Shooter, Horror, Survival
: November 18, 2008
From the talented developers behind the Game of the Year winner Portal comes another first-person shooter, this time in the form of an apocalyptic zombie survival game. Valve presents Left 4 Dead, where you and a group of survivors must make it through a zombie onslaught alive.
Itís difficult to say if Left 4 Dead features a story, but we do know that it has a premise told through each of the four survivors of the game. Though never mentioned directly during gameplay, we know a little bit about Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey. Bill is a retired Vietnam veteran, though having sustained injuries during the war; he is actually the most prolific fighter within the group. His years in combat have trained him for this living hell. Francis has the attitude of a biker, perhaps because he dresses like one. Though his tough demeanor and harsh vocabulary is a strong indication of his personality, heís really a nice guy who has the other survivorís backs covered. Louis, before the zombie infection had broke out, did his 9 to 5 like any other hard working American. Lately, Louis had been getting tired of the same old daily routine, and was hoping for something more exciting to happen. Unfortunately, Louisí lifestyle was about to take a dangerous turn for the worse. Zoey is the youngest of the bunch but is certainly able to fend for herself and fits in with the big boys. Zoey has a love for horror movies, in fact, the scarier the better. Little does she know that sheís about to be living a horror movie soon before long.
The zombie infection is spread like rabies. Though victims who fall prey to the virus arenít really undead, theyíre merely controlled and driven by an extreme rage. These zombies, or infected, are no longer behaving like humans, but as wild beasts. Some have taken even worse mutations with survivors referring to these special infected as Smokers, Hunters, Boomers, Tanks, and Witches. The survivors will try endlessly to find help, but they are given a choice during these desperate times. When all hell breaks loose and should your fellow survivors struggle in the fight for survival, will you lend a hand, or will you be left for dead?
Valve is no stranger to making good looking games and Left 4 Dead is no exception to their brand of quality. Before its final release date, Valve made modifications to the gameís lighting. The way the nightís sky blends into the survivorís surrounding environments looks great. What I really appreciated was the amount of detail put into the messages of the safe rooms. Etched into the walls of safe rooms are messages from other survivors that never appear in the game. The messages are grim and send a shiver down your spine, knowing that unspeakable horrors wait to greet you as you step out of that room.
Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey all look great. The detail in their animations makes them believable, allowing you to associate yourself with what theyíre feeling as communicated through their facial expressions. The varieties of zombies in the game look appropriately disturbing. The terror that each deformed creature manifests itself in is spot on.
Left 4 Dead features a dynamic voice cast, and is notably one of the best features of the game. With hundreds of spoken moments in the game, each of the survivors has unique dialogue thatís quite humorous at times and dramatic where it needs to be. The fact that the survivors make up an ensemble together means you can relate to them in particular ways. Almost as if youíre the fifth survivors of the group. The sound effects for each type of infected is thrilling and definitely scary, and some sound effects serve as being disgusting, like that of the Boomerís distinct gurgling sound. It works absolutely well. For added scare tactics, hearing but not seeing an infected during gameplay is positively chilling.
Music for the most part is absent during regular gameplay, but will grow more intense and suspenseful when a horde of infected attacks you. The game will indicate when a special infected zombie is near by playing a corresponding musical cue such as heavy strings, shrilled and spine tingling strings, and an eerie set of notes played on piano. What I like about the game is that it does a good job of keeping you on your toes with just the use of music alone.
Left 4 Dead is a great run and fun game; it was made for the zombie genre. At the start of the campaign, and youíre free to choose which of the four campaigns youíd like to play, youíll be armed with basic weapons such as a standard pistol and your choice of a pump action shotgun, or mini-uzi. As you progress through the campaign youíll come across better weapons such as an assault rifle, automatic shotgun, and a sniper rifle.
Itís best to keep an eye out for items that will help you along the way. You wonít get far without them, especially on the harder difficulty settings. First Aid kits are a must because the more damage you take, eventually youíll begin to move slower when your health meter dips into the red shade. Slowing down just makes you an easy target and youíre more likely to fall behind your teamís pace. First Aid kits can restore your health to nearly full capacity, but should be used wisely as they are scarce as you travel. Pain pills will provide you with a boost in health and in speed if your health meter happens to be quite low, but the effects the pills provide will wear off slowly over time. Using molotovs will burn away any infected dumb enough to walk into an open flame. Use them when you need to stop a horde of infected dead in their tracks. Pipe bombs feature an alarm that attracts the attention of the infected, who have become sensitive to high pitched noises, meaning theyíll run after the source of sound until it explodes. Wait until a large horde rushes at you, the more infected that appear in the area means that you can take them out with a single pipe bomb. Gas tanks and other destructible items can be shot to start a fire or explosion, so itís best to use what you can to your advantage.
The game isnít called Left 4 Dead for nothing. Team work is essential when playing this game, especially online. Playing the game offline as a single player works fine, and your AI team mates do a well enough job of responding to threats as you run through streets and abandoned warehouses and such. Occasionally, you might find you or a team mate is incapacitated by an infected. Any player incapacitated loses the ability to use a primary weapon and switches to a pistol instead. Incapacitated players must be revived by someone within the team, and is the only way for the player to return to their feet. Do your part and defend your team mate from attack as they try to revive you. Itís best that all members of the team stay together; moving on ahead alone is not very wise and can attract unwanted attention. Better to have everyone stay together than have one less team mates to help out.
The conclusion of each campaign will feature one last fight full of blood thirsty infected. Itís at this moment of the game when mob after mob of infected comes from every direction. Itís a pulse pounding finish for the end. As you radio in an evacuation, you must hold off waves of common infected and special infected. Your worst nightmares come in the form of Tanks, huge, and powerful infected that can send you flying with a single punch and throw chunks of concrete that does a considerable amount of damage. Working as a team to bring it down is the best solution. Other special infected such as the Boomer can spew bile on you, or will explode if shot. Shooting at close range also runs the risk of being covered in bile that will attract a horde of common infected to your position. Hunters can pounce you into submission, rendering you incapacitated if they do enough damage. Smokers can drag you away from your team using their long tongues, and shooting them at close range will disorient you as they leave behind a plume of black smoke. Luckily, itís possible to shove an infected away to temporarily stun them, allowing you to kill them before they recover and itís one of the elements of gameplay that comes in handy. When your method of evacuation arrives, itís time to make a run for it. The game does not hesitate to throw everything at you as you make a final push for survival. Itís such an adrenaline fueled moment, and is exciting to play over and over again.
Online multiplayer can keep you busy with friends for a long time. You can choose to play the campaigns together or choose versus mode. Versus mode acts as a team death match, with two teams of four players competing against each other. One team plays the survivors and the other team plays as the infected. Survivors can explore the environments for weapons and items, attempting to move from one area to the other. Players controlling the infected are free to spawn anywhere on the map, provided that they are a fair distance from the survivors to give each team a fair advantage. Infected players are randomly given a special infected to spawn with (Boomer, Hunter, or Smoker). At random a player on the infected team will be given control of the Tank. Supporting infected should try their best to break up the group of survivors to make easy kills for the Tank. Itís a team based game, so both teams should come up with a strategy and stick to it.
The game features a survival mode to determine how long the survivors can fend off against wave after wave of infected. Your time is recorded so that you can always return to challenge it.
Possibly the single greatest reason to return to Left 4 Dead over time is the use of the Director AI. The Director AI feature was made specifically with the game in mind, which shows that no single game you play can be played twice. So things such as infected locations throughout the maps, weapon and item locations, and more will always change the next time you play through it. Itís labeled ďDirectorĒ because the unseen AI will decide when to send a horde of infected in your direction. Just because you were attacked in one area of a campaign doesnít mean itíll happen again the next time you play. Given that shooters are popular, knowing the exact layout of gameplay can be discouraging and can grow stale quickly. Left 4 Deadís Director AI is a commendable feature that works very well.
Left 4 Dead is a well rounded zombie shooter. Valve knows how to put a quality video game together and they deliver with this latest entry in their library of entertaining software. The gameplay does a great favor of keeping you on the edge of your seat and itís further amplified by the use of its built in Director AI system, which shows that you wonít play the same game twice. Whether you play alone or with friends online, Left 4 Dead is a must for shooter and zombie fans alike.