Genre: Action Developer: Turtle Rock Studios Publisher: Valve Software Classification: M15+ Release Date: 18th Nov 2008 Platforms:PC
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The Good bits
Great coop gameplay.
Fun both when goofing off and taking things seriously.
The Bad stuff
Needs more Versus mode!
Left 4 Dead's emphasis is on co-operative play - in Campaign mode you and three other players will battle your way through literally thousands of zombies on your quest to simply... make it out alive. You're quickly forced into making some pretty tough decisions - do you keep the medpack for yourself or do you use it on Zoey as she limps lamely behind you? Do you leave the safe room to try and save Francis from the Tank or do you close the door and save your ammo?
In most cases though you won't notice things like this - you'll pay more attention to the way a zombie tears apart as you blast it with the uzi, or you'll cackle maniacally when your first timer friend sets off a car alarm and triggers an avalanche of undead. The more seriously you find yourself taking Left 4 Dead the more absurd the situations tend to become - in one very serious attempt at clearing Expert a single friendly fire incident erupted into 15 consecutive mexican standoffs - all but one ending in nobody making it out of the safe room.
The Hunter: The speed attack master. He can leap large buildings in a single bound, jump from wall to wall and if he catches a survivor on their own it's basically game over. He's very susceptible to shotgun shells and the melee attack. The Smoker: Long distance separator. This guy uses his massive tongue to ensnare people from rooftops - the perfect way to divide and conquer. When a teammate is ensnared you have two choices - shoot the tongue and get away or use the Smoker's immobility to get a cheap kill. The Boomer: This guy is the poster... err zombie child for not limiting your diet to just human flesh - a mixture of survivors and green vegetables will stop you from looking like him. You'll know he's coming because his stomach is always rumbling, and his primary attack is a barf that's basically catnip for zombies. If you shoot him at close range the barf explodes everywhere, so be careful! The Witch: You don't have to fight the Witch, and you don't want to. Turn off flashlights and stay away from her and you'll never know how bad she hits. Alternatively, a good idea when playing with friends on Expert is to shoot her and emit an insane laugh over your voice comms as you and everyone else in the group dies a painful death. The Tank: This guy is the real boss zombie. He has lots of hitpoints, he can throw cars at you and he can destroy an entire team in less than a minute. Protip: To defeat the Tank shoot at it until it dies.
The safe room is the one place where the zombies can't touch you - most levels it is both your starting area and your goal. Between the safe room is a couple hundred zombies of varying power - "normal" zombies which will simply try to overwhelm you through numbers and the boss zombies - check out the breakout for our breakdown of these cats. The level design is generally very intuitive - there are clear choke points and 90% of the time even the newest players can work out their next goal - but occasionally you'll get thoroughly lost while using up more and more ammo - a mistake you only make once.
Learning the maps isn't the challenge in Left 4 Dead - once you know the way you've still got to deal with the AI Director, the chocolate icing on the genius cake that is L4D. The AI Director constantly mixes things up, meaning that while you might be taking the same path each time you won't encounter things in similar areas over and over again - repetition isn't an issue here because it's rarely the same thing twice. The AI Director decides when to send boss zombies at you, when to launch a flood of zombies on you and where you'll find weapons, ammo and health so you can't ever count on anything.
The uncertainty inherent in the game ramps up to 11 with Versus mode - easily the best reason to buy Left 4 Dead. With Versus mode you don't just play one of the four survivors - you also play the boss zombie roles as well. With eight players in a server the game remains its cooperative slant while becoming very competitive at the same time. Apart from strategic sprints when everything breaks down, the survivors roles stay very much the same.
The atmosphere in the game is absolutely amazing. The settings are chosen to perfection - eerie woods and abandoned hospitals combine with the eerie moans of zombies to create some excellent tension. The graphics on the Source engine are beginning to get a little dated, but the animations and physics keep everything grounded firmly in an immersive environment.
One of the most regrettable decisions from the team at Valve was the decision to run with Matchmaking as the primary method for playing the game. People have been capable of creating a server/finding an appropriate server for years without any issue, but instead we're forced to have a random server found for us while we wait for people to join. Worse still is the fact that the game will regularly fail to find a dedicated server even when you know an empty one exists (GameArena runs over 50 Left 4 Dead servers, I think we're across the server situation.)
Left 4 Dead relies on having a solid community of people behind it for it to be fun - you need people to play it with to be even half the game it's meant to be. We're a little confused at the decision to provide only two campaigns for Versus mode when it is far and away the star of the show, but we're sure Left 4 Dead will enjoy the same kind of developer support that last year's online classic Team Fortress 2 has had.
Left 4 Dead has no shortage of issues - issues that might put some people off the game for good. Issues like the matchmaking system, which makes grouping with your friends and then joining the server you want annoying and difficult. Issues like a definite shortage of maps in Versus mode - the reason to play the game. And issues like the fact that a game based on a 4 year old engine has a RRP of $99.
The biggest issue I face with Left 4 Dead however is that I can't stop playing it. And when I can't play it I'm thinking about it. It's a must buy game no matter what the price - add the GameArena Steam Community to your Steam profile and we'll see you online.
Me and my mates got this game after playing it on a mates computer. Campaign is very simple and great at LAN's. Run around with three other survivors, trying to get to the next check-point and ultimately finish the chapter (of which there are four). A large amount of team-work and communication is very important as you will need to rescue your mates from Hunters, Smokers or Witches and protect them when they are vomited on, heal each other and rescue each other if one dies. And, of course, avoid teamkilling each other.
Towards the end of each chapter, you will inevitably have to 'hold out' against a horde of zombies/tanks. This is where you and your friends must be strategic, picking your positions and sticking to them. A tank will come through and mess everything up, and your group will experience several 'wipe-outs' trying to kill him.
Once you've completed the campaign, there's not much else on offer. You can retry it on expert. Or you and your mates can duke it out in versus mode.
This game is a lot of fun. It is extremely cooperative and blasting away zombies is very satisfying. Also the statistics at the end of each chapter reveal all. But it's limited replayability (both single player and online) suggests to me that this game will primarily be pirated and played at lans. This is unfortunate because it really is a lot of fun. But, for most people, not for the price Valve is asking.
For years now, I've been hankering for a decent zombie game. Not like Doom or Half-Life, with the zombies only playing a small part in the overall action, or like Stubbs the Zombie, with it's clichéd moans of "Braaiiinnnsss" and a seemingly abundant source of internal organs, or even the Resident Evil series, because the really started losing the atmosphere when they left the city in favor of a more 'exotic' setting. No, are real, bona-fide zombie game, with just you and a few others in a rag-tag bunch, fighting not to save the world, but just to escape and survive.
Left 4 Dead delivers spectacularly. Not only does it emulate the atmosphere and tension of a Hollywood zombie flick, the loading screens present themselves as teaser posters for a new zombie movie, replete with tag-lines and cast and crew blocks (those things at the end of movie trailers. I don't really know what the technical term is).
And the cast itself is typical Hollywood fair, but in a good way. The Survivors all have a reason for fighting, and this only serves to enhance the feeling that you're really in a zombie pandemic, fighting for your life. Bill is Vietnam Veteran who wants nothing more than a gun in his hands and an enemy to fight; Francis is a misanthropic biker who uses the outbreak of The Infection as an outlet for his repressed rage; Louis was an IT consultant at a multi-national corporation, who identifies a little too well with the zombies (cubicle, drudgery, etc, not a hunger for the flesh of the living); and Zoey is a college student who spent more time watching horror movies than doing her homework (although it appears she studied the right subject after all!). This rag-tag bunch of "heroes", thrown together by fate and united by a common goal, serve as the player characters for you and your friends.
Which leads me neatly to this paragraph. The gameplay, while technically common in the First-Person Shooter genre, re-enforces the feeling of you being there. However, the game mixes it up in a way that can only be described as revolutionary. See, the game has no set spawn points for enemies. Instead, the game's AI program, dubbed 'The Director' by developers Valve Software, assesses player performance and adjusts accordingly. So, say if you were killing hundreds of zombies without breaking a sweat, the Director will ramp it up by putting more zombies in areas beyond your field of vision, come running in and overwhelm you whilst some special zombies either tie you up, spew on you or claw your face off. Speaking of which, whenever me and my co-players heard the sobbing of a Witch, we would freeze up and instantly switch into what we dubbed 'Witch Mode', where we would turn off all flashlights and enter every room SWAT-style, with one of us at the ready with a molotov cocktail to torch her ass. And at the end of a chapter, when the dreaded Tank zombie showed up, he would be promptly set ablaze and filled full of holes, but usually not until he had pinned whoever happened to be playing as Bill at the time.
And you don't even have to play as a Survivor. In Versus Mode, up to four players can take control of random Special Infected (Boomers, Hunters, Smokers, and, once per round, a Tank) in order to impede the progress of the Survivor players. Unfortunately, Versus mode requires at least one player on each side, so you can't load it up and kick some Survivor butt when you're offline. Aside from that, the game is almost perfect.
All in All, Left 4 Dead is an all-around solid game, a great co-operative multiplayer experience with dynamic pacing and engrossing atmosphere, let down by the lack of extra campaigns. But wait until Valve releases the planned Downloadable Content. It'll be sweet.