Left 4 Dead Review
By Michael Richter |
Despite the love of Hollywood to turn games into movies, there doesn't seem to be a need for a movie based on Left 4 Dead, as it's already been made several times over. Left 4 Dead is a game that venerates zombie movies throughout the ages, from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. In the game, you and up to three other survivors must battle a zombie apocalypse with a simple goal; you aren't trying to eradicate the undead horde, you're just trying to survive.
However, Left 4 Dead is also a completely different kind of game, and it feels as much of an experiment as it does an amazing gameplay experience. Valve has moved against convention and delivered a game that is built almost entirely around cooperative multiplayer action. Sure, there is a single-player mode that lets you play through the game with bots, but that feels like practice. Bots lack the dynamic play, the interaction and the interplay, and the social aspect of co-op play. This is a game that comes to life when you play with at least one other human player, and it's even better if there are four humans in each game.
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Let's start with the basics. Left 4 Dead is about the seemingly hot new fad in storytelling: the dreaded zombie apocalypse has finally come to pass, turning the vast majority of the population into a mindless, ravenous undead hordes. A handful of humans remain immune to the zombie virus, and you play as a small group of them. There's Zoey, a young woman; Bill, the grizzled veteran; Louis, the middle-class office worker; and Francis, the biker. Armed with real and makeshift weapons, these survivors must battle their way to salvation. It's a simple plot that anyone can recognize, and Valve pulls it off with its trademark incredible attention to detail.
In each of the game's four scenarios, you must battle your way to a series of safe houses that lead to a rescue point. You can have up to four players in a game, controlling each of the characters, but if you're short of humans, the AI can fill in and control the bots. The AI is generally solid; it's good about killing zombies, not hitting you with friendly fire, and even patching you up with med kits if you're down. The downside is that the bots are passive; you always have to be in the lead, which is problematic when you're hurting. If you're playing with other humans you can tell them that you're hurting and can switch the formation around. That doesn't happen with bots. Still, you can play the game with the bots on almost all the difficult levels save for expert. Frankly, expert is so brutal that you'll need four human players to prevail, and even then it's not a sure bet you'll make it through.
Each scenario is presented like a movie, which is a nice touch. At the beginning there's a movie poster showing the cast. If you survive, the "credits" display the statistics for the game, like who killed the most zombies, who inflicted the most headshots, who delivered the most friendly fire, and the like. The final credit shows how many zombies were killed in the making of the film, and a nice touch I really like is that if only some of the survivors make it to safety, the film is dedicated to the memory of those who didn't. Even the scenario titles are awesome in a cheesy sort of way. There's No Mercy where you battle through a hospital, Dead Air which requires you to fight to an airport, Death Toll has you make your way to a dock, and Blood Harvest where you take shelter in a farmhouse.
There was a firefight!The zombie horde that you battle is based on the "fast" zombies seen in movies like 28 Weeks Later. These zombies don't shamble. Instead, they sprint at you with inhuman speed, scale fences, and bust down doors to get at you. Horde zombies aren't smart, but they are dangerous in large numbers. The real danger comes in the form of some special zombies. There's the hunter, which can leap across large distances to pin a survivor to the ground. Then there's the smoker, which has a frog-like tongue that can grab a survivor by the throat. The boomer is a corpulent zombie that vomits or explodes to spray survivors. Getting hit by the substance will not only temporarily blind survivors, but it drives the zombie horde into a feeding frenzy. The tank is just that; he's a brick of a zombie that can take an enormous amount of damage and dish out a fair amount. And finally, there's the witch; she's an enormously powerful zombie that can take down a survivor with a single swipe.
The game is paced almost perfectly so that you're always pushed to the edge. You'll run low on health. You'll run low on ammo or you'll run out entirely, requiring you to rely on pistols, which have unlimited ammo but aren't as effective as shotguns, assault rifles, and submachine guns. There are pipe bombs and Molotov bombs that you can scavenge, and you can turn propane tanks and gas canisters into weapons. The latter are particularly useful in the many "crescendo" elements in the game. These are points where you must initiate an action in order to open the way forward like having a van drive through a steel fence to open the route. The kicker is that the moment you initiate the action the zombie horde are going to come down on you like a tidal wave. The good news is that you have time to prepare and place down fuel canisters and discuss the battle plan. If a player falls victim to the zombie menace, a respawn mechanism reintroduces them back in the action as another survivor who has been found (though don't ask why the new survivor is exactly the same as the old survivor).