Left 4 Dead Review
November 23, 2008 by Ryan Lodata
Valve, developer of Half-Life, has entered the world of co-op zombie killing with Left 4 Dead. There are many things that can describe Left 4 Dead and I felt that apocalyptic zombie massacre would be one of the best categories that could ever describe the feeling that you get from playing this title. Many of you may feel that this has been done before on many levels, but Valve has taken it above the pack and provided a fulfilling, blood covered experience in the form of Left 4 Dead.
Left 4 Dead marks yet another title that Valve has published that will put players in a position where they must work together as a team and accomplish a particular task. This goal is accomplished through assuming the role of one of the four survivors that Valve has introduced in the game. Although no deep background stories have been developed for any of the survivors or as to what events have caused the zombie infestation, this plays into the feeling that you are the one who is living out this zombie nightmare.
Divided into several campaigns, you are taken through four separate environments that will make bring you an even greater sense of being a part of a movie playing out on your computer screen. Players will find themselves wandering through the streets, flipping switches and preparing for the onslaught of the zombie masses as they rush towards you.
Unlike most games, zombies take on a role that feels more like 28 Days Later than the zombie movies of old. These zombies do not casually walk toward you in a narrow corridor. Instead, they run at you from all angles, climb walls and knock down doors as they advance toward you in pursuit of eating your flesh. This fast pace forces players to be vigilant at all times lest they get pounced on by one of the different special zombies that roam the levels.
The five distinct special zombies that you encounter are called boomers, smokers, hunters, witches and tanks. The first four are encountered fairly frequently throughout your travels in the various areas of the campaign. Witches and tanks are thrown into the mix only to knock your confidence down several notches and ensure that you are not finding the race for the finish to easy.
Boomers have a vomit that, when sprayed, infects players and attracts a massive amount of zombies that rush toward you and must be fought off by you and your teammates. Smokers can help to add to your problems with their extra long tongues that can ensnare you just as you feel you are safe from any nearby dangers. Out of all the creatures, I found the smokers to be one of the more difficult to spot and are used at the most inopportune times for your exhausted team. The same can be said for the hunters that pounce on players caught alone and begin smacking them around with their massive claws. Although these creatures can hinder your progress, it is the tanks and witches that can prove to be your team’s downfall.
If there is one piece of advice that I can give gamers that purchase Left 4 Dead, it is that you should never feel too confident in how well your team is doing. At almost any point in the game, you could encounter a witch. Witches sit in various spots of the map and only attack when alerted. Although avoiding them may sound easy, it can prove difficult if they are placed directly in the path of your team and you are forced to startle them.
Out of all the zombies that are out for your team’s sweet, sweet brains, the tank is by far the most difficult. As their name suggests, tanks are massive monsters that are able to pull pieces of concrete and knock down players. Throw a powerful punch and unexpected spawning into the mix and you may find you and your teammates running for your dear life as it races towards you.
Left 4 Dead allows players to take on the various campaigns by themselves with the help of NPC controlled teammates, but the real gem comes in the form of its multiplayer. Out of any game I have ever played on the PC, Left 4 Dead is possibly the only one that truly forces players to work together as a team. If your team becomes separated or does not help each other out, it will be near impossible for you to complete any of the campaigns in Left 4 Dead.
To further add to the replayability of the game, Valve has introduced a unique AI system and versus mode that allows for a different experience with each play through. The AI system, known as the Director, creates random spawning locations of zombies and adjusts to how well you and your teammates are doing. It also determines when the zombie horde will rush at your survivors if they take too long to advance through a particular part of the campaign.
Versus mode further adds depth to the game by allowing up to four gamers the ability to control one of the special zombies that are found in the game. As a zombie, you choose your starting location and must take out the survivors before they reach the safe rooms that are located at the end of every stage. Since you are a zombie, there are spawning locations that are available to you that are not reachable for survivors. This becomes especially useful if the game decides to spawn you as a smoker or hunter and you want to attack them from a rooftop or the vents. No matter which side you are playing on, versus mode is sure to give a run for your money for some time to come.
Despite all the fantastic things about Left 4 Dead’s gameplay, the amount of available weaponry may turn off some gamers. Survivors are given a handgun, uzi or shotgun to begin with. Later in the game, you can pick up an assault rifle, auto shotgun or sniper rifle, but the first two only feel like “level 2” versions of the uzi and shotgun respectively. Molotov cocktails and pipe-bombs are also included, but didn’t add very much to the overall selection.
The graphics in Left 4 Dead are done extremely well and further add to the idea that you are in a movie about a zombie apocalypse. Everything about the game has dark tones and a grainy film look which further pulls you into an already engrossing game. Of course the graphics could have been better, but using a modified version of the Source Engine was the best thing for Left 4 Dead. If any other engine were used, then gamers with older systems would have been unable to pick this title up and play or gamers may have experienced slowdowns when there were a large number of zombies on the screen. This, however, was not the case on our testing system.
Valve has incorporated various music and sounds in the game that bring about a sense of urgency to the game. When you approach an area that contains a special zombie, the music changes to reflect that one is near. The sound is also effectively used to notify you when a witch may near. As you get closer, you can hear her constantly wailing and crying. The addition of 5.1 surround sound support allows for you to properly ascertain where she may be located as well.
The biggest draw that any PC gamer can have to this game will be not only what is available now, but might also be available down the road. Valve has a long track record of continuing to support and add content to their titles. I’m sure that Left 4 Dead will be no different.
Players can also expect that a software development kit will be released that will allow modders to get their hands dirty as they modify the game in what are almost always interesting ways. A member of the mapmaking community has already planned to port his copy of the mall in Dawn of the Dead for use in Left 4 Dead and others have imported maps from Team Fortress 2 for use in Left 4 Dead.
Left 4 Dead is a solid zombie shooter that is sure to please many PC gamers. Although the single player component of the game may be lackluster at best, the multiplayer features in Left 4 Dead create an environment based around teamwork and add an excellent level of replayability. Had Valve included additional weapons in Left 4 Dead, this may very well have received critical acclaim across a large section of the PC gaming population. Valve has managed to engross players with the various in-game music and sounds to create a sense of urgency and instill fear in players that could rival some of the best titles out there. Despite the lack of weaponry, Left 4 Dead is a must buy for any fan of first-person shooters. This is one game that will not go away for quite awhile and will provide you with fun throughout your time blasting open the skulls of zombies.