|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Valve Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 17, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2 (8 online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Valve has given us a zombie shooter unlike any other. In fact, I hesitate to even call it just a zombie shooter. Maybe arcade shooter or action shooter is more appropriate - I can't decide! That's because Left 4 Dead has as much in common with games like Gauntlet and Smash T.V. as it does with Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
For good or ill, this is not a game that challenges your gaming skill. Rather, it's a title that plops you into the scariest parts of your favorite zombie/horror flick - think 28 Days Later meets Army of Darkness - and never lets go. As such, players will go through the entirety of the game guns-a-blazin' and on the edge of their seats. This is definitely one of the most exhilarating and heart-pounding experiences I've had in video games, though somewhat hollow and empty in retrospect. Regardless, this title was built for co-op and multiplayer action from the outset, so grab a buddy and start playing! Because Left 4 Dead is too intense to play alone!
The game's opening cutscene sets the tone. Hordes of zombie minions run at four Survivors with reckless abandon, while hulking Tanks, bloated Boomers, sneaky Smokers, pouncing Hunters, and sobbing Witches try and corner them. The only way the humans can survive is by sticking together and blasting through the seemingly endless onslaught of infected and mutated brain-munchers. This five minute opening cinematic does a great job of familiarizing players with the characteristics of the varied enemies they'll face and giving a glimpse into the personalities of the Survivors. Also, core tactics like staying away from car alarms, not shining a flashlight on a Witch, and proper grenade use are introduced.
You and your friends will take on one of these four characters unfortunate enough to find themselves stranded in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Whether playing as Francis (the tattooed, bar fight specialist), Louis (the disillusioned Systems Analyst), Bill (the savvy Nam vet), or Zoey (the horror film-loving student on probation), each character, despite their very different backgrounds, has quickly adapted to their new world and is very efficient at decimating the threat.
The main story in Left 4 Dead follows the advance of these Survivors through four expansive environments made up of five chapters each. The group's goal is to simply wade through the labyrinthine levels and waves of baddies, surviving long enough for rescue to arrive. The Campaign mode can be played alone with A.I. support, with a friend via split-screen, or taken online with up to three others (up to two others if you're already paired with a buddy locally). This is definitely a game to be shared friends (it's just that much more fun and teamwork is essential), but playing alone is certainly possible due to the excellent friendly A.I. Your supporting cast knows how to handle weapons and will even ensure your survival with timely administration of first-aid. But, unlike many other games out there, Left 4 Dead was explicitly designed with the multiplayer experience in mind - it's not simply a tacked-on afterthought. Four Survivors will be present throughout the story, so you might as well enjoy it with other players. Plus, the game's so darn intense that you'll likely feel better about having someone on the couch next to you or at least on a headset reassuring you with their own thrill-filled hoots.
As previously hinted at, enemies in Left 4 Dead are made up of six varieties of zombie; each of them are worth detailing because their distinct behaviors make up the tactical draw of the title, and four of them are playable in competitive multiplayer. The Horde is the most prevalent. As the name implies, The Horde is made up of large groups of super-fast, enraged zombies that rush at and surround the Survivors. The Horde can frequently be circumvented by remaining quiet (don't touch the alarmed cars please!) or moving past them without any sudden movements. If you do agro them, get ready for the blitz. Thankfully, they can easily be put down by unloading clips of bullets into them, but if you allow them to encircle you, you're in for a lot of hurt.
Boomers are fat-slob zombies that amble toward you spewing a font of Horde-enticing bile. If you are coated with the green ooze, you'll not only be blinded for about ten seconds, but The Horde will cling to you like stink on well, you know. If you are able to explode a Boomer before they can puke on you, be sure it's far enough away, as exploding bits of Boomer are every bit as attractive to The Horde as getting coated by a steady stream of puke.
Hunters and Smokers are lone wolves. They both try and hide in the shadows and ambush their prey. Hunters have a spring attack that allows them to pounce from long distances. If you are knocked prone by a Hunter, you will have to suffer the ensuing beating until a fellow survivor can rescue you (I told you teamwork was important!). Likewise, Smokers have a tongue-snare ability that entangles their victims, leaving them dangling and helpless - ripe for The Horde to rip apart. If smokers are dealt with by the Survivors, a noxious green gas will be left in their wake.