|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|
Tanks and Witches are absolutely brutal. The grotesquely muscle-bound Tanks can take lots of damage and can deal out even more. If tanks are charging your group, everyone has to concentrate fire on it or someone is going down! Similarly, Witches also know how to put a hurt on players. Fortunately, Witches can be avoided by listening for their telltale sobbing. If flashlights are left off and Witches are left alone to cry, players can successfully skirt the danger, but if someone in the group does something stupid, beware their claw-filled wrath!
These six enemy types are used in concert by the devs to keep players on their toes. A group can certainly go through the game without any strategy whatsoever, but keeping your actions in check makes for a far more engaging and tactical experience. As a nice touch, little messages will flash across the screen letting you know which player in the party screwed up and made the enemy attack. You can then berate said player as you make yet another stand against the zombies. This interplay of player interactions and group strategy will make the game distinct depending upon with whom you play. Thankfully, the devs also realized that some matched players may not jive with the rest of the group. As such, players can actually initiate a kick-player-vote from the in-game menu if someone is being disruptive. This is a nice bit of forethought that should keep public games fun.
There is a problem with gameplay though. Players will find it gets tedious. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the game plays a lot like an arcade shooter. Despite the fact that enemy behaviors are distinct, players are likely to grow tired of endlessly blasting through repetitive foes. Indeed, the repetition mars gameplay and makes for a somewhat shallow experience. Truly, Left 4 Dead really doesn't require much skill and gets dull after about an hour or two of constant play. But, hopping back into the action at another time both off and online is seamless and worthwhile.
Nevertheless, the game is very exciting in spurts; the sheer heart-pounding intensity of the solo/multiplayer Campaign mode is worth the price of admission. And, as a bonus, a competitive online multiplayer feature called Versus is available and provides for a fairly interesting diversion. Up to eight players can join in on the fun as one of the four Survivors or playable Infected. Boomers, Smokers, Hunters, and Tanks can all be used to thwart the advance of the Survivors. However, The Horde and Witches are not available for player control. Still, breaking through walls with Tanks, vomiting Horde-attractant with Boomers, pouncing on unsuspecting marks with Hunters, etc. is a real treat. Similarly, mowing through haphazard Infected attacks with the varied arsenal of weapons, including shotguns, assault rifles, dual-wielding handguns, pipe-bombs, Molotov cocktails, and more is every bit as fun.
With all this hectic action onscreen at the same time, one would expect for some major slowdown. However, there is none - the game is technically rock solid. Granted, the graphics are not nearly as sharp and detailed as games such as Gears 2 or Bioshock, but the visuals do a nice job of conveying the appropriate feel and incredibly fast pace of play. Also, sounds are of very high quality. The voice work, zombie effects, weapon rapport, and ambient noises are sharp and really amp up the intensity. Playing this game on a home theater system, I was in complete awe of just how exhilarating the in-stereo sound effects were.
The 360's controls are very user-friendly. Literally, anyone can pick up the controller and start blasting away like a pro. This may deter some very skilled players but, overall, it's nice that this cinematic experience can be shared with friends and family that aren't necessarily into standard FPS mechanics. Primary and secondary attacks for both Survivors and Infected are mapped to the triggers, while crouching and a very handy 180 degree spin are accessed via the bumpers. Other than that, there's not a whole lot more you'll need to use. Face buttons are occasionally employed to jump, change weapons, manually reload, and interact with downed compadres and doors, and the D-pad can be engaged to administer first-aid, turn on the flashlight, and equip explosives.
Left 4 Dead is largely successful at bringing players a uniquely exhilarating, arcade-like zombie shooter. The eye toward multiplayer fun is definitely appreciated, and the accessibility is great. However, the experience is best taken in short bursts, as the repetitive action gets monotonous after awhile. But, if you need to go on a zombie killing spree ahead of RE5, don't hesitate to pick up Left 4 Dead!
CCC Editor / News Director