Zombies are easily in the top ten of popular culture icons that all geeks, nerds, and activists seem to never get enough of. Right up there with the likes of pirates and ninjas, zombies, and the zombie game, are usually a dime a dozen in the video game market, with some type of flesh eating monstrosity stalking you in droves as you avoid their presence through gunplay or running away. A tired but true formula, the guys over at Valve decided to take it and morph it into a fun, albeit limited co-op experienced called Left 4 Dead.
Left 4 Dead is a zombie fans wet dream, playing the role of one of four stereotypical archetypes in the monster movies they know and love, trying to survive an onslaught of undead infected as you traverse through twenty different levels across four different scenarios. The game is short on story, but there really is no need for one as all you need to know is that it’s you against the world, quite literally, as you blast your way through choke holds with hordes of speedy infected coming at you from all directions.
The zombies are the fast paced, “neo” style zombies seen in “28 Days Later” and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake, which adds to the tension, as it is easy to become overwhelmed. There are also five special classes of infected creatures that are designed to slow the players down, or downright kill them. The smoker is a distant cousin of Resident Evil’s licker, as it uses its tongue to ensnare survivors. The hunter is a fast, weak zombie that can leap great distances and literally claw someone to death. The boomer is a grotesque zombie that, when shot, explodes bile all over you, essentially attracting the horde. And the last two zombies, the impenetrable tank and the scary witch, oftentimes require a whole team to take down, let alone survive an attack from.
The name of the game is teamwork, and it is best suited for co-op play online. There is a single player campaign, but it’s really not worth it, thanks to an A.I engine that is too good most of the time, using laser like precision to point out and shoot infected even before you can see them. Multiplayer is where it’s at here, and like Team Fortress or Counter-Strike, the game excels as a great co-op experience.
Since your limited to four players a team, it’s arguably a small experience, and one that also can run its course quickly. Each map can take an average of ten minutes to get through, if you know where you’re going. It also can become a chore sometimes to run through the motions on each map, but thankfully, the A.I system changes from map to map. So those pipe bombs or shotguns you find in one map may be replaced with a sulking witch, or a tank encounter instead. Each play through is different, depending on the level of the players or the games difficulty, which keeps the game fairly refreshed for players.
And despite the repetitiveness, the game is still a lot of fun. The multi-player and versus campaigns are the meat of the game, with versus mode being the crown jewel. Here, you can play alternating matches as survivors and the special infected, which give the game a great cat and mouse feel, especially if your playing as a hunter or smoker on the zombie side. The only complaints are that you can’t pick which special infected you will be, and the 20 second wait for a respawn as one is a pain. But that deals with the balance issues the game may have, to keep things fair. And since a survivor only has one life during versus mode, it makes sense to give some penalties to the zombie side.
Graphically, the game fits post infection fairly well. A lot of destroyed buildings, burning cars, and blood and guts all over the place give it the zombie look. The zombies themselves are fairly detailed, and while the survivors look good too, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between some of them because of the mudded colors. The environments are also really varied; one scenario has you traverse through a wooded area, only to find a farmhouse complete with a cornfield that reminds you of “Night of the Living Dead.” Another has you fight your way through the city streets to a hospital building, only to have a last stand on the roof as you wait for rescue. There may be only four scenarios, but they all have great levels in them.
The games sound is really well done too. While the humans repetitive dialogue gets annoying at times, the infected steal the show here, from the high pitched screams of the pouncing hunter, to the slow crying of the sullen witch, the sound cues, which include sound effects by the infected and music cues, give you a heads up as to what’s just around the bend at times, letting you plan accordingly if you are a survivor. It gives the game just enough tension too, especially when faced with a witch, as it has one of the most jarring background scores I have ever heard.
So overall, Left 4 Dead is what zombie fans would crave, and co-op fans would moderately enjoy. It’s a great multiplayer game that is built for lan parties or X-box live, fairly tactical for the hardcore crowd, and a fun distraction from games like Fallout 3 or Rock Band. The guys at Valve have proven time and again that they make great games, and this is no exception. Although it’s not necessarily must buy because of the thin yet polished content in the disc, it is easily a rental game, and once the price begins to drop and downloadable content is made official, then the game would begin to spring new life in fighting the undead.
Final Score- B