Why you should always call 'shotgun'.
It could happen at anywhere at any moment. You could be walking down the street when suddenly, without warning…BOOM!!! Zombies everywhere. What would you do on that fateful day? Would you fall to the horde like so many others or would you fight your way to safety? It seems the guys over at Valve have been wondering the exact same thing and made a game to test out their theories.
[image1]The concept of Left 4 Dead (or Left4Dead, if that floats your zombie boat) is simple. You and three other survivors are stuck in the middle of a Zombiepocalypse reminiscent of a George A. Romero film. You struggle through massive undead hordes to get from safehouse to safehouse until you are ultimately rescued... or perish in a savage frenzy.
There are four campaigns with five chapters each, making for twenty maps in all. Each backdrop provides a different horror movie cliché scenario. You can try and shoot your way through an abandoned city or take your luck in the cornfields of a desolated farm. Everything looks eerie and creepy, a sense of desolation and uncertainty. A film grain filter is added to make everything look even more like an old horror film.
Since enemy spawning points are randomly placed each time you play through a map, you never know when you’re going to have one of those moments when everything starts going to hell. No matter how many times you play through a level, it will never be the same. You can’t memorize preset routes that give you an advantage, so it keeps things from getting stale.
Lighting is used masterfully, adding to the effect of some serious jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Imagine being in a room with only your flashlight for illumination. A zombie leaps out at you from a corner. As you beat him away from you with your fists, your flashlight rattles in your hands, its light giving only brief glimpses of what’s in front of you. You finally kill the monster, but more have been attracted by the ruckus and now you've got to defend yourself against a mob of undead bigger than the Wu-Tang Clan. The flittering light adds a lot to the chaotic atmosphere and the darkness sends a chill of uncertainty on whether you're actually defending yourself of not.
And those are just the regular Zombies. There are hunters that leap out from the shadows and pounce on you, smokers that grab you with their elongated tongues and constrict you to death, and big fat bloated boomers that will puke all over you. Boomer puke not only leaves you temporarily blinded but also attracts hordes of Zombies to you directly. Every time you get puked on is a moment of sheer and utter panic. And then there’s the unstoppable behemoth, The Tank - this thing is huge and will attack with unrelenting fervor until you’ve destroyed it. It’s almost impossible to take on by yourself.
[image2]Each zombie is disgustingly beautiful in its own way. I would say they probably resemble the fast, aggressive hordes in 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead the most, if I were to compare them to any of the traditional walking dead stereotypes. A lot of work went into making enough zombie variations so that the game doesn't get redundant. Air traffic controller zombies aren’t found in the office cubicles, and office men zombies aren’t found in the train yards.
If you play the versus mode of Left 4 Dead, you’ll actually get a chance to be one of these lovely rotting carcasses. Having the option to pit your team of undead against the four survivors is both rewarding and frustrating. When you play as a survivor, tactics are simple: Keep running, stay together to survive, and shoot anything that moves. When you play as a zombie, you don’t have as much health and tend to go down quicker, so you really have to coordinate everyone on your team to isolate enemies and make a tactical strike. The trade-off between the two styles is great and you’ll switch sides each round so neither group gets left out of the fun.
The one drawback to versus mode has to be the computer-controlled AI. There will always be four survivors the zombies must hunt, no matter how many people are playing. But you could get stuck as a lonely zombie with no one to share tasty brains with, at which point you’re basically screwed. Computer-controlled survivors seem to be able to find you wherever you are. You could be hiding behind a railroad car 50 yards out and the computer will shout “Zombie!” and blast you away before you ever had a chance to engage.
Truly, this is a game built almost entirely exclusively for online play. Think of it as a Counter-Strike or Team Fortress filled with mindless masses of the living dead. And playing online is where you’ll have the most fun. You can still play through campaigns and try your best to outlast the hordes in single player but working with a team of other people is more rewarding. There's nothing like for survival together in a world gone mad with zombie fever.
The only thing missing from the game is a decent story for the single-player mode. I understand that this is a game made for online play, but you get this really great animated opening that kind of lays down a general plot and that’s it. While you’re left to fill in the obvious blanks, it still would have been nice to get a reward beyond the sense of accomplishment from simply surviving and outwitting a massive army of the undead.
[image3]Still even with the omission of any sense of plot, you will watch a story unfold before you. Dramatic escapes from doom and heroic deaths are all there in the story you make as you play through campaigns. And even if you don’t make it to the end, Valve has conveniently added a few points here and there where you’ll have a chance to return to the fray as a survivor rescued from within a locked closet.
The traditional Valve audio commentary is there as well. I personally love getting insight like this into the creative process. DVD commentary tracks can be great and it’s nice to see a game company which gets that people want a sort of insight into games, too. It’s not for everybody, but I think it’s a nice little cherry on top of the brain sundae that is Left 4 Dead.
What can I say? Left 4 Dead is pretty fun. It’s exactly the type of zombie survival game that the genre has been waiting for. The intensity never lets up for one minute from the time you open the safehouse door to your daring escape at the end of each campaign. You will fight for your survival and have a blast doing it. The only thing lacking is a unique single-player experience, but like I said before, it’s just not that type of game. Just think of it as training for the inevitability of the real thing happening.