Review: LEFT 4 DEAD (PC) – Peter’s Take

Posted by Peter Hall - December 2nd 2008 @ 9:39 am

Published by Valve, 2008

I realize there has been dearth of horror movie reviews on this site of late.  I could blame the onset of winter months, which are the weakest weeks of the year as far as horror is concerned, but that would be a scapegoat.  I was out of the country for a few weeks, sure, but I’ve been lazy upon my return; another scapegoat.  Truth is, as far as horror is concerned, all of my free time of late has been trapped by LEFT 4 DEAD, a zombie shooter from Valve, the most exceptional game studio around.

I’m about to go out on a limb that will seem wholly hyperbolic.  The weight of the proceeding comment will seem a joke, but my face is, as always, deadpan:

LEFT 4 DEAD is the best zombie experience since George Romero made DAWN OF THE DEAD.

I shit you negative.

LEFT 4 DEAD is a four player co-op campaign game published by Valve, one of the few remaining studios on the planet committed unilaterally to the game and the gaming community, for Xbox 360 and the PC.  Game play centers around 4 survivors of a zombie apocalypse whose only goal on this blue ball is to make it from one destination to the other without an abiotic horde of the unholy making a meal of their mitochondria.  Absent is any concrete narrative, rather the players can construct whatever storyline they wish out of the characters present (a grizzled war vet, an IT worker, a biker and a horror movie fan girl) and the arenas in between them (urban hospital, country road, airport, farm).  The story, as such, manifests itself out of these players and their ability to perform as a team.

2008 has found itself with some canonical games so far, but I’m completely serious when I say a mere 10 logged hours with LEFT 4 DEAD have already found me repeated bliss in the simplest of actions.  Smacking a zombie in the face with the butt of a shotgun and then gracefully pointing the barrel of said death dealer in the maw of their crimson cloud producing face.

It is glorious.

It is impossible to have two identical experiences playing LEFT 4 DEAD.  Implemented is an AI Director, who adjusts all kinds of factors (difficulty setting, player skill, player health) and commands legions of the undead to rush from unpredictable directions.  There are only 4 campaigns in the game (levels) at present, but their level design is open ended enough to allow for an astronomical combination of attack approaches and retreats.  This is where the tales of experience emerge.  If you’re like me and play games with people you work with, I assure you that the next morning will be filled with conversation that will ring as nonsense to the unfamiliar, “Fucking witches, man.  Sitting right outside the safe zone.” or, if you happen to be me, “We were on the chopper and Louis was swarmed on the ramp.  I had to zoom in and put him out of his misery.”

LEFT 4 DEAD’s difficulty ranges from breeze to formidable to seven nation army.  If you’re a fan of FPS, normal is too easy, advanced is just challenging enough to die a few times, and expert is an absurd black hole in to which all of your futile time will be sucked.  To put it in perspective, the same campaign took thirty minutes to run through on normal, an hour ish on advanced and over two hours on expert to get only half way through the level before giving up and changing the difficulty to advanced.  But the play is so addicting that I will return again and again until I’ve beaten it on expert.

In addition to the co-op campaign, there is a co-op versus mode in which 4 survivors and 4 undead battle each other across the maps.  It is a unique mode, to say the least, which provides for a pleasant alternative perspective on it all.  I haven’t played versus but once, however this is only because I’m addicted to the campaign mode.  To be honest, I am also addicted to shooting zombies in their doomed faces until I make it rain red.

Naturally exploding zombie heads is not sufficient enough on its own to warrant such Romero matching claims as previously mentioned.  The mechanics of the game are fantastic, sure, but the experience of it all rises above pointing and clicking.  Even without a concrete plot, LEFT 4 DEAD has managed to simulate to the core the notion of apocalypse better than any game I have ever played.  [And that is a statement from someone who considers the original FALLOUT to be the apex of interactive media]  Valve manages this feat by banishing scripted events, allowing the storyline to unfold randomly each time.  This combined with the variety of undead and boss undead you face and LEFT 4 DEAD has become an energetic zombie adventure with friends that is going to take a long, long time to get old.


comments are closed
  1. December 2nd, 2008 | 10:29 am | #1

    I’m thinking we should have just pooled our reviews into one.

    Either that or just tape a whole scenario on normal and just throw in our own ‘director’s commentary’, heh.

  2. December 2nd, 2008 | 10:37 am | #2

    Have you had a chance to play versus mode yet? I haven’t myself, but am interested in seeing how it works.

  3. December 2nd, 2008 | 11:29 am | #3

    I’ve played it very briefly, John. Playing as the undead is a lot of fun, but the survivors still seemed to be at a huge advantage (or maybe all us undead just sucked).

    It’s 4 v 4 and the undead are randomly selected as a hunter, boomer, smoker or tank. You can see through all of the darkness and even see the survivors through the walls (so long as they’re making noise). It has a very clever spawn mode in which you invisibly position yourself in as best a way as possible to attack the survivors.

    But again, I have so much fun just blasting zombies that I’ve spent maybe only 25 minutes playing versus.

  4. December 2nd, 2008 | 3:50 pm | #4

    I haven’t played much myself, I found it very awkward and clunky the first time I tried it. But, as I am an achievement-whore I will undoubtedly get into it more.

    And no, the survivors have a HUGE advantage when fighting the undead. Remember, the undead aren’t created to be more powerful than the survivors, it is just the sheer number that are supposed to overwhelm their prey (i.e. ants or something).

  5. December 2nd, 2008 | 4:30 pm | #5

    Thanks guys. I was thinking it could be pretty interesting to play on the other side. (This from the guy who can’t convince himself to learn any Zombie skills in Urban Dead. Ha.)

    Then again, I spend far more time *thinking* about playing games than actually doing so, so you can take that for what it’s worth.

  6. Brian
    December 2nd, 2008 | 6:07 pm | #6

    Matt may be on to something…
    A game where you control a colony of ants with the purpose of taking over the world. You start off killing grasshoppers and lizards and things but eventually the colony grows to where you can kill dogs and babies. You are never powerful enough to kill full grown adults, but the idea is that you kill all the babies in the world so in 90 years or so all humans are dead. It’ll be called ANTZ and hopefully we can get Sly Stallone to voice one (or all) of them.

    This is almost as good as my CALL CENTER idea which Peter pretended to ignore but actually stole and is currently writing as his follow up to LAN PARTY MASSACRE (he did that one right?).

  7. R.J. Sayer
    December 4th, 2008 | 6:27 pm | #7

    wrong Peter, DAY OF THE DEAD is the greatest zombie experience since DAWN OF THE DEAD.

  8. Cut it Down
    December 5th, 2008 | 6:41 am | #8

    Thanks for starting on video game reviews. At first I was hesitant “what are video games doing on my movie review site” but after some thought, I realized that Im getting a honest game review from a trusted source. A rare find these days.

  9. December 5th, 2008 | 1:53 pm | #9

    Brian, I’d see Call Center for no other reason than that’s what I do…

    RJ, /agree

    Cut it Down, another good site to trust with reviews is pretty fair and it seriously lacks all the “lol” content on most sites these days.

  10. Brian
    December 5th, 2008 | 2:59 pm | #10

    Thanks for the support Matt. Seriously though, wouldn’t people love a slasher movie involving the killing of telemarketers (no offense)? How can that fail? With your insider knowledge we can make this work.

  11. Brian
    December 5th, 2008 | 3:00 pm | #11

    My feelings are a little hurt nobody commented on my ANTZ idea.

  12. December 5th, 2008 | 6:24 pm | #12

    Your feelings would have been hurt more if they had. Ooo, burn.

    In all seriousness, I’d play it, but only if done very well. And if destroying babies wasn’t actually the ultimate goal.

  13. Brian
    December 5th, 2008 | 7:32 pm | #13


  14. December 6th, 2008 | 1:14 am | #14

    Well, when I say Call Center I mean in terms of IT. People call me because their computer is broke.

    As for ANTZ, there is an idea (somewhat similar) already out there. It’s called “Deadly Creatures” you play as a scorpion and tarantula and engage in brutal combat with other insects and stuff. It has some real big story and features the voices of Dennis Hopper AND Billy Bob Thorton. God damn I wish I was lying.

  15. Brian
    January 2nd, 2009 | 9:41 am | #15

    Did any of you bastards get this game for 360? I just picked it up.

  16. January 2nd, 2009 | 11:22 am | #16

    I know John has it for the 360.

  17. Brian
    January 2nd, 2009 | 11:58 am | #17

    John, if you can take time away from your drum lessons (I just returned from…you must really like Will Smith), add me as a friend and we can kill zombies and talk about how great is.

  18. Brian
    January 2nd, 2009 | 11:59 am | #18

    I guess you would need my screen name (or whatever it is called these days): poodfoison

  19. January 2nd, 2009 | 6:04 pm | #19

    Brian, I sent you a friend invite. Not that I’m online playing that much, but you never know.

    Gamertag: misfit13b –> m13b

    (I was always more of a Jazzy Jeff guy.)

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