LEFT 4 DEAD
Produced and Developed by Valve Corporation
Given my recent reviews and trailer impressions, it seems only fitting a zombie apocalypse game should come around that I get to review. Being a PC gamer, there is some bias in favor of Valve and everything they make. Ask any PC Gamer and they will agree that Valve makes games for gamers. They share their source code; they encourage the community of gamers to expand on their product and make it better (that’s how Counter-Strike was created.) So, I didn’t want to instantly love the game just because I am in love with the company and their philosophy. Although, it doesn’t matter who made Left 4 Dead because I fucking love it.
Left 4 Dead is a cinematic game with no cinematics. It is fun; plain and simple. It delivers some of the best first-person multiplayer I have been privy to. To be fair I have only played about four hours of Left 4 Dead, and only one scenario. I have not felt every bit of nuance that there is to be felt, but the No Mercy scenario (where the early gameplay videos came from) was a thrilling experience nonetheless.
There are four characters to choose from and there is NO difference on which person you choose. You can either be the old Vietnam vet, the systems engineer for his IT firm, the chick who is a horror movie enthusiast, or the tattooed biker. All characters are ripe for the zombie motion picture. If one of your teammates dies, they are brought back by finding rooms with a survivor ‘trapped’ inside.
Further adding to the cinematic value are the random stop points where your characters will say things that pertain to the situation. Such as the movie enthusiast said aloud, “Fast zombies? I call bullshit, that’s not fair. Where are the slow ones?” These conversations add to the atmosphere without getting old and tiresome. You can always hurt your team, you have been warned. How your characters talk to the people that shot them is humorous and it lets you know who just shot at you. It also is a good reminder for you to duck if you are at the head of the pack trying to get through the plethora of zombies. Your characters reactions to ammo, grenades, health, etc is unique and needed. You come across a pipe bomb in a room and your character shouts ‘Pipe Bombs here!’ to your other teammates. Valve decided to play a mean trick on the user’s this time around: the louder you are on voice chat, the higher the probability of in-game zombies hearing it and running to your position.
Some people have said the Source engine is now getting dated. To them I say, “Piss off.” Graphically it is beaten out by games using the Unreal Engine, but not by much. Perhaps I’m an old codger but I just don’t give a shit about graphics anymore. The ratio of how much better things looked now than two years ago is getting smaller and smaller. I care more about the detail put in. How realistic do things look? How realistic do my character react, move and feel? The answer to all of those is “Very”. The lighting is PHENOMENAL! The illumination is perfect and helps set the mood. Also, your flashlight effects gameplay as it WILL alert zombies and the dreaded ‘witch’ enemy to your position (A good tip is to turn off your flashlight and stay the hell away from witches.)
The evolution of AI and enemy placement has indeed arrived; its name is the AI Director. The AI Director creates a different game each and every time by creating a random group of zombies at random locations by factoring in your position in relation to everyone else, your health and ammunition (and your squad’s). This allows for a different run through each and every time. After restarting an area several times with my squad-mates, the placement of zombies and where the horde would attack was different every single time, just as Valve promised it would be.
With the AI Director randomly creating patches of zombies you will be thrust into “Oh shit!” moments more than you will want. When a teammate is knocked down, someone needs to help them up or they die. At the end of a scenario, when you are doing your best to protect yourself and you finally manage to beat the last zombie and the helicopter lands…you move your ass. Just because the helicopter has landed doesn’t mean you have won. You HAVE to hurry as the biggest swarm you’ve seen is coming right for you. If your character isn’t on the helicopter and everyone else is…well, you are left for dead (groan). If one person survives it’s considered a success, and the credits will roll while giving random stats for people throughout the game.
Here’s another tip: You are not Rambo. You cannot just go off and do your own thing and think you can single handedly win the round. This is a cooperative game. You have to rely on your squad. I found myself being the leader is the campaigns I ran through because other people were scared and didn’t know what to do. When they got in trouble I bailed them out, when I got in trouble they bailed me out. It could be the best cooperative game I’ve ever played if you want me to be honest with you. Don’t confuse this with the best MULTIPLAYER game; I’m talking about how you and your companions help each other out to get through the game. The ‘bond’ you share with your squad makes the cinematic feeling all the more realistic.
One of the complaints of the game is that each scenario is too short and maps seem too simplistic, and I’ll have to agree. A scenario will take you about an hour to finish with no deaths. The game comes packaged with five scenarios, so it is a five hour game to beat everything (if there are no deaths). I can only retort with that Left 4 Dead is less about beating everything and more about replay value with your friends. It is meant to be a game you and your friends can jump right into and beat. There is also the infinite possibility of user created and Valve created content that is going to be released for Left 4 Dead.
I think the biggest question to the game thus far is how long will people be playing this? Will we still be playing Left 4 Dead in a year? 6 months? Next week? It’s hard to say. With this being a multiplayer game, most of the fun comes from the people you play with. I can honestly see myself playing this for as long as Valve supports it and there are people to play it with.
If you don’t have any friends, then AI bots will take their place. Honestly, the bots are good. The one bot that replaced a person who had to leave was helping and getting their fair share of kills, so it’s not a hindrance to have a bot. Also, a bot will INSTANTLY take the place of a party member that drops, so there is no downtime. Another boon is that a human will take over any bot if someone wants to jump in your game.
If you have a PC or Xbox 360, and enjoy killing zombies (and can stomach playing a first-person shooter with an Xbox 360 controller) then you should buy Left 4 Dead. It’s the best multiplayer game I have played since I quit World of Warcraft, so take that for what it’s worth.