Left 4 Dead Review: Check your Fire!
Valve has done it again. “Left 4 Dead” for the XBOX360 and PC brings multiplayer gamers together in, what can only be deemed the best zombie-film-to-game adaptations ever. But wait… it’s not a film, but the chapters are films? … I’m confused!
“Left 4 Dead” wisely chose to go with the “Unbelievably Fast Swarming Infected” zombies of movies like 28 Days and 28 Weeks Later, instead of the plodding, slow-footed zombies of the Night of the Living Dead fame. I believe this is hinted at in the game, as the enemies are referred to as “infected,” rather than zombies. That’s where Valve added the challenge into the game, since it would have been much too easy to beat if you had four human controlled characters up against a mob of the slow moving undead, ala “Dead Rising.”
“L4D” really puts you on the path of hopelessness. For all of you zombie movie fans that always yell, “If that was me I wouldn’t get taken out like that!” You are wrong. Time after time the game surprised us with well placed Boomers or Smokers. What are those? Well that’s another great facet of this game - different kinds of infected. The variety of Infected is limited to six, but they are ruthless, and relentless with each one serving up a different and unique challenge.
The game offers hop-in/hop-out gameplay where you select from one of four central characters: Francis, a tattoo sporting tough guy biker (who’s name is Fran-cis), Louis, as the token black guy (they always die first no?), Bill, the old and wise hardened former veteran, and Zoey, for the female badasses. All of the characters play the same; none of them are faster, stronger, or jump higher. Which is a good thing, as you won’t mind having to choose someone if another player already selected your “favorite.” While not separating the characters by class was a unique decision from Valve, (they could’ve gone the healer, brute, weapons specialist route) they did distinguish each characters personalities substantially. This is felt throughout the banter between the characters as you fight through the missions. The voice acting is pretty good for a game mimicking a genre not known for acting.
What’s also great about this game is that the gameplay encourages wholesale co-operation. If you slip off a ledge, you can’t pull yourself up, a teammate must help you. Also, if one of the infected pins you down with their special move, your friends are the only thing preventing certain death. You are also encouraged to give health packs and first aid pills to one another. Re-spawns are also a pseudo co-op treat, as you can’t just come back into the game. Your teammates must find you and open the door for you to come back into the game.
All this talk has me itching to jump back in, but let me tell you a little about the enemies in this title.
The Horde: These are the “generic” infected. Everyday denizens of the city who just happened to have a bad day. Individually they are easily dispatched, but you’d be a silly fool if you stir up a group of them, which can happen in a surprising amount of ways. If you set off a car alarm in the streets, they come running. If you get spit on by the Boomer, they come running. If you are about to get away and enter the “safe” room… yup they come running. And you better hope that you aren’t low on ammo, or in need of a reload, or they will get you down and stomp the sh#t out of you.
The Boomer: These fat bastards! Oh man that’s what you are going to be saying every time you seem them. EVERY time. They’re as big as they are they are freaking nibble, climbing ladders and jumping off of high places to blow up on you. These guys look like whatever infected them made them swell up and they spew green vomit at you when they see you, and, if it hits, it temporarily blinds you, and the smell attracts the horde instantly. What’s cool about the game’s engine is the zombies will actually run past you and head towards whomever has the ooze on them. Your partners will definitely have to come to your aid if you get caught, but thankfully this only lasts a few seconds. If you see one, shoot first, and ask questions later, and you may be able to avoid a horde attack.
The Hunters: These guys remind me of some of the zombies in the “Resident Evil” series. Their sole goal in undeath is to leap from ceilings or perches and knock a player down. When they’re on top of you, you’re their mercy, defenseless unless a friend knocks him off or kills him. Surprisingly, these are probably the easiest to deal with.
The Smokers: A curious name for an Infected that mostly reminds gamers of the Lickers form “Resident Evil.” These fiends are sly, and wait to catch stragglers of the party. They can be sometimes up to 50 feet away from a player and lash their tongues out and wrap up a player, dragging them away. Only by quickly turning and shooting it before you are wrapped up, or a friend shooting him will it release its’ grip. As a side effect, they tend to cause group hysterics when you’re suddenly being drawn away from the group. A sense of hopelessness overtakes you as you are utterly defenseless and drawn away to imminent death, until someone finds him and takes him out. Luckily quick acting friends can save you.
The Witch: This really should be the BITCH. She’s wailing away in a corner, and if she’s disturbed she’ll take you out with one hit. The best defense from her is firing while backpedalling, and hoping she goes down.
The Tank: Never has their been a more aptly named fiend. This thing literally bowls over everything in its way, and if you run and frustrate it, he’ll just pick up a piece of concrete (or a car) and hurl it at you. The firepower of all four survivors is usually needed to bring down this bad boy. He’s the real deal when it comes to doling out punishment. He’s often surprised the hell out of us by climbing ladders and blowing through walls to get at you.
Therein lies the key to this “Left 4 Dead” game. You aren’t safe anywhere. It’s a feeling that’s prevalent throughout all of the missions. If you close a door they will tear it down. If you climb a ladder they are coming up it too. If you are on a perch the Smoker will wrap you up and bring you down. The only place you can feel okay about yourself is with your back up against a concrete wall, but even then you have to look up for a hole in the ceiling, or gap in the fence. Genius.
There are only four campaigns (for now). I’m really hoping Valve will be releasing additional ones through XBL, or for download via Steam. And I’m saying right now that those new campaigns will be the first MUST BUY for me no questions asked. While it is quite possible to ‘blow’ through the campaigns on easy, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t crank the difficulty up to at least advanced. It’s worth playing through it again, because of the “Director A.I.” Valve implemented, which changes the game each time by not presenting you with the same enemies, weapons, or health packs in the same place during each time.
If you have three other friends, convince them to get this game, as it truly is a multiplayer experience. It’s a totally different game if you try to go it alone.
I give this game: