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Left 4 Dead (PC) Review
Posted by Chris Vicari on 11.21.2008





Left 4 Dead
Developer - Valve Corporation
Publisher - Valve Corporation
Genre - Cooperative First-Person Shooter
Players - 1-8
Rated - M for Mature
Platform - PC (Also on Xbox 360)

After years of anticipation, the zombie apocalypse is finally unleashed. The zombie sensation brought to you by Valve, a PC developer known for releasing classics and revitalizing genres, awaits you. Grab your guns, recruit a few battle-hardened friends, and brush up on the Zombie Survival Guide, because after playing Left 4 Dead, there is no going back. Your chances of survival without screaming “Holy shit that’s awesome!” are slim to none. Take a deep breath and avert your flashlight, because we’re going in.

Gameplay

Left 4 Dead is a co-operative first-person shooter set two weeks after all semblance of humanity is extinguished at the hands of relentless “infected” zombies. Save for four survivors, nobody remains. “Starring” as either Louis, a wise-cracking office worker, Francis, a tough biker, Zoey, a young woman from a wealthy family, and Bill, a hardened Vietnam vet, you’re placed with three other human or A.I.-controlled characters in a cinematic backdrop playing to such films as Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, and 28 Days Later. Armed with shotguns and machine guns, make-shift pipebombs and Molotov cocktails, your task isn’t to combat the infinite hordes of rampaging undead, but to simply survive. A simple plot, yet very effective.

Valve developed Left 4 Dead from the ground up as a pure online experience. While you have the opportunity to play alongside three A.I.-controlled bots in single-player, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the experiences you’ll have playing co-operatively with three other people. The game just comes alive when you’re covering, battling, and interacting with three responsive individuals. Left 4 Dead is definitely a game best played in groups, because it’s the only way you can survive. If a teammate sustains enough damage and becomes incapacitated, only a fellow team member can revive them. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

During each of the game’s four scenarios, you must survive long enough to reach safe houses, located at the end of each level, leading to an eventual last stand before rescue. Along the way, you’ll face endless hordes of undead pouring out of windows, knocking down doors, and making your life a living Hell. Each scenario is presented just like a movie, and at the start there’s a movie poster showcasing the cast and who's playing. If you manage to escape with your life, the “credits” begin to roll displaying statistics and information about the match. I was hoping for a cinema showcasing a daring escape, similar to the opening video, but no dice. Not a big deal though.

For our amusement, if a teammate doesn’t survive the ordeal, the film will then be dedicated in their memories. At the end, one final message is shown detailing how many zombies were killed during the making of the film. It’s funny touches like this which gives the game immense charm despite taking place in a bleak atmosphere of an apocalyptic pandemic. Even the scenario titles along with their one-liner slogans are humorous too. There's No Mercy, where you make your way to a hospital, Dead Air, which requires you to fight to an airport to catch a plane, Death Toll has you fight to reach a dock, and Blood Harvest, where you have to make a stand at a farmhouse.

To play as a team is to survive.


The most common enemies you'll be fighting are the mindless infected denizens of the area, and they're absolutely frightening as they charge at you full tilt when aware of your existence. At random intervals throughout, depending on difficulty and how fast or slow your group is progressing, you’ll experience what are called “surges,” and these are definitely the most entertaining portions of the game. When a surge is coming, the music turns dramatic, and not soon after, the shrieks and wails emanating from massive waves of undead soon follow. The only way I can adequately describe how awesome this game becomes when these surges occur – and believe me, it took me 15 minutes to come up with it – is by saying the following, “*Music plays* Oh crap. *pause* OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! HOLY SHIT! SHOOT! SHOOT!”

Adding to the layer of immense challenge – if there wasn’t enough already – Left 4 Dead also features five distinct infected bosses, and they certainly don’t make things any easier. You’ll face off against the Boomer, a bloated zombie which I call “Surge on demand” because their projectile vomit rouses any nearby undead, followed by the Hunter, an agile infected that leaps great distances to pounce you. Next up is the Smoker which uses its long tongue to pull survivors away from the group, and spews a puff of green smoke when killed, and then the Tank, a Hulk-style infected that has the strength to throw concrete blocks and cars while taking a ton of bullets to die. Definitely the most challenging of the infected. Last but not least, the Witch, a passive infected with long, sharp claws used to kill the individual who stirs it. Witches are easily spotted due to their distinctive crying and the eerie music playing in its presence. They're really creepy.

I don't want your brains, I just want to beat the crap outta you!


The biggest star of the Left 4 Dead cast definitely lies with the game’s A.I. Director, a faceless entity bent on making your experience as heart-pounding as possible. Like a kid pulling the wings off a fly, the Director will kick you while you’re down, and then kick you some more. The Director is a dynamic system which sets game difficulty, pacing, and dramatics. It will gauge how well or poor your group is performing and reacts to it. If you have a tendency to burn through ammo like water, rest assured the Director will place a cache of ammunition at the next convenient location. If you’re laying waste to hundreds of zombies without sustaining a scratch, expect hundreds more and increased visits from the game’s five bosses as well. When playing on the expect difficulty level, don’t expect much, if any, leniency. The greatest aspect of the Director is making all spawn points for infected, weapons, and health pick-ups completely random, ensuring no game plays the same way twice.

Also shipping with Left 4 Dead is an eight-player Versus mode, allowing four players to assume the role of the boss-infected and they must prevent the Survivors from escaping with their lives. Infected players are randomly assigned a specific boss to play as, but they’ll also be fighting alongside the A.I.-controlled infected as well. Due to the sheer power of some of the boss-infected, there are a few restrictions when they’re played in Versus. The respawn time for the infected is long, sometimes last 19-24 seconds and just like in singleplayer, they aren't very resilient. The Tank only spawns once per level – excluding the finales – and the player will lose control of the Tank if its “Frustration Meter” fills up by not fighting survivors. The Witch is the only boss-infected that cannot be controlled by players. Sadly, Versus mode is only playable on the No Mercy and Blood Harvest campaign maps.

They will come when you least suspect it.


While playing as a boss-infected, you spawn ahead of the survivors and can observe a marker for specific paths allowing you to set up ambushes. Throughout levels, infected-only ways up buildings are marked with symbols, which can then be climbed and used for ambushes. Coupled with their immunity to fall damage, the scales are certainly tipped in the zombie side’s favor. No matter what side you play on though, Versus mode is still a tremendous blast to play. Because tactics utilized against A.I. bosses no longer work when they’re controlled by an intelligent individual, playing as a survivor becomes even more hectic and fun.

Despite my resounding praise for this game, I do have a few criticisms for it. First and foremost, the in-game menu system is overly clunky and it definitely feels console-esque with the lack of in-game server browser. During peak hours, it is also very difficult finding a dedicated server to play on as you’ll be forever stuck in the “finding a dedicated server” queue. The game attempts to ease the effort to find a server, but it makes it even more difficult and time costly. You also never know how many servers are open unless you view the server browser by typing the console command, “showserverbrowser.” Valve should have just stuck with what works and utilized the server browser instead, which has been used for nearly every PC multiplayer game.

Left 4 Dead also suffers from a lack of storyline, as you aren’t alerted to how the infection happened, you’re just basically plopped into the thick of it. The game also feels short thanks to a brisk four campaigns consisting of five levels each. Thanks to the Director’s ability of randomizing everything though, the game has massive replayability. I also remember reading Left 4 Dead is on target to receive massive amounts of DLC, so that certainly helps too.

Left 4 Dead is one of the best games I’ve played in years. Pitch-perfect co-operative play, extremely fast-paced and entertaining action, and a quality only few companies such as Valve can attain puts Left 4 Dead on track to being named Game of the Year, or at the very least, Shooter of the Year. And I can’t stop playing it.

Graphics

Admittedly, the Source engine is a little dated these days, but it still does a tremendous job of capturing the look and feel of a zombie apocalypse. The quality of the lighting and the props makes for exceptional ambience. The zombie models are well-detailed, and there is an absolute ton of different zombie looks making it difficult to spot two similar zombies in the same area. Zombie animations are nothing short of spectacular as they lean against walls while passive, scale buildings, and charge at you screaming when they see you. Even how they die is visually appealing. The boss-infected, specifically the Tank and the Witch, are very intimidating. If Left 4 Dead had the chance of being programmed on a more powerful engine, I wouldn’t want that to happen. Why? Fewer zombies, and that’s a big no-no. The Source engine was made for this game.

When you see a Witch, you run. You run your ass off.


Sound

Everything from the game’s music, to the screams of the zombies, and the wails of the Witch possess an absolute breathtaking quality. The first time I heard a Witch, shivers ran up my spine, and the changing musical tone based on the situation made Left 4 Dead all the more gripping. Character voice acting for each of the four survivors is all done well and many individual lines are exceptionally funny. The zombies win the crown here though.

Lasting Appeal

Lasting around 45-80 minutes for each of the four campaigns, depending on difficulty and player skill, the game may feel a tad short. Due to the game’s randomization of nearly everything, save for the environments themselves, Left 4 Dead has immense replayability. I played the demo, which consisted of only two short levels, a grand total of 19 hours, and I didn’t even lose interest. Versus mode is just icing on the cake. Who wouldn’t want to play as a Tank or a Hunter and demolish people?

Fun Factor

If you caught me on the street and asked if Left 4 Dead was fun to play, instead of formulating a proper academic response like a normal human being, I would simply nod my head up and down while flailing my arms about like a crack-head maniac and exclaim, “Good God YES!!!” Left 4 Dead is co-operative play at its absolute best. The game’s fun factor defines perfection. I can’t think of any criticism for the game in this regard and that scares the living crap outta me.

The 411

Game of the Year hands down. Yep, I know, even with all the other blockbusters out there, I still believe Left 4 Dead deserves the crown. As per the review’s subtitle, yes it is sex in video game form. I can’t put it any other way than that. I don’t think there will be a better zombie shooter, ever. If you don’t buy this, I… I… huh!?


Graphics8.7Source engine is a tad dated these days, but it still looks great.411 Elite Award
Gameplay9.5Absolutely awesome. Minus a few critcisms with a lack of story and difficulty finding empty servers, Left 4 Dead shines. 
Sound9.0Great voicework, excellent music and zombies sound awesome. 
Lasting Appeal8.6The four campaigns are a little short, but the randomization, Versus mode, and the fact this game is fun as Hell, extends survivability considerably. 
Fun Factor 10.0The most fun I've had in years. 
Overall9.1   [  Amazing ]  legend


Screenshots
All 17 Left 4 Dead Screenshots





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