Get from A to B while fighting through hoards of zombies. That’s Left 4 Dead in a nut shell. What may be an extremely simple concept on the surface has been turned into a brilliant and deep gameplay experience.
The main premise of Left 4 Dead is the “4” in the title. It’s not just lame “TXT SPK”, it’s a representation of the game’s core feature: Co-op. Co-operation and communication is essential to surviving: if you ran off on your own and you’ll likely be hitting the dirt in a short amount of time, screaming for your teammates to catch up to you.
On top of the standard zombies (well, they’re not actually zombies as they’re simply infected with a new strain of measles, but we can still call them zombies), which run up and smack you if alerted, are a group of special infected. The Hunter jumps on the survivors, rendering them useless while clawing their face off; The Smoker entangles the survivors with his long tongue until someone frees them; The Boomer vomits on people to impair their vision and spawn a hoard of zombies which head straight towards them (along with any other nearby zombies); The Tank spawns rarely (usually once per level, twice during finales) but is a powerhouse of muscles and finally The Witch sits down and cries but is deadly if disturbed.
In the middle of the zombie apocalypse are the four survivors: Bill (a war veteran), Francis (a biker), Louis (a businessman) and Zoey (a nerdy chick). While they all control exactly the same, each one has their own personaliy traits and distinct looks (you’ll rarely mistake them from a zombie – most of the time you shoot at them is ‘accidental’). The best thing about them is their conversations and banter – there are thousands and thousands of spoken lines between them, and they talk amongst themselves quite often. I’m still hearing new things and I’ve had the game for nearly a year.
There are only four campaigns (consisting of 5 levels), which are around 15-30 minutes long if you rush through them on the normal difficulty. It may be small in terms of content, but the AI director makes up for that. Each time you play the game the enemy/weapon/health locations are different. While there are regular spawning spots that you can eventually predict – you can also predict things by listening carefully to the dynamic music – you’ll never have two exact playthroughs. Add to this the achievements and you have a recipe for playing through the levels hundreds of times.
On top of the main campaign mode are versus and survival modes. Versus lets a second group of players attack the survivors (going through one of the campaigns) as the special infected. You spawn as a random infected (Hunter, Smoker or Boomer – someone also gets to control the Tank when it) spawns when you’re killed after a time delay, whereas the survivors only have one life each. Despite a few glitch spots and areas littered with cars (tanks can hit cars, and flying cars instantly incaps any survivor it touches), this mode is extremely well balanced.
Survival mode puts the survivors in particular rooms from the campaign. The objective is simple: Survive for as long as possible. The longer you last, the more special infected soon (it gets to a point where there are multiple Tanks spawning at once). Unforutnately, there are glitches on nearly every level so the leaderboards are useless.
Left 4 Dead is a brilliantly simple-yet-complex game that, while lakcing in content, has massive replay value. It’s suitably fun on the normal difficulty while expert is challenging and yet not frustrating. I would definitely recommend this game if the sequel (out in a few months) didn’t look like it’s going to improve upon the original in every way (except the characters, I’m not keen on them…yet).
Graphics: 7/10 Hardly mind-blowing but it’s easy to tell what everything is.
Audio: 8/10 Dynamic music and lots of banter between survivors.
Gameplay: 8/10 The co-op makes it immense fun.
Length: 6/10 Four short campaigns and a couple of modes.
Re-playability: 9/10 The AI director makes things different every time.