GAME REVIEW- Left 4 Dead (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, December 19, 2008
If you love zombies, and really, who amongst us does not love zombies, then you have found, in Left 4 Dead, one of life’s few simple pleasures. While evocative of just about every major zombie film, what really centers this zombie zenith is its heart, which has clearly been pumping to the beat of George Romero. While they run like hell once they get a whiff of you (like their newer counterparts), they seem to share the same soul (or lack thereof) with their older kin. It’s obvious that the game has been lovingly crafted by people who dig zombies as much as you or I.
Star in your own Zombie Apocalypse!
You start the game as one in a team of four. Your mission thorough-out the entire game is to make it from one safe house to another.
The game is broken up into four main “movies” (missions) within these movies are 5 levels. If you make it to the end of a mission you get rescued and the movie credits, complete with your mission stats, begin to roll. That’s about as complicated as Left 4 Dead gets.
An Army of 4; A new level of Co-op A.I.
While not perfect, the A.I. for your computer controlled teammates is phenomenal. Throughout the game I couldn’t help but keep thinking how much richer the experience is being part of a team instead of going solo; they really do have your back! They also take ammo and health packs when they become available which enhances the human-like experience. Make no mistake, Left 4 Dead is freaking scary. In fact, the game is so grim, oppressive and representative of what I imagine the inevitable, real zombie apocalypse to be like that to have to go through Left 4 Dead alone could become a fairly depressing and overly frightening experience but because you’re progressing as part of a team, there’s a sense of camaraderie which helps fuel the motivation to survive. That’s a pretty impressive thing for a video game to accomplish.
The co-op play, unlike many other co-op games, is essential just for the sheer number of enemies that attack you at any given time. There is no way one player would ever achieve victory with those odds. Being attacked by what seems to be hundreds of zombies at a time is a fairly startling (and frequent) occurrence.
If you want to co-op it with a visiting friend, you’re going to be limited to split screen. I think it would have been great to have a single screen co-op mode, maybe next time.
Get Them Off Me!
The zombies themselves are a pinnacle of putrid perfection. Their behavior ranges from imbecilic to uncanny and they react in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they’ll stand still facing a wall completely oblivious to your entrance and other times they’ll rush you like the dinner line. Their actions are disturbing and unsettling and so solidly capture the zombie zeitgeist that Left 4 Dead becomes an essential experience for fans of the zombie genre.
The settings are all top-notch and take full advantage of the scenario; hospitals with zombie doctors and patients (replete with butt-showing hospital gowns), dark woods with zombies flanking on all directions and one of my favorites, a walk through a cornfield that is really quite frightening. To keep things even spicier there are four types of zombie “bosses” that you’ll encounter throughout all your missions. I don’t want to spoil the fun, I’ll let you discover them on your own but one of them involves vomit.
The graphics aren’t particularly high tech but, like the rest of the game, they serve a higher, minimalist purpose. Of particular note is the music which follows in the footsteps of classic 70’s style horror soundtracks. It’s absolutely appropriate and has become my favorite horror game soundtrack of all time. The piano, the vocalizing, it’s all done right and, like the rest of the game, without overproduction. It’s so scary that it makes me want to stick a fork in my brain (in the good way).
The Zombie Apocalypse is Now Online
When you want to really get the party started, go online to become part of a group of four live human players. It's fantastic. My teammates and I had a blast trying out different techniques to beat the last level of a mission. You have to work together to survive and that makes it a unique game amongst Xbox Live's free for all kill fests. If the typical Xbox Live immaturity ensues, you and your teammates can vote a person off the team. Perhaps I’ve been lucky so far but I haven’t had any problems with “douchbaggery” in my several rounds of online play.
There’s a versus online mode as well which enables you to battle zombies played by humans or play as a zombie yourself but the human side is so strongly advantaged against the zombies that I didn’t find it nearly as enjoyable as playing live co-op nor could My ADHD tolerate the 20 second zombie respawn.
Living Dead Roundup
Left 4 Dead is my second favorite game of the year (after Fallout 3). I find myself compelled to keep going back to play more. While I regularly tempted to test myself on the harder difficulty level and to try and gather new achievements, the game doesn’t offer a particularly deep experience. Game play grows a bit repetitive and each movie/mission is just the very same game play on a different map. I’m hoping that new online modes, maps and weapons will be offered in the future.
I also experienced occasional glitching such as seeing an undead arm flailing through a closed door or, when out on a ledge, watching your teammate take a step off the ledge only to remain in mid-air.
All of these are relatively minor quibbles as the game succeeds so well at what it sets out to do; plop you smack dab in the middle of an honest-to-goodness-mess-with-your-head zombie apocalypse.
Mania Grade: A
Videogame: Left 4 Dead
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Platform: Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: Valve Software
Replay Value: B-
Online Play: B