Left 4 Dead PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Saturday, 31 October 2009 21:07
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Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Official Site and Opening Cinematic
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language)
PEGI 18+ (Game contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
It must be nice to review videogames professionally. You’re paid to do it, you get your games for free, and you can post your review before the title is even available to the public. The advantage to being an amateur reviewer, however, is that your articles, being retrospective, can take into account the final product, after all the patches, expansions, and user generated content are taken into account. Games like Thief: Deadly Shadows and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines would have scored lower if I’d reviewed them at release, and the same is true here.

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They’re coming to get you, Barbara!
Left 4 Dead is a four-player, cooperative, first person shooter set during an I Am Legend-style viral outbreak (mutated, fast-moving zombies). At launch the game featured four campaigns, two of which also supported a competitive Versus mode. The first DLC from Valve not only implemented Versus mode for the remaining campaigns, but also introduced a new Survival mode based on significant locations from the campaigns as well as one original setting. The latest DLC, meanwhile, introduced a mini-campaign with full support for Versus and Survival play.

Campaign mode can be played either alone or with friends. A standard campaign consists of a series of four normal levels followed by a fifth and final level known as a finale. Presented as movies, complete with theatrical poster and closing credits, the objective is for the Survivors (the player characters) to move from safe room to safe room before contacting a rescue vehicle for extraction. The new mini-campaign, meanwhile, only has one level preceding the finale, but is intended more for Versus mode than it is to compete with the rest of the campaigns.

In the multiplayer-only Versus mode, players are divided into two teams of four. Each team takes turns controlling either the Survivors or the Infected (more on them later), points being awarded based on how close the former are able to get to the safe room before being killed by the latter. In a similar vein, Survival mode drops players into a single locale and tasks them with holding out for as long as possible against an endless wave of Infected. Like the campaigns, Survival can be played as either a single player or cooperative experience.

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Staying alive's as good as it gets. 
There are two things the Survivors can count on: 1) immunity to the Infection, and 2) each other. Identical in function but not in form, their colorful personalities are brought to life with solid writing and voice acting. Bill, a grizzled Vietnam veteran, is the de facto leader of the group. Junior systems analyst Louis is the most out of his element—zombie computers notwithstanding—whereas college student and horror film aficionado Zoey is right at home here. Lastly there’s Francis, the gruff but lovable biker who never met a vest he didn’t like.

The Survivors don’t have much in the way of weapons, but it’s enough to get the job done. Tier 1 weapons include a submachine gun and pump-action shotgun, with Tier 2 assault rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, and hunting rifles becoming available later on. Pistols (sporting unlimited ammo) are available in a support role, and can be dual-wielded if a second is found. It’s just strange to see every weapon feature a counterpart except the hunting rifle—there is no Tier 1 rifle to be found (might I suggest an M1 Garand?).

Other equipment includes first aid kits, pain pills (which temporarily restore health and are most useful to regain speed lost due to injury), Molotov cocktails, and pipe bombs built from smoke detectors that will attract the Infected to them. Propane tanks, oxygen cylinders, and gas cans can be relocated and detonated as needed, while the occasional mounted minigun makes for an ideal defensive position (although their ammo is unlimited, they will overheat if used excessively). And when all else fails, the Survivors can melee the Infected in order to push them back. Speaking of…

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You’ve got red on you.
The Infected come in a variety of mutations, but the most numerous by far are the Common Infected. Your standard issue fast zombies, they can be found idle throughout the levels or bearing down on the Survivors in hordes of various sizes. The smallest such hordes are summoned by one of the Special classes of Infected, the Boomer, whose vomit will essentially mark for death any player it hits, not only spawning a horde but also attracting the attention of any idle Infected in the area as well. Worse still, Boomers explode on death, coating anyone in the vicinity with their bile.

Then there are the Hunters and the Smokers. Both mutations are designed to incapacitate the Survivors, forcing players to rely on their teammates to save them. Going it alone when they’re around is not advised. Hunters can leap great distances, pouncing on their victims and pinning them to the ground while they tear away with their claws. Smokers, on the other hand, tend to hang back, using their unnaturally long tongues to ensnare Survivors and drag them away. Their name comes from the fact that when they’re killed they expel a lingering cloud of smoke, obstructing the players’ vision.

Lastly, there are the most rare—and most dangerous—of the Special Infected. The Tank, as the name implies, is a nigh unstoppable behemoth. You either have to hit him with everything you’ve got, or light him on fire and run like hell. The other boss-like enemy is the Witch. The polar opposite of the Tank, she just sits there crying until disturbed (be it by loud noises, bright lights, or even just looking at her). When that happens, you’d better put her down fast or whoever set her off is going to die—on the hardest difficulty setting, a single hit from a Witch will kill you.

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Time to nut up or shut up! 
So all things considered, how does the game play? At first glance you might not understand what all the hubbub’s about, but this is a game whose merits become obvious only after extended playtime. This is in large part thanks to the AI Director, which essentially randomizes the experience each time. Better still, the Director can adapt to the players’ actions. Dillydally too long and you’ll find a horde sent your way to convince you to get moving. Suffer a hard fought battle and the Director might throw you a bone by providing some health packs along your route.

Beyond the randomness, though, the layout of the campaigns themselves is designed to optimize your playing experience. Crescendo events, for instance, break things up by forcing players to defend a position from a very large horde before they can move on. The finales themselves, meanwhile, are essentially a series of such onslaughts alternated with Tank battles. Once the rescue vehicle does arrive, you then have to contend with both a horde and a Tank simultaneously. It isn’t uncommon to escape by the skin of your teeth, assuming you escape at all.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the game’s greatest strength. Assuming you’re playing on the right difficulty setting, Left 4 Dead is one of the few games where it’s just as much fun to lose as it is to win. Watching a carefully conceived plan fall apart usually results in laughs and stories to share with friends, and when you do manage to make it out alive there is a palpable sense of accomplishment. While the game isn’t a masterpiece—there is no central thread really tying it all together—it provides just about as much entertainment as you could possibly expect from a game.

It all comes down to the cooperative nature of the game. You really do need your teammates in order to survive. Pain pills can be passed between players, and health kits directly applied to injured allies. Take too much damage or slip off a ledge, and only another player can get you back on your feet. Get killed, and you’ll respawn in a locked room that can only be opened from the outside. The AI does a good enough job controlling your allies that the game is still fun on your own, but the best experience can only be had playing with real people (preferably ones using voice chat).

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Conclusion
As quality a title as Left 4 Dead is, it originally suffered in terms of quantity. Thankfully, that’s been remedied by the downloadable content Valve has released. Five campaigns with full Versus support and an additional game mode just feels right. Throw in a steady stream of user generated content in the form of new campaigns and standalone maps for the Versus and Survival modes, as well as the promise of more DLC from Valve, and you’ve got a game with some serious legs. Sequel or not, we’ll be playing Left 4 Dead for some time to come.

Game Rated 8/10
 
 

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