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Review: Left 4 Dead
By Julie

When humanity is finally confronted with the zombie apocalypse (note that I said “when”, not “if”), I would very much prefer for those zombies to be like the ones in Left 4 Dead.  Never have I seen a zombie go down with less of a fight.  Usually in zombie games a few shots (or one well-aimed head shot) are required to slay the undead.  In L4D, you could shoot a zombie in the toe, and it would die.  Oh no, I only clipped it in the shoulder!  No wait, it’s okay, that did it.

I don’t mean to suggest that L4D wasn’t challenging.  It was, but the challenge comes not from the difficulty in killing each individual zombie, but the fact that this particular brand of zombie prefers to travel in swarms.  Not groups, not packs, not even gangs, but giant swarms.  It may seem like no big deal to kill something that dies no matter where you hit it, but when you’ve emptied an entire magazine, and there are still 50 zombies rushing at you, things can get a little crazy.

Left 4 Dead, as its name suggests, is a survival horror game.  (You might also have figured that out by cleverly noticing that I’ve used the word “zombie” eight times already in this review.)   However, unlike most titles in this genre, it’s co-op multiplayer.  You (and by you, I mean me), might think that the “4” in Left 4 Dead means this is a four player game, and you would be right.  At least, you would be sort of right.  If you check the back of the box, you will notice that it’s actually for 1-2 Players.  Confused?  So were we.  Every ad for this game everywhere, not to mention the cover, with a giant number 4, and a hand holding up only 4 fingers, screams 4-player co-op.  However, only if you have xbox live.  If you don’t, and you don’t think to check the box before going to buy two more 360 controllers, you will end up feeling stupid.  Trust me.

Once you get over the fact that you can’t actually play with four players, or you crazily decide to subscribe to xbox live, the campaign part of the game goes something like this:

There are four different campaigns, and each one has five chapters.  The protagonists are four people who were thrown together by chance when the apocalypse hit, and now have to battle their way to some sort of rescue.  There’s a female college student, a grizzled army veteran, a crazy white trash biker, and an office worker.  If you’re playing offline, you can control up to two of these characters (split screen), or if you’re online, you can team up with the noobs on xbl for some four player action.  In addition to the generic swarming zombie, there are four specialty zombies who take varying amounts of extra effort to kill.  There’s a zombie who pukes on you, and his delicious barf smell attracts the zombie hordes.  He is easy to kill, but it’s pretty annoying if he hits you before he dies. It is hilarious to watch  a stream of enemies run by in front of you to attack someone who got hit by him, though.  There is also a giant hulking tank zombie who will bash the crap out of you, and is really, really hard to kill.  The other two I get confused with each other, but one of them can grab you with his tongue from far away, and the other can jump on you from really far away.  One of them releases a poisonous gas when killed. Those are the four playable special zombies (if you have xbl), but there is a fifth type, called the witch, who is also hard to kill, and goes berserko crazy if you disturb her.  If you sneak past her, she’ll ignore you, but if you shoot her by accident while fighting other infected, or shine a flashlight on her, she will own you.

Instead of being attracted by brains, like a normal respectable zombie, the enemies in L4D are attracted to loud noises.  There are instances in each campaign where you will have to activate some device that makes a lot of noise.  At that point, zounds of zombies will start pouring out of every doorway/tunnel/window/skylight in the area.  Shooting a car and accidentally setting off the alarm also results in being zombie swarmed.  The end of each campaign consists of fighting off wave after wave of undead while waiting for a helicopter/truck/whatever to come rescue you.

It’s almost unfair of me to review this game, since I feel I only really experienced a fraction of what it was meant to offer.  When you play online, you can play as one of the four skilled zombies, battling it out with four human players, and unfortunately, I will never have the opportunity to do this.  Nor will I have a chance to run a campaign without dealing with stupid AI controlled partners that kill-steal and use up health packs on other AI people who then immediately die.  Go ahead and ask Chris what he thinks of Louis.  I dare you.

The elements of the game that would have made me love it to death if I could have played with real people were the same things that made it not as fun to play with AI partners.  The system of death and revival by teammates, of rescuing your teammates from zombies who are pinning them down, and healing each other were innovative and well executed.  Being incapacitated, bleeding out on the floor while using your pistols to down zombies and waiting for someone to revive you was awesome, and I wish I could have experienced it with a team of four friends.  Also, it’s hard to tell a computer player to cover an entrance to a hideout.  They instead usually prefer to jump off a roof into 100 zombies, use up a health pack, and then die.

If you have xbox live, I would recommend that you buy this game (or that you cancel xbox live).  Playing through the campaigns with just two players, I could see how amazing it would be to play through them with an entirely human team and no AI.  I can’t give an opinion on what it’s like to play as a zombie who barfs on people, but I imagine it would be pretty cool.  So if you’re one of those gamers who doesn’t mind playing online with strangers, you will probably love this game.  If, however, you are like me, and you would rather have a railroad spike hammered up your nose, rent it for the weekend, finish the campaign, and be done with it.  It’s still fun, but not enough to bother owning if you’re not going to play online.

Also, on an unrelated note, I have some unsolicited advice for you all: Don’t always believe everything you read.

It’s too bad that the offline story is maxed out at two players and that it is so short.  It does make an otherwise buyable game into a weekend rental for those of us who are XBox Live disabled.  I must admit I did have fun playing it all night long and into the next day and sometimes I do find games too long, so maybe this is the right kind of game for me.  Maybe I’m just being indecisive.

One thing is for sure, Left 4 Dead isn’t just another run-of-the-mill zombie game.  It doesn’t take the basic survival-horror formula and add one new interesting element to make it justifiable as a new game.  It doesn’t turn the genre on its head, either.  I liken it a bit to Space Invaders in my mind, where the endless waves of enemies just keep grinding you down…but in an enjoyable way.

Also of note, I found this interesting look at the behind the scenes of the game’s box art design.  It’s a look at the man behind the curtain that the video game industry isn’t famous for providing, so it’s definitely worth the short read.

Finally, my favourite part of Julie’s post: ‘zounds of zombies’.  Brilliant.
4 Comments • Comments RSSTrackBack URI
  1. kdogoblingbling
    2009-04-16 10:53

    So Chris, what do you think of Louis?

  2. Prince of Space
    2009-04-16 12:47

    Playing as a zombie that throws up on people is pretty awesome, I must say. So is playing over Xbox Live with friends of yours as four of you navigate the levels on the tougher difficulty levels. I’d volunteer to play with you guys, but you seem to hate online fun. Or at least paying for it, which is understandable. PC version?

  3. NawtSoMuch
    2009-05-01 9:33

    Resident Evil 5 gameplay doesn’t hold up anymore.

  4. 2009-05-01 12:29

    Well that is sad to hear. What’s wrong with it?

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