Over the years, many game series involving the living dead have hit it big; Resident Evil, Stubbs the Zombie, and Dead Rising to name a few. It would just seem that we have some obsession with blowing the crap out of what was once dead. But, as with what they did to first-person shooters with Half-Life, Valve came along and blew that all out of the effing water. Hit the jump for my full review.
The graphics in Left 4 Dead are awesome. The bodies look realistic, there’s lots of variety in the zombie types (I’ve honestly rarely ever ran into the same one in a campaign, special zombies withstanding), and the visuals really do a good job in pulling you into the game. The character design is realistic and well-done, the environments look awesome, and the guns look like, well, guns. I really have nothing bad to say here. It’s just fucking beautiful.
The sound design is superb as well. The voice actors for the main characters are pretty awesome (Though Louis’ character has a noticeable inflection to his voice, hence the famous GRABBIN’ PEELS joke.) and the zombies sound great. The music in the game, however, is where it really shines. The game is designed to where whenever a special zombie is around or about to appear, certain audio cues tip you off to it. A boomer triggers a sort of comical track, the kind of music you’d expect to hear in a cartoon when a villain was around. Smokers trigger a sort of on-edge piano piece. The Tank starts a very cool sounding intro to his combat music, with tense sounds that are designed to get you on edge before the battle. And the Witch’s music, which you hear after you hear her vehement crying, just plain freaks me the fuck out. Which is great, because that’s what it’s supposed to do.
Left 4 Dead has awesome gameplay. Pure and simple. The majority of each campaign is spent running through the ruins of an infected city, blowing zombies up and avoiding the dangerous special zombies (more on them later). However, at least once in each campaign you will encounter certain “crescendo events” which require you to trigger some sort of noisy object or contraption to continue on your merry way. These events turn into a gauntlet of running zombies and near-death moments as you wait on the edge of your seat for that damn elevator to hurry the fuck up and get here, or for the fucking door to open already so you can run to apparent safety.
Each campaign plays out in five different chapters, each one involving the survivor’s quest for salvation in this hell on Earth. Each of the first four involves the survivor’s attempts to reach a safe house, marked by a large, red door with a house painted next to it. Each of these safe houses serves as protection, allowing you to heal, grab weapons, and refill your ammo. The final of the five chapters involves what is basically a huge “crescendo event”, in which you must trigger help and protect yourself from two huge hordes of zombies and two Tanks. Each of these campaigns is damn fun. I honestly can’t pick a favorite; they’re all that fucking good.
Left 4 Dead doesn’t just have your plain reanimated corpses. The virus seems to have transformed some of them into one of five different special zombies:
- Boomer: The boomer is a large, bloated zombie that basically runs around and tries to vomit on the players. As the game will constantly remind you, boomer bile attracts zombies. Shooting it can be dangerous too, as the boomer explodes when shot, showering any survivors in the explosion with it’s contents. Players have to learn to either take these guys out from afar or melee them back before shooting them, else they’ll get over-run real damn fast.
- Hunter: The hunters are small, agile little bastards. Always easily identifiable by their light-blue hooded sweatshirts and their loud shrieks and growls, hunters are annoying as all hell. They’ll try to pounce on our hapless survivors, rending their flesh with their claws when they manage to hit a target. Players will need to react fast when a hunter has one of their friends, as they can quickly take out a survivor if not dealt with.
- Smoker: The smoker is a tall humanoid with a huge, nasty tongue that has the ability to suck in survivors, dealing damage every second they’re ensnared. While they’re easy to kill, smokers like to hang out on top of buildings or in windows, where it’s harder for them to hit you. Players will need to react to a smoker quickly, seeing as how a fast player can shoot a smoker when ensnared before they are swept off of their feet.
- Tank: The tank is one nasty mother fucker. His presence is made obvious by the low, evil music and his snarls and growls. He storms out towards the survivors, trying to smack them and take them out quickly. Tanks add a huge level of teamwork to the game, as they require a group of survivors to gang up and use strategy, rather than brute force, to kill these guys.
- Witch: The witch is, by far, the most dangerous of all the special zombies. Normally she sits in a hallway or a room, crying to herself. But if you flash a light on her, shoot her, walk past her too close, or even look at her too long, she becomes enraged and flings herself at whoever woke her, knocking them down in one hit. It’s not too hard to kill a witch, but she really becomes dangerous when paired with other special zombies.
Making the trip from point A to point B in Left 4 Dead is made even harder by the AI Director; a new feature Valve has developed especially for this game. I don’t understand a lot of the intricacies of the Director, but one thing is for sure: His job is to rip you a new one. And painfully. If you, say, stay in one place too long, he capitalizes on this and hurls zombies at you until you get moving. Get separated from your team? Enjoy fighting off a horde alone. He even knows when you’re doing too good and starts throwing special zombies at you left and right. The Director makes for some great stories about how you’re doing just fine, killing everything in your path, and then the bastard throws two tanks at you. It definitely adds a great feeling of urgency to the game and manages to ramp up the difficulty when things are getting too easy.
Of course, the true beauty of Left 4 Dead is in it’s multiplayer. The game was designed specifically for co-operative play over Steam, and it shows. While the AI of the survivors is fairly decent, it just doesn’t compare to a good team. The game offers friends-only settings or open games, for those of us who don’t have many friends with the game. Even though the griefing community has grown quickly for Left 4 Dead, Valve has finally, FINALLY, implemented a built-in votekick feature, along with votes on stopping the current campaign, changing difficulty on the fly, and changing the campaign. Left 4 Dead also marks the rollout of the much-publicized Steamcloud feature, which saves your preferences to the Steam servers, making game reinstalls much easier.
All in all, Left 4 Dead is a fucking masterpiece. If you own a computer capable of running it, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.
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