Left 4 Dead Review
publisher: Valve / EA
developer: Turtle Rock Studios
PIV 3000, 1GB RAM, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Nov 20, 08 (released)
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By now, I'm almost certain most of you are well-acquainted with Left 4 Dead, the zombie themed shooter from Valve Software and Turtle Rock Studios. There's not much doubt about whether you've experienced this type of setting before. Just imagine: zombies everywhere and a small group of people trying desperately to stay alive, even though the odds are obviously against them. That's right, we've all been there before. Left 4 Dead offers something different though. The first time we got our mitts on a playable version of the game was at this year's E3. We were rather impressed with what Valve showed us back then and we had every reason to regard this one as Game of the Year material.
Now, the first thing you should know about L4D is that it provides the best gaming experience when played in multiplayer. There's a single-player is available too, although don't go crashing in solo expecting this to be a Half-Life beater. In truth, the developers didn't put a lot of effort into creating an immersive single-player ride, seeing as there's very little content to sink your teeth into. Also, going through the campaign alone doesn't quite cut it. The moment you are joined with at least one player-controlled character, things get kicked into gear.
L4D was designed around the concept of co-op play. With that in mind, players fight together for survival, pushing through four tough scenarios in which you must reach a number of safe houses all the way to the rescue point. Doing this is fun and challenging. Mind you, things aren't the same if you're playing with bots. The AI does a decent job of helping you in the fight, healing players when necessary, avoiding friendly fire and so on. However, it handles itself clumsily when it needs to take matters into its own hands and the player can't take the lead. For that you need to rely on "live" players.
The four available -- No Mercy, Blood Harvest, Dead Air and Death Toll -- scenarios are present in the form of a cheesy horror movie, which is fine. It makes the gameplay all the more fun, as you rack up those player stats - the number of kills, headshots, and so on. Another thing I admire about this game is the attention to detail, both in terms of design and gameplay. The game gradually becomes harder as you progress through the levels. You'll find each area dark and scary. The overall ambiance is actually quite convincing. As for the gameplay, you can bet your zombie-killing instincts that there will be a lot here to keep you on your toes. While battling foes, each player packs a primary weapon, along with pistols which have unlimited ammo. In addition, there's a choice of special weapons such as highly lethal Molotov cocktails. The real fun ensues when you realize you and your team is low on health. That's when the battle for survival starts. Health packs are usually not that easy to find, which means you'll need to form a decent strategy before running off into action... if you want to stay in one piece. You'll also have to think instantly in most situations, since the zombies are vicious and often very quick at sniffing out and icing their prey.
Again, there's a lot to enjoy in this game. The Versus mode, for instance, which is only playable in the No Mercy and Blood Harvest scenarios. One team plays as the Survivors, while the other assumes control of the Boss Infected. Those playing on the zombie side get to control different types of monsters with special abilities - these include the smoker, boomer, hunter and the tank. The smoker grabs victims by the neck with an insanely long tongue, the boomer throws up on opponents (making humans easier targets), hunters use a powerful jump to subdue enemies and tear them apart, while the tank uses strong attacks to smash anything that's stands in its way. The cool thing about the Versus mode is that it allows both teams to switch sides during each chapter, which means you'll get to have fun from both perspectives. This is one of the reasons why L4D never feels repetitive or mundane (even though it's built around a simple concept). We've played every mode and every map several times and each time it became more enjoyable. LAN games are a blast and you should not miss out on online matches either.
The game works excellently both as a co-op game and as a classic competitive multiplayer experience. Just to give you an example; controlling the zombies isn't easy and requires a lot of thinking and carefully planned out attacks. If the abilities of the infected are coordinated and organized, they can be very effective and lethal - not to mention, immensely fun to control. The tension is there throughout each game. Meanwhile the dynamic gameplay is spiced up with the so-called director feature. The director adjusts the condition of the game according to your skills and the way you play.
There's not much I can say about the visuals. It's Valve. The Source engine is well-employed once again. Character models are great and each area looks awesome. Also, we've experience little to not technical issues during the game.
It doesn't hurt to have a bash at the single-player. Just don't expect a lot of excitement there. The real fun in Left 4 Dead comes from well-structured levels and cool modes, coupled with a fabulous atmosphere regardless of the side your playing on (infected or survivor). The best part is, you're gonna want to come back to the game many times after each scenario is over.
Valve did not disappoint. If you're looking for something to buy this Xmas for your gaming needs Left 4 Dead should be money well-spent. Both shooter fans and survival horror aficionados will enjoy it.
The best multiplayer survival horror game on the market;
Solo play feels too thin; AI bots aren't perfect.
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