Release Date: 11/18/2008
Players: 1-4 player co-op; 4 vs. 4 PVP
ESRB Rating: M
Friendcodes: Hey, thanks for-OW! Hey, watch where you're pointing that thing!
Bill: Dammit boy, get your pansy rear in here! Help me shove some of these chairs in front of that door!
FC: So your name's Bill, right? We picked up your radio call and wanted to ask you a few questions about-
B: So where's the others?
FC: ...The others?
B: Survivors! Military! Anything, boy! Where are they?
FC: Oh, it's just us, sir. Anyway, we wanted to talk about your view on the apocalypse.
B: Oh. Oooooh, no.
B: You're reporters.
FC: Yeah, didn't we tell you about that over the radio? I could've sworn...
B: Boy, you've got six seconds to get back out that door before I start puttin' you back out in chunks.
FC: Oh, hey, wait a sec-
FC: Look, we can't go back out there; we already lost Rik on the way in!
FC: Hey, c'mon, I can use a gun! I played Airsoft all the time when I was a kid-
B: Two seconds.
FC: That's a wrap!
Two weeks after the first documented infection, ruin has covered the Earth in the form of a terrifying disease known only as "the virus." An incredible strain of rabies has turned the majority of the planet's population into raging, mutated creatures that know no pain and hunger for the flesh of the few Survivors.
What's worse than zombies? Zombies that can catch you.
Bill, Zoey, Francis and Louis are four such survivors that have banded together. They must combat the growing army of zombies and make it from safepoint to safepoint, searching out boats, planes, and other survivors to help them reach safety. It's the zombie apocalypse: have they been left for dead?
First of all, remember that this game is fast-paced. Really fast. Left 4 Dead uses the newest version of Valve's trademark Source engine and supports multi-core processor systems. Source features an incredible lighting engine that can throw dozens of separate light sources. Muzzle flashes, flashlights, streetlights, headlights...every source of light acts separately, and it looks great. The character animations have also been tailored from past Valve games so they look more human in their movement; to this end, Valve has created an all-new physics engine that controls the movement of each character's body and the movement of their clothing, items, and weapons on them. In short, the game is pretty.
Louis, seconds away from being mauled by a parked car.
Left 4 Dead also employs a new background engine that adds film effects to the game. The addition of flim grain, rain, static, etc. is one of the many tasks of the Director, who we'll give more depth to later. These effects are different on every player's screen, and can range in intensity depending on the Director's evaluation of their playing style.
Top: Before cinematic effects; Bottom: After cine-God, why is Louis in all of these pictures?
Your enemies are also very unique - and by unique, I mean that you'll rarely see the same character model twice in a Horde. Valve has managed to put an incredible variety of zeds in the game, ranging between sexes, ethnicities, and style of dress. This may not sound impressive, but hearken back to the days of Resident Evil 4. Does every zombie or mutated ghoul have to call the posse together to coordinate their clothing before attacking you?
Hey! Nice blazer!
L4D (on the PC at least) has its share of graphical bugs. During a playthrough we witnessed at least half a dozen bouts of collision detection failure. Zombies blundering through walls and stuffing their faces through closed doors became annoying, but at least it made it a bit easier to know which rooms they were lurking in. Unfortunately, nearly any obstacle can be smashed straight through - if you think a closed door is protecting you from a Horde rush, hide in the bathroom with the lights off and wait for reality to rear its head.
And by reality, we mean a Tank.
The true strength of this game lies in its barebones, adrenaline-fueled, zombie-blasting fun. Valve made a point to make the gameplay as simplistic as possible, leaving each player a full inventory of a pistol (two pistols, if you find an extra), a main weapon, a medkit, pain pills, and whatever kind of grenade you can find. The lack of extra weapons or medkits actually brings the game to its real purpose, which is team-based survival.
This survival mission is monitored and affected by a brand new AI system that controls the entire game. The Director is capable of watching each player's health, ammo count, items, sportsmanship, hit rate, and even style of play; through these observations, it can assess each player's mood and level of intensity. It then alters the game based on the assessment to fit each player specifically; one person may see film grain, while the other sees rain. Infected mobs will rush your team the minute you begin running low on health or ammo. The Director will also award success with hidden caches and saferoom shortcuts.
Remember to zombie-proof your saferooms at home, kids.
Having decided that the original multiplayer campaign wasn't enough, Valve took it upon themselves to give players a chance at experiencing the other side of the shotgun. In a PvP match, eight players are pitted against each other as four human Survivors and four Infected bosses. Survivors face the same mission to find their way to safety. The zombie players, however, must seek out and kill the humans before they reach their destination. There are three classes of "boss" zombies players may choose from before a match: Smoker, Boomer, and Hunter; a fourth class, the Tank, is selected from them randomly and thrown into the match with one purpose: kill the other team.
Oh, there's Rik.
Smokers have dangerously strong tongues that can strangle or drag Survivors into the darkness for the Horde to attack. Boomers vomit on their targets, leaving them blind and deaf, as well as summoning an instant Horde rush that targets whoever was covered in bile. Hunters are extremely fast and agile, and will crawl over walls and tackle their prey to the ground. A Survivor has seconds to live if a Hunter has them pinned. The Tank can smash through any obstacle, including walls and doors. Its strength allows it to lift cars, Dumpsters and pieces of sidewalk to hurl at fleeing players.
They make very effective scarecrows.
There is one final "boss" zombie, one which is a random encounter and isn't playable in campaign or PvP. This is the Witch, and you'll quickly learn that it's often better to avoid your fears than confront them. Witches are extremely skittish and will immediately attack whatever alerts her. A Witch is nearly as tough to kill as a Tank and can deliver one-hit kills, sprint, and leap over obstacles to get at whichever Survivor spooked her. It takes the firepower of the entire team to bring her to the ground once she's been startled, so tread carefully.
This is the preferred angle of attack.
The inclusion of the Director means that no campaign will play out the same as another, as rooms, saferoom locations, ammo and weapon caches will all change. Voice chat and Valve's Steam community also make online gaming a breeze, as you can hop online, fire up a server and chat with your friends while you're waiting to begin. The multiplayer factor in this game is the strongest I've seen this generation, and you shouldn't have any problem blasting zombies for as long as you please.
Valve's Director AI has a counterpart that functions just the same as the original, but its purpose is to alter the match's music and noises. Every player is judged by the Sound Director and will hear different tracks, tempo, or sound effects accordingly. The music in this game is classic horror-movie flotsam; it's not something you'll be bobbing your head to, but it definitely keeps you tense as you wait for it to spike and alert you of an incoming wave of Infected.
There is no purer form of multiplayer entertainment than this. The single-player game might get dull after long hours of survival, but once you add a few friends into the mix, you'll find that you can't put it down.