REVIEWS -- Left 4 Dead -- PC
The Worst-Named Game of 2008
by Mark Medeiros
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Rent
Can be considered a champion of the zombie-subculture, and one of the best co-operative experiences on the market, but the lack of content makes the game feel overpriced
What’s in a name? Well many dollars out of the marketing budget for one. I’ve been refusing to give this game a fair shake for the better part of five months by in large for having such a bad name. “Left for Dead” struck me as the title of what would be an uninspired bargain bin shooter, and then to see it referred to as “Left 4 Dead” added an extra layer of tackiness. So I deemed Left 4 Dead the worst-titled game of ’08, worse than “de Blob” and chalked up my refusal to play it for this long on bad marketing. Because, really, what should the box art of a dismembered hand doing the “Four Horsemen” salute do to inspire curiosity?
Maybe the Wolfpack salute?
The other reason that I’ve neglected Left 4 Dead is the presumption that it’s a co-op shooter, which does nothing to phase me since every shooter now is a co-op shooter… for better or worse. Call me an anti-social gamer if you like, and perhaps my stance on co-operative games will change when the team-based Street Fighter is released to prove me wrong, but your gameplay options in a level that must take in consideration more than one person hopping around gleefully in it are limited. Storyline becomes an inconvenience and you can’t design individual set pieces, so co-op-centric games like Call of Duty: World at War or Saint’s Row 2 devolve into “you and friends killing wave after wave of enemies” followed by “you and your friends killing a few more waves of enemies.”
And really, that is exactly what Left 4 Dead is: you and three others killing about a thousand zombies in a level. Each mission is presented as a fun little knockoff of an old-fashioned zombie movie, with your Steam accounts as the actors who play one of the four horror movie archetypes: the stubborn tough guy biker; the old military vet with the clouded past; the token black guy and the hot college girl (who’s wearing more clothes than college girls normally wear in these movies). There’s no actual story though, aside from “get to the rescue chopper, a lot of things die along the way” and the dialogue is limited to characters yelling “ammo here!” in the presence of supplies, or the voice-chat of the light-voiced teenage kid playing as the college girl.
Humping and payloads? Count me in
The gameplay comprises of your simple shooter mechanics; you use the standard gun archetypes of shotgun, machine gun, etc, with the one deviation being the pipe bomb that seems to have some kind of pheromone that sexually attracts zombies and has them all humping its location before the device blows its payload. However, Left 4 Dead rises above other shooters in its integration of its 4ness. You need your three buddies to survive, lest you be overwhelmed from all corners. Certain special enemies can knock you down, and you’ll need a party mate to knock that zombie who pounced on top of you or grabbed you with its…tongue, and then risk a moment of vulnerability to pick you up.
If you have teammates that know what they’re doing, are willing to co-ordinate and SHARE their first aid kits (HINT! HINT!), then there’s an uncanny sense of satisfaction in navigating a level, all the while competing for the most kills or even the most teammate rescues. Likewise, careless partners who insist on running ahead alone or have a habit of falling straight into a zombie horde can kill the experience. So really, the level of enjoyment in of Left 4 Dead is entirely dependant on whom you’re playing with.
A small but appreciated tangent; if someone leaves a game, the AI will take that movie star’s role until a new player joins. And if, say, reality comes in and your woman wants loving, then you can use the “Take a Break” option and let the computer take over while you play real life Smoker.
And bum-rushing too?
The game’s biggest weakness is that there are only four levels. While each of them, on the normal difficulty, are about an hour long, you’re still relegated to exploring the same areas and shooting the same four or five types of zombies and using the same propane tanks (what is a propane tank doing inside a hospital?) to set up the same traps. Valve has personified computer algorithms into an unseen entity called the “director”, which is their marketing phrase of saying “the game distributes ammo, health and zombies based on your performance.” I’ll give the game its due and say that this ensures that you can’t truly memorize a level or where the enemies come from, and also demand a degree of exploration to find power-ups, but even then the player can still guess where and when the zombies will bum rush you… as in they’ll always bum rush you.
And for a bit of variety, there’s Versus mode. Two teams of four alternate between playing as the human offense and the zombie defense, with points scored based on how far the human team travels before reaching the safe zone touchdown. It’s a novel little twist, but true success amongst zombies can only be achieved through wise planning and teamwork, which surprises me that playing as brain-eaters can require such cerebral play. And while it’s extremely satisfying to wither down an enemy to red-level health and untimely death (and hear all of your teammates swear on their microphones in frustration when one of the humans uses a health pack), zombie play is ultimately a sort of grind, where you and your allies die a lot and wait for the respawn time to elapse, so I guess Versus mode is more of an acquired taste.
This being the PC version of Left 4 Dead, the amount of content will (in theory) increase tenfold once Valve releases a level-editor for the masses, but as of this moment, you basically have to ask yourself “how much do I like shooting things with other people?” The focus on team-based shooting makes Left 4 Dead a much better co-operative experience than anything on the market. However, I can’t help but feel that the lack of content makes the game feel overpriced, and I can’t say with a straight face that I got my $50 worth. Fans of the forthcoming zombie apocalypse, on the other hand, will get some kind of strange hands-on training in the field of surviving the onslaught, so I guess Left 4 Dead is the champion of the zombie-subculture.
Does anyone else find it strange that the same four characters appear in the same four movies?
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 18, 2008
Review Date: 09-05-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: 2-8
Quantity over quality. The game is less about presenting the most detailed zombies as it as about shoving the most zombies in front of your firearm.
Frantic “shoot first, hope the teammate you hit doesn’t ask questions” gameplay. The quality of your team is vital to your success.
Your game account is the actor whom plays as any of the four characters. These four character seem to be popular enough to appear in four virtual horror movies.
Gets the right atmosphere for the setting. Voice-work is limited to teammates proclaiming the presence of ammo.
Hurt severely by the limited number of stages. Depends on the strength of your circle of zombie-hating friends.