Zombies are familiar plot device to gamers and movie goers alike. What originally started as African folk-lore for re-animating a corpse to be your slave, has mutated into an even more sinister plot device to usher in the apocalypse. Left 4 Dead takes the undead plot device and implements it into a great co-op experience provided your team mates don’t leave you behind to your demise.
Lighting and effects
The artistic approach to Left 4 Dead is typical of something you would see out of a contemporary horror movie. There are plenty of dark corridors, rooms and hallways to be startled by zombies laying in wait to tear into your soft, supple flesh. When it comes to well lit areas, you as a player are naturally drawn to them, while darker areas you are not for obvious reasons. In the zombie apocalypse scenario, you are given a legitimate reason to be afraid of the dark. In well lit areas, you will generally find ammo, better weapons and even medical supplies to help you get to the next check point. What’s interesting about check points, there have been messages left on the walls where other people have made their way to this point leaving you to think “Well, these aren’t the only four people left alive on the planet, there must be others!”
Another interesting feature Value decided to go with is that they have added the film grain effect that has been getting plenty of attention from art directors in the gaming industry over the past couple of years. On a personal level, I always found the grain effect to be bothersome as I see thousands of particulates floating around the screen at any given time that has inevitably given me headaches and eye strain (Mass Effect is a good example of bad film grain implementation). But Valve managed to tweak this effect to where I did not find a need to turn off this feature. For example: In darker areas you will generally see a higher concentration of film grain while in better lit areas, there will be little to no grain do to the fact your eyes will be focused on well lit areas, rather than darker ones.
Every scream, shot gun blast, cry for help has been executed to perfection in this game. The voice overs are flawless for each character but the music is crucial to leave on for audio cues. Once the “tank” music starts up, you know right away to ready your Molotov cocktail, and run like hell.
When it comes to the four survivors, I feel that there should have been more of a story driven mode on how the four banded together in an attempt to survive the zombie apocalypse. When I played through the first campaign with developer commentary, it sounded like they were going to have more of a story but decided against it as I presume most of the budget when into R&D for the co-op and multi-player aspect. The only character development you see with the four survivors is some cheesy one liners being tossed back and forth. There isn’t much else other than what you can gather from the visual appearance of these survivors which is phenomenal. The attention to detail on the clothing, tattoos, and facial expressions are top notch. You have your wizened Vietnam veteran that brings combat experience to the table. There’s the misanthropic biker, the optimistic office worker and the out of place college girl to make this fantastic four a bit awkward, but entertaining. I wish these characters were developed more upon because in the end they just seem one dimensional. But after all, this is an FPS co-op game where story is not its strong point so I’ll let it slide.
If you’re playing a versus game, you have the option as playing as the “infected” there will be four special infected classes that are assigned at random. As you may have guessed, in the versus mode it’s the undead versus the survivors. Personally I like playing as the infected a lot more than the survivors due to the fact each of the 4 classes you get to play as has a special ability and if your team works together well you can orchestrate some pretty devastating attacks with the aid of the zombie horde. Infected types you get to play as are:
The Hunter – The Hunters strength lies in speed. His primary attack is to tackle a survivor and start tearing into him. During this time, you are unable to defend yourself and are at the mercy of being shot by other players unless you can single out a survivor that is under attack by a horde of zombies or has been separated from the group.
The Boomer – The boomer can’t take any damage at all. He’s a fat, bloated zombie whose main attack is puking on the survivors. When the survivors are covered in Boomer bile be it from shooting this monstrosity up close and personal or being puked upon, you are blinded and must rely on others to defend your effectively. You can still shoot while blinded but you risk shooting any team mates that may be in front of you.
The Smoker – The smoker is a strange special. His attack is more like a sniper. He has a long tongue that catches a survivor, and drags the said survivor toward him so he or other non-special infected and can tear him or her apart.
The Tank –The tank is a muscle bound mutant that has the ability to bring down survivors with no more than two hits. As the name suggests it takes a considerable amount of fire power to bring one of these bad boys down. The way the tank works is when the survivors get to a certain point on the map, a player on the infected team is selected as random to play as the tank.
Left 4 Dead has three game play modes. Single player, versus and campaign all with the objective to get air lifted out of your general location or call the military for help. You manage to get four scenarios to run through in single player and campaign, but not in versus. I don’t see why there are only two scenarios to run through on versus opposed to having all four that shipped with the game. So if you’re more into playing versus that the campaign mode, you will get tired of the same two campaigns quickly. I know I did. I don’t see why valve couldn’t have made the other two campaigns versus compatible.
With the single player mode, it’s you and the three other survivors are left to the control of the AI. Not very fun when the AI is prone to heal you (or themselves) at inappropriate times and can be found wandering off into unsafe areas of the map where they ultimately attract hordes of the undead as opposed to sticking together. Not to say human players are prone to this as well, but with an experienced group this is not a problem. You and other players have the option to kick vote any player that acting like a jerk if they're constantly shooting you in back or wasting medical supplies.
With four scenarios to play through with 5 levels each (a run through of each level might take you 10-15 minutes at the most on advanced, possibly 25-30 on expert if your team dies a couple of times) you’ll become aware when certain events will happen, even with the AI director throwing a horde of zombies at you down the stairs. There are other dangers than just the undead. There are ledges you can be knocked off and potentially die unless someone comes to rescue you before you lose your grip. After awhile you will know the general location of where a tank is going to spawn, and the perfect hiding places for boomers (generally around corners) and roof tops for smokers and hunters. I’ve put in a good 15 hours into this game and I’ve memorized where most, if not all where all of the power-ups spawn.