Monday, 1 December 2008
Game Review – Left 4 Dead
Format: PC / Xbox 360
Plot: You are one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse faced with certain death in a zombie infested city, you must work together to reach safety.
It’s terrifying. The first time you wander into a darkened room with only a narrow circle of illumination from your flashlight to rely on, is the first time you know fear in this game. That feeling stays with you throughout the game. The zombies can appear from anywhere at any time, baying for your blood and smashing their way through doors, climbing fences and generally making a nuisance of themselves. You will come to fear the zombie known only as the Witch…
The special zombies are devious inventions. There are thousands of regular zombies on each level but dotted throughout the course at cinematically appropriate times are the specials. There’s the Smoker, a long tongued bastard that grabs you and pulls you away from the rest of the group. There’s nothing worse than being pulled away from your team as they fight off a regular zombie horde, blissfully unaware that you’re slowly choking to death. That’s why you need to play with a headset and microphone, so you can scream for your life when the Smoker gets you in a dark corner. The Hunter is a malevolent hoodie who crawls around on all fours and leaps great distances toward you, pounces on you and brutally tears away at you as you lie prone and helpless. The Tank is a big mass of muscle that can throw cars, masonry and chunks of floor at you and he will not stop until you are dead. He’s a bastard and he’s extremely hard to kill. The Boomer is a grossly overweight zombie who waddles up to you and vomits all over your face if you let him. If you kill him up close then he explodes all over you and covers you in vomit. The vomit is a special chunky mixture that attracts hordes of zombies, nice. Finally, the Witch rounds out the specials, she’s the one you don’t want to see…ever. She can generally be found weeping in the most awkward place possible. You see, the problem with the Witch is that you can avoid her and not unleash the screaming, clawing, whirlwind of death she becomes but sometimes she’s sitting directly in your path and must be destroyed. Of course killing her before she’s inflicted a significant amount of damage to one of the group is a challenge.
The AI (The Director) provides incredibly cinematic moments. The AI is designed to gauge your performance and decide when and how to attack you for maximum effect. If your team has taken minimal damage and is toting lots of ammunition, the Director will probably withhold an ammo resupply point so it can watch you run low and then throw a Tank or a Witch at you. The Director is evil but he doesn’t want you dead, he wants you to get to the end of the level through teamwork and good play and he won’t make it easy for you. The end of each level always features a dramatic last stand as your team waits for extraction from the zombie filled hell-hole as a multitude of cadavers races toward you, eager to tear off your face. The airport level features an in game event that is simply breathtaking when first viewed.
Cooperation and teamwork is essential. This is a game where the presence of four players is the preferred method of play rather than an exception. It’s nice to see an online shooter where cooperation against the AI is mandatory and, most importantly, fun.
The audio is fantastic. The zombies cry, moan and sometimes seem to form words. The special zombies have their own distinct sounds so you always have an audio cue that one of them is around. The Witch is the most terrifying sound of all, her piteous wailing and crying is extremely disturbing especially as you simultaneously want to and yet don’t want to find the source of the noise.
The storyline is conveyed through graffiti and signs. The developers, Valve, have decided to tell the game’s story through the poignant and sometimes hilarious graffiti and notes left by previous survivors. You’ll find theories on the zombies’ origins, facts about the zombie infection and messages left behind for loved ones. It basically boils down to a collection of very nice easter eggs to be found and read in between the panic and headshots.
The single player campaign is pretty redundant. You can play offline with a bots playing the roles of the survivors. This is nice for practicing levels and getting used to the layouts but it’s a pale shadow of the real experience that is found in multiplayer co-op. The bots are slightly competent but they don’t lead the line or clear rooms for you, making them pretty rubbish really.
It keeps crashing my PC upon exit. This happens to me almost all the time. I don’t know why it happens but it’s very annoying. I blame Vista.
The selection of weapons is small. The firearms are well done as they all seem to look and feel different but perhaps there should’ve been a couple more weapons to choose from. A chainsaw would be fun…
Other people can sometimes suck. If you play random pick up groups you may end up with idiots. I don’t mean poor players (I’m not exactly brilliant, I tend to lurk at the back picking off zombies and generally being a cowardy custard) but players that blunder around, startling Witches and getting themselves constantly incapacitated. So yeah, the standard playing online advice stands, find some reliable friends or join one of the many Steam groups (on PC) available.
(Special Simon Pegg con!) Fast zombies. Because you might have a problem with the whole running zombie concept.
Left 4 Dead takes the zombie cliché and makes it a fresh, dynamic experience. This game is simply pure, adrenaline fuelled entertainment combined with a social life.
Arbitrary Score out of Ten: 8/10