It's the most intelligent game engine ever conceived. Think you can handle it? Read our comprehensive review of one of the top games out this year
This review is almost identical to the PC version, with a few minor exceptions. These exceptions are noted.
What do you get when you put zombies, required cooperative gameplay, cinematic design and an intelligent AI engine together? You get perhaps the best shooter of the year. Welcome to Left 4 Dead.
During your stay in Valve Software’s newest game, you should know a few very important things. This is no game for the faint of heart. There are lots of infected to wipe out. Not hundreds; thousands. Every time you jump into one of the four character’s personas, you and your team will wipe out at least several thousand, including tens of ‘boss’ infected.
Meet the dream team: Bill, a Vietnam vet; Francis, a self-centered destructo-matic; Louis, the paranoid workoholic; and Zoey, the horror movie college student extraordinairre.
Infected may be weak individually, but groups can easily overpower even the most prepared team.
It’s also incredibly visceral, so mind the dark areas, screams of wild hordes, epic musical tones and occasional vomit-inducing noises. Because Valve sought to create the most cinematic experience in a game to date, much of the lighting is like what you’d expect to see in a horror film. Most areas are lit well enough to see fine while using a flashlight, but it also gives tremendous life to the scenery. Buildings have texture, which you’ll notice when you aren’t being reduced to dust.
But most importantly, everyone needs their team. Courage doesn’t suit survival, so if you’re the alpha male type, you’ll be the first to go. In fact, L4D has a built in reminder that fearless individuals can get everyone killed. Once a player’s health is gone, they drop to the ground and are able to shoot enemies. They get 300 health points, which gives adequate time to clear out a horde of infected so that friends can help their fallen teammate up.
Of course, if someone loses their health completely, they can only be healed properly by using a health pack, the scarcest of all items in L4D. In the Expert difficulty, health packs are only placed in safe zones, the beginning and end of each level where no infected can spawn. So minding your health is just as important as minding your manners. If you’ve used up your health pack already, the only option is to have a teammate heal you. Suffice to say, everyone wants a health pack for their own personal use.
Then again, in the harder difficulty settings, not working as a cohesive team, aka working as a single unit, will get you killed pretty quickly. Infected can get to any area fairly easily, and there are enough open spaces to require players to find themselves completely surrounded in all directions. Without teamwork, the whole crew dies so quickly, it’s humorous to watch. Enough Youtube videos are out to prove that.
Weapons for curing the infection are part of three groups: standard guns, serious firepower and thrown explosives. Standard weapons include your choice of pump-action shotgun or an Uzi clone, with a secondary pistol. Serious firepower consists of an automatic shotgun, assault rifle and a hunting/sniper rifle. And finally, there are the explosives, a pipe bomb and Molotov cocktail.
Standard guns are located in safe zones, with ammunition caches strategically placed around the map. Pistols are fairly weak in comparison, but two can be used simultaneously and they never run out of ammo. On top of that, they are the only weapon that can be used when you get incapacitated. The serious weapons are much more scattered and more difficult to find, though their ammo is also replenished by any weapon cache. However, if a player dies, they can’t get their gun back unless they go back to where they died. Because, you know, the gun didn’t go anywhere.
Pipe bombs are essentially noisy grenades; they make a lot of noise, which draws infected to them, then explodes killing anything in a 5-10 foot radius. They’re great for eliminating hordes or giving your team a good 10 second break to heal up, reload, or get the hell out of there. Molotov’s set a similarly sized area on fire, which infected just run right through and die from first degree burns.
Also found on each of the twenty levels in the four separate yet equal campaigns (five levels per campaign) are propane Tanks, gas cans, pain pills and chain guns. Even with all these little helpful items, the most powerful weapon in any team’s arsenal is their wits. Taking out hundreds of infected at once is almost impossible without heavy casualties in an open area, but if the team hides in a room with only one or two entrances, the bottlenecks can and will keep everyone alive and healthy.
The maps are large, and whatever you can see is somewhere you can actually get to.
Visual details are a huge part of Left 4 Dead. The cinematic feel is everywhere and in everything.
What is surprising is how powerful and important the melee attack is. Consider this: three infected are running at you and you’ve got a shotgun. You can only shoot one of them in time. What do you do? Use the gun as a bat and swing it at the other two, stunning them for long enough to shoot off another few rounds. The melee strike is so important that not using it is like not playing with a team.
Don’t think it’s just killing the zombie-esque infected though. There are five types of unique boss-infected in every level to take care of: Hunters, Smokers, Boomers, Tanks and Witches. Hunters and Smokers are very similar; both incapacitate survivors, the former by pouncing on them from a distance and the latter by grabbing them with its huge tongue from a distance. Then these bosses just scratch the hell out of whomever they’ve caught until a teammate comes to the rescue.
Boomers are by far the most despicable and disgusting creatures in the game. Their bubbly gurgling is enough to widdle away any courage you may have while simultaneously making you forget you wanted to eat ever again. Boomers throw up on survivors, and their puke is something the infected love. So if you’re the lucky one to bathe in Boomer vomit, the infected will be after you and you alone. This has a very particular strategic value as well.
Then there are Tanks. They are as they sound; monstrously sized and almost impossible to kill. Nobody should ever have to run into one with just standard weapons, but it happens. When it does, whoever isn’t carrying a auto-shotty will undoubtedly curse very loudly. Tanks take lots of damage and can easily incapacitate and kill survivors. They can also scale walls, run faster than injured survivors and you can’t stun it. In effect, unless the area you’re in has some physical limitation that a Tank cannot get past, it’ll take down at least one of your teammates with ease.
Finally, Witches are fairly rare, but they are unlike the other four boss infected, which are all playable in the verses gametype. Witches just sit in one place and keep to themselves unless a survivor gets too close, points a flashlight at it or shoots it. Then it goes ballistic and rips whoever startled it apart like they’re a toy. One could easily eliminate an unprepared team, but they tend to just kill the first person to startle it, then run off.
As I just mentioned, L4D is not just about playing through the cooperative campaign. There’s also a verses mode, which pits eight players together; four survivors and four infected. The infected bunch play as randomly selected boss-infected (except for the Witch) and have to find the best place to attack the survivors, while the survivors just play through as they normally would. This makes a great mess of things, and is incredibly fun.
Yet even with all this, the best part of Left 4 Dead is how nothing is ever the same twice. The AI “Director” calculates how survivors are doing based on their health, weapon usage, team cohesion, and several other factors to decide where to place ammo caches, special items, infected, hordes and bosses. It ensures that every time your team fails, you won’t play the exact same thing twice. Those infected around that corner might not be there next time, or there might be 30 instead of 20. Whatever the case may be, the Director ensures that every situation is unique.
It’s putting all of these things together that makes L4D not only one of the best shooters of the year, or even one of the best games of the year, but possibly one of the most entertaining games ever made. Why? Because everything fits perfectly. The genre, the replayability, the cooperative play, the level design, the Director…this is a game that people will play for years to come. Four campaigns that span twenty levels in total takes roughly five hours to beat on easy and normal difficulty, eight to ten on advanced and twelve to twenty on expert. But the second, third or fiftieth time through, you’ll enjoy it as much (or more!) than the first run through.
A Boomer. It's big, ugly, disgusting, makes awful sounds and it can be your worst nightmare.
Lighting in Left 4 Dead is ghastly. Buildings, infected and everything have enough texture to produce realistic images.
Strangely enough, the biggest lack in the game is Valve’s servers. They’re still not able to properly host everyone playing, and often getting in a game is nearly impossible. We recommend finding third party servers to play on until they resolve their issues, because it’s incredibly difficult to play online much of the time. Connecting to players overseas is also problematic, both for dedicated and non-dedicated games.
The difference between the 360 and PC versions are pretty blunt. While the game is identical (save for the PC version being easier, and we’ll get to why in a minute), the controls are completely different. Playing the PC version is remarkably simple and intuitive; it’s easy to tell that the game was made for the PC.
On the 360, the controls are far from perfect.
On the PC, there’s 8 keyboard buttons and three mouse buttons (and the scroll wheel), all of which are easily accessible. On the 360, the standard fps controls are disregarded and players must learn to use both of the triggers and bumpers, as well as the face buttons. All while controlling the two analog sticks. Its 13 buttons and two analog sticks, all controlled by two thumbs and two fingers, as opposed to two full hands.
True, the 360 version includes a 180° so turning speed isn’t an issue, but movement is also different. Characters don’t stop as soon as you let off the stick, they keep going for a split second. Aiming is also much more difficult in comparison, but once again the decreased difficulty compensates.
Put it this way: if you can get the PC version, do it. This is undoubtedly a PC game, and not just because “all games are better on the PC”. If not, the 360 version is fine, but don’t play it on the PC; it’ll make you jealous for not having that version, which is superior.
LEFT 4 DEAD VERDICT
No matter what you say, Left 4 Dead is an excellent title. It gets everything right. It’s simple enough for anyone to play, unique enough for everyone to enjoy, and intelligent enough for no one to get tired of. Isn’t that the game we’ve been asking for?