Left 4 Dead
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8  |  Left 4 Dead is an infection to which you will want no cure.
Dezoris , 12/1/2008 4:09:02 PM

We all know what to expect when it comes to first-person-shooters. Adding zombies to the mix doesn’t seem any more groundbreaking. Yet somehow Left 4 Dead, a first person zombie shooter, delivers a refreshing and balanced rush of adrenaline to an often stereotyped genre. 

Gameplay: 8/10

Left 4 Dead follows the basic fps control scheme. You’ll walk, jump and shoot your way through a series of four campaigns, each with four or five individual maps. Along the way you’ll acquire weapons, ammo, and a small variety of destructible items to help you keep your face intact through endless waves of hungry monsters. If none of that surprises you, don’t feel bad, because it shouldn’t. At pure face value, Left 4 Dead doesn’t try anything new from an FPS perspective. The real joy in the game comes from relentlessly dismembering your enemies and being able to share that cheer with friends.   The Left 4 Dead gameplay is absolutely dependant upon teamwork. You and a group of three human or AI-controlled players must progress through campaign missions together while fending off the flesh-eating famine. At several points you’ll find yourself being overrun with mindless zombies, or you’ll need to rescue a teammate from the grip of a deadly hunter. In any case, lots of fire power and quick reactions will be the only way to keep your group alive. Proximity also plays a part in this effort, which adds a great sense of comradery you don’t see in most co-op multiplayer modes. Fall behind and you’re at risk of being isolated by the next hungry horde. Allow your teammates to die and there are more zombies you have to face on your own.   In addition to relentless offense, Left 4 Dead also requires some keen defensive skills to minimize the encounters your team must endure. Certain zombies can spray you with a corrosive bile that not only causes damage, but attracts other zombies that may have otherwise remained stagnant. In order to avoid this team-threatening scenario you’ll want to keep your distance and pick off enemies whenever possible. This lends itself to having a good balance of talent on your team. Someone with precise sniping skills to thin out wandering zombies is a must. Complimenting that with someone that is good at fending off close-range hordes while conserving precious semi-automatic ammunition will help ease the onslaughts. Yet should you, despite best efforts, succumb to the brain-craving zombies there is still hope. Any of your teammates can revive you (up to three times per level) so you’ll have a fighting chance to continue. The problem is you’ll be down a significant amount of health and will require medical attention, either from yourself or a teammate’s first aid kit. Health preservation is a skill your entire group must possess, as these medical kits are often limited to the start of each new map.   One of the more exciting gameplay balances in Left 4 Dead is the stand-off combat you’ll experience in each campaign. At some point you’ll be required to call an elevator or request a rescue helicopter to get you out of the level. Needless to say the zombies won’t be happy about that and your team will be forced to bunker down in an abandoned house or even an airport loading dock until the rescue vehicle(s) arrive. You’ll be lucky to find ammo piles and even machine gun turrets at these spots. Given the usual ammo preservation gameplay throughout the campaign, you know that means you’re in for a fight. These sequences are some of the most fun in the entire game, in part due to the unlimited ammo supply, but moreover because of the level designs. Chances are you won’t be able to hide in a closet for these fights because there are a number of ways that the hordes can and will reach you…including breaking through walls that you may have thought to be impenetrable.   Once you find the will to pull yourself away from the campaign mode, you also have the choice to play a Versus match as either survivors or zombies. This is another big draw to the Left 4 Dead multiplayer, though it is admittedly flatter than you might hope. After playing the campaigns, the thought of snaring someone as a smoker is incredibly tempting. Or perhaps vomiting on their back-side as a Boomer is more up your alley. Play the Versus mode and you’ll be randomly spawned into a campaign map to try and destroy the human survivors. Unfortunately, there are a few issues with this otherwise perfect concept for a gamemode. While becoming a mutant is definitely fun, you’ll find yourself spending more time trying to spawn in the level than you will actually playing against the opposing team. That’s usually because the action sequences are over in a matter of seconds, at which time you’re either dead (as a survivor) or must wait for 20 seconds before you can respawn again (as an infected). On top of that, rounds will often end so quickly that you’ll only spawn once until the map reloads and you find yourself on the opposing team. Though the switching-sides rules makes total sense, it happens far too frequently and really disrupts the fun that this gamemode has the potential to provide. In fact, it seems safe to assume that a more deathmatch-oriented map structure, rather than reusing campaign levels, would have been a lot more fun. It would be preferable to continually respawn on your team for a set time limit and simply rack up points for kills until the time ran out. Granted this would require some tweaking to the monster-survivor interaction mechanics, but it still has the potential to be a lot more fast-passed and rewarding than the current Versus mode. All that said, you’ll still have fun tearing your friends apart, but be prepared for a lot of downtime and sporadically short matches.

Controls: 9/10 The control scheme in Left 4 Dead is mind numbingly simple…and thank goodness because when those hordes break through a wall you don’t have time to think. Standard walk and shoot mechanics are tied to W, A, S, D keys and the mouse, unless you prefer to tweak the highly customizable input menu. The majority of other functions are mapped to the E key which lets you open doors, pick up and drop items, or revive fallen teammates. Having a context sensitive control like this makes perfect sense and really streamlines the gameplay since you don’t have to fumble around for the right key. The other big factor in Left 3 Dead is keeping those charming zombies from getting to close to you or your team. In order to accomplish this, simply smack them across the jaw with a well-timed right mouse button click and they won’t know what hit them. This is a little too enjoyable as you may find yourself punching a zombie to death rather than use your guns. That is of course until all their friends come to help them.

Replay Value: 9/10 Aside from custom maps or downloadable content, its hard to imagine Left 4 Dead being any more fun to replay. Zombies will appear at different times and in different places, so although the level structures remain the same, the fights never will. This is really icing on the cake because even if every character was placed at a static location within a map, it would still be fun to join and online game with friends and blow through a few maps or even an entire campaign. Not since Unreal has there been this much urge to replay a first-person-shooter without reason.   But, if you for some reason DO need a reason to revisit this game, Left 4 Dead includes achievements that catalog your various adventures through Zombieland. Ranging from a certain number of headshots to rescuing X number of teammates, you’ll find that there are plenty of situations that you will be rewarded for as you play through the campaigns either solo or online with colleagues. Special Versus mode achievements are also included, so make sure to devour your friends online in order to unlock all the random awards for ghoulish goodness.

Graphics: 9/10 Visuals in Left 4 Dead are very impressive. The majority of the game is dark and isolating which isn’t easy to pull off from a development perspective. Although some might find the scenery to be a bit on the boring side, there is quite a lot of detail to be seen, even if its just as you shine your flashlight across a scribbled message that reads “God is dead” from a previous inhabitant in the town. Valve also added some nice atmospheric touches to the game progression including the iconic horror-movie posters during each load screen. Although it’s not a huge deal to most gamers, it’s a level of detail that is too often overlooked in the game industry and should be rightly applauded. If your rig isn’t top notch, Left 4 Dead also provides plenty of options for optimizing video displays and effects details to ensure that you won’t be fighting through an interactive zombie slideshow. It would have been nice to see a more specific set of detail toggles (ie. shadow details and vanishing point distance listed separately) rather than having most included into a single “effects detail” option, but its still more than enough customization to get every last frame you desire based on your hardware.

Sound & Music: 8/10 Audio plays a big role in level progression as you will be listening for hiding monsters and trying to identify what type of zombie they are to formulate an attack plan. In addition to being helpful from a gameplay perspective, this also lends to one of the other big successes that Left 4 Dead provides its audience…a very immersive and believable atmosphere. This is a big reason that the game will continue being fun to play.

Conclusion: 8.5/10
Left 4 Dead is wave after wave of deliciousness. Though you may find yourself wishing for a bit more gameplay variety or weapons selection, its not enough to take away from the fact that Valve hit the nail on the head with this new multiplayer experience. While it doesn’t traverse much new ground, it does create an undeniable level of satisfaction both in single player campaign and online co-op modes. To put it simply, zombies shouldn’t be this much fun.

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