STAFF REVIEW of Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360)

Sunday, November 23, 2008.
by Adam Dileva

Left 4 Dead Box art Any zombie movie fan will surely know Romero?s films and the 28 Days Later series. Having these scenarios as a playable game hasn?t been done very often successfully recently other than Dead Rising. So what if Dead Rising was turned into a first person shooter and added 4 player co-op? You would have Left 4 Dead.

Left 4 Dead is built on four player cooperative play that is very simple yet effective. The great thing about the co-op is that it?s based around the idea of playing with others, not just a feature included afterwards. Being able to heal each other or give pain pills to friends that need it is done simply with the quick press of the D-Pad and really encourages you to watch out for your team mates rather than just looking out for yourself like most other games.

Four people have survived and the basis; like any other zombie flick is to simply find rescue while staying alive and killing as many zombies as possible. Sadly, there is no overlaying plot, but instead the game is broken up into 4 different scenarios. Each scenario is then broken up into 5 different chapters that end when you get to each safe house at the end and all 4 survivors are inside (should they still be alive). Each scenario is the same in essence with you trying to get from checkpoint to checkpoint and a final mass of zombies rushing you as you wait 10 minutes on a rescue vehicle to come get your survivors.

You don?t know what happened, why, or even how you have survived and each scenario doesn?t even have any smaller sub plots like trying to find other survivors or anything which was a little disappointing, though there are many redeeming qualities that make up for this oversight.

Sadly each scenario is generally pretty short, only lasting around an hour or so per, though playing on expert will add some more time, as will all your restarts when the survivors are overcome by the infected. So with 3 scenarios to do, that?s roughly 4-6 hours, but Left 4 Dead has a ?Director? mode that ensures each play through will never be the same, which I?ll touch on later.

Scenarios are also presented like a Hollywood movie. Starting up the first chapter has a loading screen of a movie poster style image but with your gamertag showing who is starring as each character like a real movie poster. Finishing a scenario will also play credits with details of all the chapters gameplay such as headshots, most zombies killed, accuracy and even more. Should someone not have survived the final ambush at the end of the chapter, the credits even dedicate the ?movie? to the memory of that player. It?s a small thing, but it makes me smile every time and has that authentic movie feel to it.

With the 4 scenarios having a short gameplay from start to finish, Valve has ensured gamers will want to replay these same levels many times over and over, and this is accomplished with the ingenious ?Director?. Instead of programming separate AI in each zombie, the Director takes into account how your survivors are playing and changes how the zombies act and spawn on the fly to compensate when needed. So if your players aren?t playing very well and missing lots of shots or getting hurt quite often, the Director tones down the aggressiveness of the zombies and even how many are thrown at you. On the flip side, should you be doing well with many headshots and killing well, the Director will make the zombies much more aggressive and throw more at you and possibly even more obstacles. More than just the zombies, the Director will also either give you more health packs if playing poorly and also higher powered guns if needed as well, all on the fly. This ensures that no play through will ever be the same and it makes things interesting as you may have been ambushed somewhere in one play through but not the second time. It keeps the excitement level high as you never really know what is going to happen each time you play which keeps replay factor an option without boredom.

Even though the game is built around co-op, single player is definitely an option. Bots are decent for healing you and helping kill zombies but the problem is that they aren?t aggressive enough and won?t take the lead, they will always follow you. So it is possible to play the game solo, but it just won?t compare to actual players. Each character will automatically talk such as calling out that they are reloading or shouting out the position of special zombies. Each of the infected also have their own sounds and gurgles so that you can tell which special infected are nearby before you even see them, which raises the tenseness even higher while trying to find them before they find you.

Should someone die while trying to get to a checkpoint, a player will respawns after a set amount of time, but they are locked in a room nearby until someone comes and opens the door to free them.; then they are to able join in the zombie slaying once again. If all players die or get pinned down, the whole chapter much be restarted from the beginning again. While this can be frustrating at times, especially on the harder difficulty levels, it promotes more co-operative gameplay with players having to watch each other?s backs and healing them when needed without running up ahead alone.

Certain checkpoints will have you pinned down in areas while waiting for an elevator or some other scenario to happen. During this wait there is always a huge rush of zombies that will come after you called the Horde. These massive groups of zombies aren?t much different than the normal ones but as a pack they are much more dangerous and will actually run at you as fast as they can like in 28 Days Later. They will even climb ladders and break down doors to get to you. Very loud noises will also attract the Horde such as car alarms and even if a certain zombie called a Boomer; vomits or blows up on you. The zombies have emotions on their face if they are chasing you and if you shoot one in the knee while running, they will fall down realistically. Luckily you are able to shoot off limbs and body parts to slow them down, but like any zombie movie, a headshot will always do the trick in one shot.

When you reach the end of a chapter, all players need to get inside the safe room and lock the door behind you. These rooms always have some writings on the wall from previous survivors and some of the quotes are pretty entertaining like the walls of a bathroom stall. You always will have an ammo stash and some health packs to start off the chapter. While you just start off with basic pistols, there are other weapons even though they are limited such as a Hunting Rifle, 2 different shotguns, an Assault Rifle, Grenades, and Molotov?s. Should you run out of ammo on your primary weapon, your pistols will always have unlimited ammo and if you get knocked down to the ground, you have to use your pistols to defend yourself while waiting for someone to help you up.

Other than your standard zombie and Hordes, there are a few special infected that can make surviving quite a challenge as they are much more powerful or have some special abilities.

Boomers are giant overweight zombies that don?t have much health, but if they get close enough to vomit on you or blow up nearby, the bile attracts the Horde directly to you and you are unable to see as if you had slime all over your face.

Hunters are zombies that will crawl on all four just waiting for the perfect moment to pounce a survivor. If you get pounced, you are unable to get him off of you until someone helps you and your health slowly goes down as they claw you over and over.

Smokers are the other common special zombie that has a very long tongue that can reel you in if you are hit with it. Should you get wrapped with the tongue, he will slowly pull you in towards him and start to claw you once in range. You do have a few moments to try and shoot him before he pulls you all the way in and before you are incapable of defending yourself.

There are two other special zombies that are much more powerful but you don?t come across them as often. When you do though, you need to work together to take them down or they will make very quick work of your team.

The first of these two is called the Witch. You can hear a small girl crying from a distance but usually you can?t see them because they are hidden in a dark room or corner. As you get closer the crying becomes louder and the overlaying ambient music becomes more and more intense. Should you find her, you are able to usually sneak past her without disturbing her as long as you don?t get too close or have your flashlight on. Should someone make the mistake of startling the Witch, she awakes and becomes extremely angry and screams while chasing your teammates. She is able to effectively one hit kill a survivor and if you are also dealing with a Horde at the same time or some other of the special zombies, she will make quick work of you. Some rooms are so dark that you absolutely need to have your flashlight on to see where to go as its pitch black in many areas, but the problem is that you may attract more zombies this way or even startle a nearby Witch. The flashlight mechanic reminds me much of how it worked in Doom 3 where you can have an easier time with it off and not attract zombies towards you, or actually see what?s in front of you if you have it on.

The last of the two more powerful zombies is called the Tank. This is basically a huge tank of a zombie in essence with huge muscles and a very bad temper. They are able to one hit you and knock you far away if they aren?t picking up slabs of concrete from the ground and throwing them at you first. The problem with Tanks is that they have an absolute huge amount of health and take quite a barrage of bullet to stop. They will do anything to stop you and they are able to do so with ease. When you hear a Tank coming, you better hope that all four survivors are ready for an intense fight to follow.

Should a player go idle for too long, there is a great system in place that will take care of being one man short versus the infected. After a certain amount of time of someone being idle they will automatically switch to the spectator team and the AI will take over for them until they return. The bot that takes over; just like while playing single player; is generally decent at helping and healing, but will never take the lead and just follow you. Should someone be away for too long or unhelpful for whatever reason, players are able to vote for a kick or even change chapters. Expert mode is quite a challenge with more aggressive zombies and higher health, so the vote system comes in very handy if someone isn?t pulling their weight against the ambush.

Where Left 4 Dead differentiates itself from other zombie survival games is the ability to have 8 players online with 4 humans versus 4 infected. A chapter is played with the humans trying to get the safe house at the end of the chapter and the zombie team trying to prevent them from doing so. Each chapter is player twice and the teams switch when the humans reach the safe house or are all killed.

The team that is playing the infected randomly takes the role of a Boomer, Hunter, or Smoker. Each type has their special abilities as decried before, but on a timer so they need to be use when the timing is right. This makes it more important t play co-operatively and communicate even more so than while playing as Humans. Regardless of what zombie you are given to play, all are able to climb walls at predetermined spots that are marked with footprints on the walls. From here you are able to setup for an ambush or get higher ground to leap from.

Every now and then an infected will randomly be chosen and turn into a Tank to help stop the survivors. Just like fighting against one, you have all the same skills like throwing large blocks of cement at players to stop them and getting up close and punching them for massive damage. You do have much more health as a Tank, but if you try and take on all four survivors alone, you will even get killed quickly.

When you die as an infected, there is a long respawn time. You appear as a ghost where the humans are currently at and you need to get further enough away in a safe area away from them to spawn your infected. This allows you to determine where you want to setup an ambush, either in front and wait on them to come to you, or behind and try and get them when they aren?t looking or too busy with the random zombies and Hordes.

Infected players need to play much more co-operatively as they can be killed very easily when alone. Having a Boomer waiting behind a door or corner ready to spew bile on a player, then having a Hunter and Smoker attack when they are busy with the Horde is essential to try and stop them.

Not all of the scenarios are playable for some reason, so let?s hope for an upcoming patch to add the others. I?m also hoping that future DLC will add more scenarios or even maybe possible new infected to play as in Versus mode.

There are many zombies at the screen at once but nowhere near as many as Dead Rising had at times. Corpses do fade after a little while on the floor but you are usually so busy fighting the never ending slew of zombies that you don?t really notice it since there isn?t any backtracking.

While you are able to heal each other, it would have been nice to be able to share your ammo with each other as well. Ammo stashes usually aren?t too far apart but you will use a good portion of your reserves while fighting a Tank or many Hordes.

Valve has done a great job at making Left 4 Dead feel exactly like a Hollywood movie. While it does have high replayability due to the Director, it still does feel empty in substance, though playing with 4 friends online is simply just fun and makes you forget the lack of any plot.

I do hope that there will be more scenarios for download in the future to prolong the life of the game even further, but I have a feeling I shouldn?t hold my breath for any overlaying plot or explanation to why or what happened. It will feel short overall but you will play through the scenarios co-operatively or on Versus mode many times without it ever feeling much like the same situation each time.

Left 4 Dead is fun, plain and simple. Playing online with friends is even a better experience and having Versus mode with the ability to play a zombie itself is a fantastic addition and killing the survivors can be entertaining as killing the Horde. If you are even remotely a zombie movie fan, this title deserves a chance as many zombies will be killed in the playing of his game; and that is always a good thing.

Many more scenarios for download and some more playable types of zombies in Versus mode.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 9.3 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.2 / 10


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