Left 4 Dead is the newest addition to the zombie-survival genre. It features a strong emphasis on co-op tactics in order to survive endless waves of zombies. It also runs on the Valve engine, same as counter-strike. This is the second most notable zombie type game for the 360, the first being Dead Rising. So grab a few friends and go get some zombies!
As mentioned Left 4 Dead is a new release and the newest most notable zombie game for the 360. A couple of years ago we were graced with the presence of Dead Rising, another zombie game which opened up new doors and imagination to gaming. Unlike Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead is a survival-based shooter in which you’re running through levels trying to survive against hordes of undead. Left 4 Dead puts up a huge emphasis on co-op tactics, at the same time allowing you to run through the single player campaign. Co-op is also supported on Xbox Live, so if your friends can’t be at your house playing, you can meet them online and have a blast running through the levels of undead.
Once you throw in the game disc, an awesome cut scene comes up, which gives you a very intense feel for what’s about to come. After the cut scene shows us our four characters running from a horde of undead you’re brought to the main menu that allows a choice of three gameplay options. We’ll take a quick look into versus mode. Versus is as it states, up to 8 people either on live or split-screen or both. Four people or less can control any of the survivors while the other 4 can control the infected, this is a great addition since not very many, is any, games thus far have allowed a player to be a zombie and attack the living. As the survivors your goal is to get to the end of a level before one of your undead buddies gets you. But, as the undead, since you have no weapons there are several advantages. For one, enemies can be seen through walls if they speak, move or shoot, giving a large advantage to the undead. Also throughout levels, certain spots on buildings will be marked where only the undead can climb. This mode certainly adds a great addition to this game, but also adds something that hasn’t been done for a 360 game so far.
Back to the main menu, the other two options are essentially the same, both being campaign modes, just one is for single player the other is for multiplayer. The campaign in Left 4 Dead offers four settings, each setting contains 5 levels, and so even though this seems short it can last for quite sometime. Another great thing about Left 4 Dead is a new system, called the Director, which makes each run through different then the last. So depending on how a player is going through the game; whether they be fairing poorly or running through levels with ease will depend on such things as, enemy spawn points, health locations, horde numbers, weapons etc. So if you’re making easy work of the level they’re might be a tank, and not the good kind of tank, waiting for you not far from where you are. Also with different weapon and ammo placements it could make for a very interesting level, so save ammo wisely.
But of course to be able to run through a game you will need characters, or in this case survivors. Unfortunately there are only four, which doesn’t say many good things about humanity in this case. The four survivors include; a college student named Zoey, a biker type named Francis, a business type named Louis and last but not least Bill, a war vet. So with this unlikely quartet your job is to pick one of them and run through levels fighting through hordes of zombies, which can come at you at the dozens at times. Luckily you won’t be using your fists and arm flailing abilities to fight the undead which brings me to the weapons. This unfortunately is one complaint I have in L4D. There’s nothing wrong with the weapons themselves, I was just hoping for a larger variety of weapons to defeat the zombies. At the very beginning you’re equipped with a simple handgun and the choice between a shotgun or Uzi. But not far into the game you’ll find yourself dual wielding pistols (only one type of pistol) which have unlimited ammo, and either a shotgun, tactical shotgun, Uzi, M16 or a scoped hunting rifle. Along with these you can hold one pipe bomb or one Molotov.
There are several different types of undead. Of course this game wouldn’t be fun with only one type of zombie. The traditional zombie is the first, they move quick, look creepy and at times move in large numbers and can become very overwhelming. Aside from looking great they have a very eerie personality, or lack there of, about them. They let off screams and moans, which can make you, feel very uneasy at times. The next type is the Boomer. The Boomer is a very bloated enemy who vomits some type of acid which, if hit by, will attract large swarms of infected. Also when the boomer is shot, they explode and any nearby survivors will get hit with this bile and be blinded and attacked by many undead. This brings me to the hunter. The hunter is extremely agile and pounces on survivors to attack them. Once hit by a hunter the only you can do is wait for another survivor to come to your aid. The smoker is kind of like a sniper. He waits from long distances and once a survivor comes by, his tongue shoots out very long distances and pulls a survivor in until another survivor shoots him. When a smoker is shot they release a cloud of smoke which impairs vision and movement. The last two are the tank, pretty simple a large infected that takes a lot of rounds to kill and can hurl players and objects across the screen incapacitating them in as little as one hit. Then there’s the Witch, the most horrible infected of them all. When going through a level the witch is identifiable by an eerie sound of a young girl crying. The nice thing is the witch can be avoided as long as she is not alerted of your presence. Once alerted she will incapacitate you in one blow! The Witch is very hard to kill since she moves so quickly.
The next great thing is the locales. Each setting is done with perfection, offering an almost movie like experience while in the game. Flickering lights, rain, even the darkness is eerie. When it’s dark, which most of the time it is, your flashlight becomes imperative. It only shines in the small area you’re looking at so quick back and forth room checks are a must. The sound adds to the atmosphere with very eerie music that comes in at the perfect time, thanks to the director, crazy noises when dozens of undead are running at you and great sound effects when they get shot. Another great thing is the gore. When a group of undead run at a pipe bomb all you see is a cloud of blood when it explodes. Along with the blood splatter on the wall this offers a great deal towards the game.
The huge emphasis on co-op is used in many ways. As mentioned, when several undead are running at you and you get incapacitated, the only you can do is shoot your handgun until help arrives to heal you. Also, when you’re pinned by a hunter or smoker it takes the help of a friend to take them out. Among these two things, a teammate can also heal you and share pain pills. This can become very useful for people who tend to attract zombies more than others, since you can only carry one health pack. This is really helpful when you have a teammate to communicate to, but nonetheless, the AI is actually very intelligent and will help you when trouble arises.
Left 4 Dead is a great addition to the zombie game genre. It’s a complete other direction from Dead Rising, which is a good thing since Left 4 Dead is one of the best co-op shooters around. Great graphics, great sound, great cinematic, great gameplay, almost everything about L4D is great. The only downside is that, no matter how good the gameplay is, the single player mode feels a little empty after playing through a few co-op levels. But this is where the game shines, even with one friend and two AI assisting this game is great.
One more small, but not game rendering negative is the small selection of weapons. Even though the basics are covered, it is always nice to have a few other options at hand. The ability to heal other players and help is excellent. The infected are great, tough enemies and huge swarms make for very intense battles. Versus is also a very different but good addition that helps make this game an experience to carry forth. One of the neatest features is the Director, making each run through different and more difficult than the last that is as long as you get better. So in the end Left 4 Dead is most definitely an addition to most any gamers library, and if not, a rental should be tried.
Gameplay:9, Graphics:9, Sound:9.5, Innovation:9, Mojo:10 Final: 9.3 / 10
Reviewed by Chris Gagne | 11.28.08