Friday, December 26, 2008
Back in the summer of 2006, Dead Rising did its best Dawn of the Dead impersonation and sold plenty of copies for Capcom. While that entertaining, albeit flawed title did a decent job of presenting the zombie holocaust to gamers, Left 4 Dead is the new king of the genre. It's short lived, but packed with thousands of zombies spread across four mini-campaigns designed to represent four different "films".
These campaigns have great structure, with each of the four films divided into five chapters. The first four consist of running from safe room to safe room, while the last always involves a huge standoff in a specific location (farm house, airport, dock, and rooftop) as you wait for a rescue vehicle to arrive. It shamelessly borrows from every zombie movie cliche in existence, but that's exactly why fans of the genre will love this game. You've got your ragtag group of diverse characters, hordes of bloodthirsty zombies, and plenty of "stand on top of this thing and shoot everything that moves with your shotgun" moments.
Whereas Dead Rising featured slow, plodding zombies, L4D's undead are usually in full sprint. This makes things extremely intense when the horde is unleashed after a car alarm goes off, as you're sure to see dozens of zombies bolting towards you as fast as they can.
On top of the standard zombies, L4D includes five "boss" versions of the undead - Boomers, Smokers, Hunters, Tanks, and Witches. Boomers are huge, obese zombies that can summon the horde to attack specific survivors by vomiting on them. Smokers have long tongues that they can trap you with, Tanks are lumbering behemoths that throw concrete at you, and Hunters pounce from far away and pin you down, slashing you with their claws. Witches are a different beast altogether, and you can always tell one is close thanks to the creepy tune and crying noises that you'll hear whenever they're near. Light will startle them, and once they attack they're very difficult to defeat without taking some major damage.
This variety of enemies keeps things interesting, helped by the fact that the "AI Director" will give you a different assortment and placement of foes each time you play. Just because you see a witch in the train station on one playthrough doesn't mean you'll see it the next. Each of the chapters may follow a predictable format (go from safe room to safe room until the final standoff), but the varied placement of enemies makes sure you'll stay on your toes.
Left 4 Dead is fast and frantic from beginning to end. You won't have any moments that require Call of Duty-esque precision (you can't even aim down your sights), as the massive amount of zombies ensures you'll be doing nothing more than running and gunning. Adding to the intensity is the fact that the game does not feature the seemingly-standard regenerative health. Health packs are highly coveted items, and it's crucial to keep them as backups to help your team or yourself.
More than any other game in recent memory, Left 4 Dead is specifically built around cooperative play. There are always four survivors, and AI will take over if you can't find three other live gamers to fill their shoes. The way it sets this up is absolutely perfect, making co-op play more natural and convenient than I've ever seen. You can start a campaign by yourself or split-screen, with AI controlling the remaining characters. As you play through, gamers on Xbox Live are free to join your game at any point. If you have to go to the bathroom or grab another beer (or are idle for a period of time), you can select the "take a break" option and an AI will temporarily take over for you. When you're ready to pick up the controller again, a simple press of the right trigger will take you back into the action. It's obvious that a lot of work went into making this the ultimate co-op experience, and it really shows in the final product.
On top of the campaigns, there is also a Versus multiplayer mode. This puts four players in control of the survivors, with the other team of four controlling the "boss" zombies. All of these Special Infected zombies are fun to play as, but the overall experience doesn't compare to the campaigns.
I hope Left 4 Dead is looked at as a blueprint for any future games that try to incorporate cooperative gameplay. Its ease of use ensures a great online experience, and getting together with three friends and running through a campaign is a blast. While it may not be the deepest game in the world (hell, they don't even attempt to explain why there are zombies everywhere), it's a fantastic, fast paced, run-and-gun zombiefest that's sure to please fans of zombie movies or action games in general.
First Play: 9.0
Replay Value: 9.0
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