The world being overrun with zombies isn’t exactly a brand new premise. It’s been touched upon in film, literature, TV, and gaming numerous times before, often to obscenely high levels of polish and brilliance.
Left 4 Dead does pack a snazzy new twist to the genre. Instead of leaving you all on your own, slaughtering thousands of zombies, you’ll be part of a four-strong team attempting to find their way to safety from the on-rushing hordes.
There are four different scenarios to play through, each consisting of roughly an hour of gameplay spread across five different “levels” which end either with a drop into a safe house for a swift restock, or a final stand before you’re rescued.
Each “level” certainly feels and plays completely differently, with a wide variety of areas to explore. From tightly packed office spaces, through to wide open countryside, the zombie hordes will be ready and willing to rush towards your merry band of killers.
The enemies, being zombies, are quite daft. Frequently they’ll happily ignore you until shot at close range, and any form of tactical thinking is blatantly lost on the undead. In order to combat this perceived stupidity when compared to what we usually expect from a modern game, the developers have a few twisted ideas up there sleeves.
The first is the AI “director”. If you start to hang around one certain spot for too long, the AI will automatically send a huge mass rush of zombies towards you from every direction, urging you ever forward. Second are the “Crescendo events” which are well signposted areas that will summon a terrifying amount of the infected when you’re finally ready to initiate it. Always make sure you stock up on ammo and health kits before setting off these particularly tricky spots, otherwise you’ll end up as nothing more than zombie chow.
Then there are the special infected types. The Boomer is a chunky waddling zombie that will happily vomit all over you to attract a horde of the infected. The Hunter will pounce upon any of your group of survivors from a huge distance, and hack away at your flesh until blasted to pieces by one of your colleagues. The Smoker packs a wickedly long tongue that can ensnare you from huge distances, and the Tank is a huge powerful monster that can soak up bullets while tossing around furniture and pummelling your heroes into bloody pulps of flesh. The Witch, the only one of the special infected who can’t be controlled, is a sobbing child-like female who will only attack when disturbed from their torture. Avoiding the Witches is an absolute must, particularly at the higher difficulty levels.
Playing offline is a decent experience. Your chums are reasonably intelligent, picking off infected with ease, and healing and reviving each other when the time calls. But staying offline misses out on what Left 4 Dead is all about.
Head online with a group of online gaming chums and you’ll have an absolute riot. Covering each other, rescuing each other, and battling to the next safe zone is just supremely enjoyable. And if you get a bit bored of killing the zombies, you can become the aforementioned four playable special infected and work together to make sure the survivors fail to reach safety.
Online is where the real fun is available, particularly with gamers you can trust. Unfortunately, as is the case with most co-op titles, there are a large number that will refuse to co-operate, and even go out of their way to spoil the game for everyone else. Thankfully you can vote to kick poor players out of the game, meaning that discovering you’re stuck in a game with a bunch of absolute morons won’t spoil your fun for too long.
Just how long Left 4 Dead will last for you remains to be seen. As enjoyable as the online portion of the game is even after multiple tries thanks to the “Director”, killing thousands of zombies in the same setting can get a little tiresome after a while. Hopefully Valve are gearing up to offer free/cheap downloadable content to add more weaponry/scenarios to keep us all gripped for the long winter nights.
There’s little doubt that Left 4 Dead is one of the best co-op games out there at the moment. With four of you battling the zombie hordes, there’s little gaming experience that offers just as much in the way of fun time thrills.
But, if you plan to stick to the offline game all on your lonesome, you’re best giving this a wide berth.