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I’m not the biggest fan of zombies but I do respect their history in the media. However, for a while there not too long ago zombies seemed to be taking over the media, especially video games. It felt like every other game had zombies in it or some kind of zombie mode. I don’t get the obsession. What the does the stereotypical zombie actually do? It’s a mindless dead person that walks or runs right for you and tries to kill you, bite you, eat your brains, or something along those lines. Yeah, I’m not really impressed. The only games with zombies that I’ve ever truly wanted to play were the Left 4 Dead games. Developed and published by Valve, Left 4 Dead was released for PC and Xbox 360 in November, 2008. I did get this for 360 way back when and eventually acquired it for PC which is the version I played for this review, specifically the Game of the Year Edition which includes all of the DLC. I should mention that the Left 4 Dead campaigns were ported to Left 4 Dead 2 which include some of the new features introduced in that game so unless you’re hellbent on playing the original for some reason, I would recommend just getting Left 4 Dead 2. I already own both and never actually completed either game and I felt like beating the original just to say I did. Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter with an emphasis on co-operative play where you and up to three other players engage endless hordes of zombies. This can be enjoyed solo which is how I primarily played through it. Although, people do still play this online. I have played this cooperatively with a friend once before but it was years ago and we never did beat it.
When you first fire up the game, you can watch an intro which provides the only form of story as far as I can tell. If you’re really interested in the plot, I would recommend looking up a plot summary online which is what I did. Evidently, an outbreak of the “Green Flu” is spreading and infecting people at a rapid rate. It causes extreme aggression, mutation to the body cells, and basically turns people into zombies. Four immune survivors – Bill, Zoey, Louis, and Francis – make their way across numerous locations in an effort to survive. That’s really the gist of it. The game plays out through six campaigns – No Mercy, Crash Course, Death Toll, Dead Air, Blood Harvest, and The Sacrifice. The Sacrifice, in particular, was originally DLC for both this and the second game. Each campaign is broken up into multiple chapters and the goal of each chapter, minus the finales, is to navigate from one safe room to another. Left 4 Dead goes for a cinematic feel, paying homage to classic zombie movies. The voice acting is pretty bad but might be intentional and some of the dialogue is actually comedic. The game has this whole B-movie feel going for it which does give it a bit of charm. Just don’t expect interesting characters, an emotional narrative, or deep lore. But do expect fun and addictive gameplay.
Left 4 Dead multiple modes to play through – Campaign, Versus, Survival, and Single Player. Campaign allows you to play through the campaigns online with other players. Survival has you holding out for as long as you can. Versus is a competitive mode where players can be either Survivors or the Infected and compete for points. Single Player is where you can play through the campaigns solo with AI teammates. In Single Player, you can choose your difficulty of which there are four, the campaign and which chapter you want to play through, and finally, your character. No matter which character you choose, they all play exactly the same. You can walk, run, crouch, jump, perform a melee attack, and turn on and off a flashlight at any time. The goal of each chapter, minus the finale chapters, is to get to the safe room where you’ll be completely safe from harm and can stock up on ammo and supplies. You can hold one first-aid kit and one bottle of pain pills. First-aid kits will restore your health and pain pills will provide you a temporary health boost.
There’s only a handful of weapons and you’ll always start out with a pistol which has infinite ammo. You can dual wield pistols if you pick up a second one. You’ll want to find another more powerful weapon which is usually available at the start of chapters. You can acquire a pump shotgun, auto shotgun, submachine gun, assault rifle, and hunting rifle which is basically a sniper rifle. All of the weapons do prove to be useful and I find the assault rifle to be the most efficient but it also seems to run out of ammo the fastest. Ammo, weapons, health, and pain pills will be lying around the environments and outside of scripted areas, their placement is randomized. The shotguns are very effective weapons but their reload times are their only drawback. Reloading them takes time and leaves you exposed for several seconds. Left 4 Dead does run on the Source engine so if you’ve played Counter-Strike: Source or Half-Life 2, the actual shooting mechanics should feel familiar. You will be able to carry one explosive which can either be a molotov or pipe bomb which may be one of the more useful weapons in the game. When thrown, it makes a beeping noise that attracts enemies and they’ll all come running to it, surrounding it, which means it can blow tons of zombies away in one blast. And finally, some chapters allow you to man mounted miniguns.
The most common enemy you’ll encounter are the common infected, a.k.a. your stereotypical zombie. They growl, scream, and make disgusting noises, and they’re usually found all over the place, either standing around or sitting. If they spot you, they’ll normally come running right for you. Every now and then, the game will throw a horde at you, meaning tons of infected just come charging at you. Not only does this happen at certain times but it’s also triggered by completing objectives or activating something. The finales in each chapter all have you fending off hordes of infected. An infected enemy by itself is pretty harmless. It will try to slash away at you but you can easily blow it away with only a few shots or less or even melee it to death. The infected are more dangerous when they attack in large numbers. When you take enough damage, you’re movement will be slowed down, making it easier for enemies to get to you. Furthermore, when you’re getting attacked by a common infected, that also slows you down. The rest of the enemies are considered Special, one of which I would consider an actual boss-type enemy. Hunters are very fast enemies that can pounce on you and if they pin you down, you’ll need to be rescued by another survivor. Smokers are enemies that specialize in ambushing survivors and can grab and constrict you with their long tongues. Constricted survivors must also be rescued by the others. When a Smoker is killed, it emits a cloud of smoke which blurs your vision. When it comes to the Hunters and Smokers, you’re basically helpless when pinned down or constricted and must rely on other survivors to help you out. Another special enemy type is the Witch. You usually hear her crying when she’s in the vicinity and most of the time, she can be avoided which is highly recommended. Attacking her, getting too close, or shining your light on her will cause her to rush you and she can incapacitate you very quickly. The Boomer is a large fat enemy that can spit bile on you which will attract hordes of common infected. Killing a Boomer results in a bloody explosion that’s extremely satisfying. If a Boomer explodes too close to you, you will be covered in bile so it’s always a good idea to shove them away before shooting them. Just keep your distance if you can. The final special enemy which I consider a boss-type is the Tank. It’s just a giant fucker that rushes you, can push you around, throw things at you, and it’s basically a damage sponge but it is slowed down by automatic weapons fire.
Throughout the campaigns, you’ll be accompanied by the other three survivors. When playing in single player, they are all controlled by the AI. With that said, they’re actually pretty smart for the most part. Teammates low on health will heal themselves or take pain pills, you can heal them, revive them if they’re down, or even give them healing items. They’ll do the same for you and even help each other out. They’ll actually kill enemies, swap out weapons, acquire ammo, and can hold their own in a battle. When all your health is drained, you’ll be incapacitated and only able to shoot with your pistols until you’re revived by a teammate. But they need to be quick because you’re health will slowly drain while you’re down. If all of you are incapacitated, you die and have to restart the entire chapter which can be kind of frustrating but luckily, the chapters should only take you about ten to fifteen minutes, at least on the Normal difficulty mode. If an AI survivor dies, they do respawn in rooms later on and you just need to get to them. My only complaint with the AI is that they get in your way. Other than that, they are very well behaved and are great to have at your side. Whether you’re playing with actual people or AI, you’ll always want to stick together and you will have to be mindful of where you’re firing because friendly fire can occur often if you shoot too wildly. Rushing ahead is usually never a good idea. If you get pinned down or constricted, your health will slowly drain so you’ll want friendlies nearby to help you out. Furthermore, during a horde invasion, it’s good to have them at your side shooting in multiple directions. The friendly AI really does prove to be useful and without them, things would be much more difficult. As for the enemy AI, the common infected are brain dead which, in this case, is expected. They stand around, they’re easy to kill, and they just rush you. They’ll break through doors, windows, and walls, climb obstacles, and the body count will be in the hundreds. The special enemies aren’t really that smart either since they, too, just rush you. The game is more about contending with tons of enemies at all times. It’s a zombie game so I wouldn’t expect anything different.
I would say there’s two things that make this game truly enjoyable. One is the gunplay. The actual act of shooting these infected enemies is very satisfying. The other is the “AI Director” which gives the game an infinite amount of replay value. The director controls the pacing, item placements, enemy placements, what enemies spawn, the quantity of enemies, and it’s all based on the player’s current situation, status, skill, and location. It’s probably the most impressive thing about this game and I think other developers should really take some notes here. As you may or may not know, I am a big advocate for single player experiences and most certainly replay value. I love games that keep me coming back without having to rely on other people. And the AI Director is a perfect example of this. But don’t get me wrong, playing with other people is still a lot of fun. Each playthrough will be a different experience and the only constant is the environmental layouts. Add in the multiple difficulty modes, multiplayer, and mod support which allows for custom campaigns, and you’ve got plenty of reasons to return. I did look for some gameplay mods but I think most of the modding community has moved onto Left 4 Dead 2. I do know there’s some custom campaigns and skins out there.
Each campaign has a different theme and each chapter within a campaign is set in different areas. You’ll traverse through city streets, rooftops, sewers, a port, and more. My favorite campaign is definitely Dead Air just because of the locations. You’ll traverse through a hotel, an office building, and a destroyed airport among others. All of the environments are pretty linear for the most part so it would be hard to get lost but there is usually plenty of branching paths and rooms that may contain enemies or resources or simply lead to the same place. Considering that the gunplay is fun and that resources like ammo, health, and weapons are not usually lying around everywhere, there’s no reason not to do a little exploring. Plus, the multiple paths allow for quick escapes if you’re getting swarmed. But is also means enemies can come swarming from multiple directions. You can accidentally set off car alarms that will attract hordes of common infected. Throughout the environments are gas cans and propane tanks which can be picked up, thrown, and you can shoot these and even flammable barrels to blow them up and start fires which can be utilized to kill large groups of enemies. I think my only real complaint about the game as a whole is that the gameplay gets repetitive. Each chapter has you essentially doing the same thing. Go from point A to B and don’t die. Some chapters include objectives like activating something which always results in you having you wait for it to finish which means you just need to survive a horde. There’s no real variety to the gameplay. Run from A to B and shoot everything in between. After completing a chapter, you can view your what I’ll call scores which include things like general defense, how much damage each character did to the Tank, how much damage each character did to the Witch, and things along those lines. Once you complete a campaign, the “credits” roll which keeps in line with the game’s cinematic style but the credits are actually your team’s stats for the campaign. These include things like how many deaths, first-aid kits used, how many enemies were killed, how many headshots, and things of that nature.
I really wasn’t interested in the Versus mode but I was going to check it out anyway. However, there were no online games available. The same goes for Survival but considering it’s a co-operative mode, it can be enjoyed with bots. There is no single player variant of Survival for some reason but you can join an online game or start a lobby and create your own game by choosing the campaign, chapter, and server type. Your teammates will be bots until other players join. The chapters are set in specific areas of the environments seen in the campaigns. However, there is also an exclusive campaign for Survival called Last Stand and it contains only one map called The Lighthouse. As soon as the match starts, each character starts with dual pistols, and you’re provided most of the primary weapons to choose from, plenty of ammo and health items but they are in limited supply. After grabbing what you need, you’ll have to activate something and then the hordes start coming. Enemies will come rushing at you from every direction and you just need to survive for as long as you can. The game will keep throwing waves and waves of enemies at you until you die. The game will throw every enemy type at you in what seems like every wave and Tanks were usually the death of me. You’ll earn medals if you can stay alive for certain amounts of time. Both Survival and Versus include melee fatigue which means after performing a couple of melee attacks, you’ll need to wait a few seconds until you can perform it again. Melee fatigue is not present in the Campaign mode. I was curious as to why this was even necessary because it really didn’t make sense to me at first and discovered that apparently some players would melee their way through all of the game modes without ever firing their weapon. Every now and then I ended up joining a third-party server that included what was called the Perkmod. This mod allows you to choose two perks like doing more damage, faster reloading, bonus health buffer when taking pills, and more. I also noticed that enemies will drop weapons upon getting killed, you get points for kills, and there’s more information provided to player on the HUD like when special enemies spawn. It’s a neat mod and does change up the gameplay in interesting ways. Overall, Survival is pretty fun but it’s probably best enjoyed with other people. Survival can get intense very quickly and the bots can’t really keep up and they tend to die only after a few minutes, at least in my experience. Team work and communication is probably key in a mode like this.
Maybe it’s because I played a lot of Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2 Deathmatch back in the day but to me it’s very obvious that this is a Source game and is developed by Valve. At least when talking about how things look and feel. I think some of the same assets from those games are even present here. Regardless, it looks pretty good, at least for its time. The lighting is excellent and it’s awesome watching gunfire illuminate dark areas during a hectic battle. The animations are fantastic. Shooting an infected enemy with a shotgun may result in them flying backwards. Sometimes enemies will stumble before falling to the ground. You can blow off their heads and limbs, blood will fly through the air, and the blood splatter looks amazing. The animations and visual effects really enhance the gunplay in positive ways. The environments do contain plenty of detail like graffiti on the walls, you’ll navigate through destroyed buildings, cars, garbage, and dead bodies litter the streets, you may come across pools of blood and body parts, and the entire presentation gives off a creepy atmosphere. I would also like to mention that each character has full body awareness. It’s just a minor detail but it’s always nice to know you’re character isn’t just a floating arm and hand holding a weapon. Music seems to kick in only at certain points and it does a pretty good job at making encounters feel tense and exciting but I would hardly call the music memorable unless you play this religiously. The sound effects, on the other hand, are pretty fucking great. Weapons fire is extremely loud and booming. Every weapon has a punch to it. You can hear Boomers gargling, choking, or regurgitating their bile as they walk around the environments. Infected enemies will growl, roar, and make typical zombie noises. Evidently, Mike Patton from Faith No More, is one of the voice actors for the infected. On the technical side, I think I saw the frame rate stutter once or twice but that’s it. It ran pretty smooth throughout my entire experience. I do wish you could change the crosshair size in-game but apparently that can only be done through mods. I’m not sure if it can be done through commands but I find the crosshair to just be way too big.
Despite the repetition, I definitely had fun with Left 4 Dead. I think the repetitive gameplay is why I never beat this years ago but this time I just blasted through it. It’s the gunplay and AI Director that really kept me going. Not only is the gunplay satisfying but mowing down hordes of zombies and seeing the bodies pile up becomes extremely addictive. Whether you die or just want to play through a chapter again, you’ll never have the same experience twice. It’s the combination of all these things that make this one of the best zombie games ever made in my opinion. I do wish there were more weapons and enemies but what’s here works well and is balanced. Now I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of zombies but I’ll also be the first to admit when a game is fun and Left 4 Dead is fun. The game is designed for co-operative play and yet it still manages to offer a fun single player experience. Obviously, there’s only so much you can do with bots so you’ll probably get a lot more out of this if you have some buddies to play with. This game is purely about shooting zombies so if that’s your kind of thing, then Left 4 Dead should be perfect for you.
I would absolutely recommend Left 4 Dead to fans of anything zombies, shooters, and action games. The gunplay and AI Director are what make this game as fun and addictive as it is and it’s probably best to play it with some friends. I hear the 360 version even supports split-screen. I’ve read this is possible with the PC version as well but requires some editing of files or something. Now I have played Left 4 Dead 2 and I do think that’s the better game out of the two so if I had to recommend just one, I would recommend that over this. Considering the stories in these games are basically unimportant, and because you can actually play through these campaigns in that game, there’s really no reason not to get it unless you prefer the multiplayer aspects here or just don’t like the new content added. But Left 4 Dead is still a fun game and if you’re just interested in trying this one, specifically, then I would say definitely check it out.