Back to Contents...

Left 4 Dead
By an over-stimulated, zombified Lewis Denby.

There are an awful lot of zombies in Left 4 Dead.  That might sound obvious, but I want to be careful to emphasise quite how many of the bloody things there are.  Itís as if the original Doom gunned through a baddie-multiplier ten times before turning round and charging at you with its unfathomably huge army.
In a cute homage to Dead Rising, thereís one achievement that involves killing 53,594 enemies; that a hell of a lot of people are likely to hit this figure should suggest just how bloodthirsty this game is.

Okay, so theyíre not strictly zombies.  Letís take care of that before some smart-alec pipes up.  The only snippet of background weíre given, as the game launches into a slick and exciting opening cut-scene, is that Left 4 Dead takes place two weeks after ďthe initial infection.Ē  With this, and the lightning-quick pace of the standard enemy types, Valve has borrowed heavily from British horror benchmark í28 Days Laterí; but then Valveís storytelling prowess has never been focused on the background.  Indeed, as nailed in the Half-Life series, this marvellous team of designers has realised that the videogameís most exciting narrative potential lies within allowing players to unravel the plot themselves.

In the case of Left 4 Dead, this is mainly confined to the safe rooms that act as brief, barricaded intermission points between the mind-bogglingly intense levels.  In these areas, other survivors have scrawled notes to each other, providing hints as to whatís happened before and whatís to come.  These range from the deliciously spooky to the hilariously bizarre, and all help create a genuine sense of place and atmosphere that Left 4 Dead hosts by the bucket-load.

Thatís not to say Left 4 Dead is a particularly complex title, but weíre essentially dealing with a co-operative old-school shooter, and these touches add a surprising amount of depth to the trigger-happy gunplay that dominates the game.  It works in just the right ways.  This is real, contemporary pulp fiction, a brave and admirable B-movie of a videogame.  It strikes a chord in all the right places in the horror climate of present, and while its long-term appeal may be debatable, there are few recent releases that tap quite so finely into the current fictional psyche.

For this reason alone, Left 4 Dead is an absolute riot, and the single-player game will be more than enough to keep most casual players occupied for a weekend.  More hardened gamers may find themselves blasting through the four missions in one afternoon, and come away feeling a little disappointed.  Sticking to the solo experience, however, would be madness.

"...exciting narrative potential..."

The thing about Left 4 Dead is that the stories it tells stem far beyond the confines of videogame-controlled NPCs.  All but one of my favourite moments with the game arrived due to something we had done.  Be it a particularly good piece of tactical flair, or - more likely - an inexplicably bad one, thereís an omnipresent sense that the playerís actions are defining the experience.  The more players involved, the more this feeling intensifies, leaving ever-more magical tales in its wake.

As such, in co-operative mode, Left 4 Dead becomes one of the most staggeringly brilliant games Iíve played in ages.  To have a few AI-controlled bots tagging along behind you is one thing, but to fight the infected masses with three other people is blinding.  In this area, Left 4 Dead absolutely cements what the zombie genre is all about: help each other, if only to help yourself.

If the pack ever splits up for more than a few seconds, someone will die.  Thatís pretty much a given, particularly on the harder difficulty settings.  Proceedings are dynamically controlled by a groundbreaking AI system known as ĎThe Directorí, which controls the amount, timing and placement of enemies and resources in a given area.  It adjusts so dramatically and coherently to the flow of the game that many wonít notice it to begin with.  On repeat plays, when the action pans out completely differently based on your teamís progress, it begins to thoroughly impress.

If thereís one thing that Left 4 Dead positively encourages, itís forward movement.  Or, rather, failure to stick to these terms gets The Director particularly angry.  Hanging around for any significant length of time only serves as an excuse to throw another swarm of undead into the mix, usually attacking from about ten different angles as a harsh punishment for your loitering.  Rushing ahead without your pals or returning to collect an item from a previous point is similarly ill-advised, usually resulting in a comparable and well-deserved demise.  Whether you like your team-mates or not is irrelevant.  Youíre stuck with them, and without each otherís help, no one is going to make it past the next room.  Even with that help, the odds are stacked against you that little bit more every second.  This is true, pure survival horror.

"...Tanks are bloody huge..."

Hats have to be tipped to the phenomenal enemy design on show.  In addition to the bog-standard infected humans, Valve has thrown four Ďspecialí foes into the mix, all posing a more significant threat than the usual hordes.  Hunters are small but deadly, leaping long distances to ravish their prey.  Smokers strangle survivors with their inhumanly long and strong tongues.  Boomers projectile vomit, alerting other enemies of the survivorsí presence in the area.  Tanks are just bloody huge and take an age to bring down.  And witchesÖ well.  The witches are a bit special.

It takes a lot of guts to design an enemy this tastily gruesome, this tantalisingly devilish, and then tell the player they should never go anywhere near her.  Witches are passive when undisturbed, but the instant one is upset by an errant torch beam or a loud gunshot, itís largely game over for the unfortunate soul who startled her.  Sheís an absolute terror of a one-hit-kill enemy, even before sheís anywhere near your line of sight.  Her chilling combination of singing and sobbing makes her one of the most truly horrifying videogame characters Iíve ever witnessed.  Sheís a vulnerable, unpredictable nightmare.  Sheís magnificent.

Sheís also the only character that canít be controlled in Versus mode.  To be honest, sitting in a corner crying for the majority of the game probably wouldnít be all that fun.  Thatís what I spent most of my time doing while playing Sacred 2, and I didnít enjoy that at all.

"...provides for some hilarious insanity..."

Versus mode is Left 4 Deadís final noteworthy feature, and one I didnít quite Ďgetí to begin with.  Here, the survivors are pitted against a team of human-controlled special enemies.  Itís one hundred per cent reliant on playing with friends; dropping into a random server usually leads to a messy team deathmatch, with little or no tactical planning.  Eight friends with microphones, however, planning, observing and pouncing at the opposition, provides for some of the most hilarious insanity on offer in the whole game.

Which brings us to a slight annoyance: itís not that easy to join the game you want to.  Unless you own a dedicated server, thereís no option to browse for a specific game.  You can quick-search for where your friends are playing, and invite them into your own games, but aside from that, itís pretty much randomised.  Trying to get a few mates together becomes a bit of a chore as a result, but itís nothing game-destroying.

Frankly, not a lot could destroy Left 4 Dead.  Itís a high-octane, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride of a shooter, with all the sparkle and polish of a Valve masterpiece.  Every bit as enthralling and addictive as the teamís previous work, Left 4 Dead is an absolute classic of multiplayer action gaming.  I canít wait to see what the community will inevitably create for it in the months to come.

FORMAT: PC (reviewed) / XBox360



Back to Contents...


What is Resolution?
Resolution is a monthly videogames e-zine run primarily by a group of egocentric misfits in Leeds, UK.

It's all delivered in the lovely, straightforward format of HTML, so you've no silly PDF files to download. We aim to talk about videogames in the most diverse and relevant way possible, meaning we've the standard 'news and reviews' gubbins, but also plenty of other worthwhile articles for you to cast your watchful eyes over.

We do this because we bloody love videogames, we bloody love writing about them, and we're bloody proud of both of these facts. We hope that you - yes, sir/madam, you! - can share in this gleeful excitement about this most wonderful of creative media, and that you enjoy reading the words what we have written.

Contact Resolution.

Any queries, troubles, pleas or death threats should be sent to

If it's for the attention of a particular writer, say so in the subject line and it'll be passed on accordingly.