Left 4 Dead
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
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
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
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
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.
are bloody huge..."
Hats have to be tipped to the phenomenal enemy design on
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
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 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.
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
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