Valve just launched their new game on the ten year anniversary of their classic title Half-Life. This new game puts you and three comrades in a city overrun by zombies. Your mission? To survive. You’ve got to escape the city in order to survive, moving from safe-house to safe-house. There have been zombie themed games in the past, of course. It even seems like nowadays between games and movies, zombies are the new black. When in doubt, just add zombies to improve any intellectual property.
So what’s so different about Left 4 Dead? Well in some ways, there are a lot of differences with this game, but some ways its more of the same, which isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to zombies. Can a simple zombie themed shoot-‘em-up succeed in the face of all these other ambitious titles this winter? Well Left 4 Dead has a few tricks up its sleeve to help with that goal.
This game is all about cooperation. You can play with artificial intelligence controlled teammates but you really want to play with friends if you want success. The game does a good job of forcing you to cooperate and punishing you if you don’t. For that, this game is somewhat unique. There are other teamwork based games but this time it’s really essential and the fulcrum on which your outcome rests. There is no single player campaign to speak of – but rather just four acts with five scenes each as your group of four survivors travels between safe-houses. You could play alone if you really want but this isn’t a solo affair and necessitates multiplayer collaboration.
There is no direct narrative here, fitting in to the fact that there is no real campaign to speak of. Instead there are hints at story scattered throughout the game, mostly through graffiti on the walls of safe-houses. There are a lot of puzzle pieces that you can check out and maybe piece together to form a picture of what’s going on. Really though, all you are aware of is that there are zombies all over the place and you want to survive them, escaping the city to do so.
You’ll find yourself frequently low on supplies. You cant go wasting your ammunition too much – especially since you inexplicably don’t have any melee weapon options to speak of. You have to reserve your medical supplies for when it counts. Any special inventory items (like pipe bombs) should be saved for when you’re really sure you need it. All this makes it a little more stressful and means that just running to the next safe-house isn’t the best move. Sometimes you have to take risks to explore for more supplies and timing your supply expenditure can be crucial. Often supply management can make all the difference between success and failure.
Asside from each protagonist and antagonist having their own AI, the game utilizes an overriding AI Director which controls the pace of the game to in one sense randomize what’s going on to keep players constantly on edge and constantly in search for more threats and supplies. The idea is that the game is never boring and never the same but this doesn’t really disguise the fact that there are really only four levels and while the zombies can be unpredictable in terms of volume and location, it is always just more of the same.
The game has a versus mode to allow players to attempt survival against zombies controlled by other human players. The idea is to survive as best you can against them then swap sides to see how well they can survive against you for comparison. As far as multiplayer goes this is pretty weak. Its fun, sure but not a huge shift from the cooperative gameplay. Mostly, this mode just highlights the monotony in gameplay with this title.
Some people are going to love this game. For others, it is likely not worth full price. Its loads of fun if you have three friends helping you through expert mode. The problem is that there are only a few levels, without much variety at all and while Valve has tried to spice up the game, they can’t disguise the monotonous experience that will turn some players off. For those who love the game, they will be treated to a unique, dynamic and social teamwork experience rewarding their cooperation and communication. If killing zombies and working as a team is up your alley you should consider this title but just don’t expect much variation.