|Clearing the rooftop for evac|
Thankfully, Left 4 Dead is one of those games that is pretty simple to grasp the basics but hard to master - and mastering it involves being able to work as a team and trust your teammates to do their job. It seems that this year, developers are finally realising that some of us gamers miss the good ol' days of co-op gaming with other titles like Call of Duty: World at War and Red Alert 3 also supporting co-op - however, Left 4 Dead was built from the ground up for co-op so let us see if it delivers on what it promises!
Audio in this game is excellent and so it should be if you're aiming to make a game recreate the same feel as a film. Special zombies make different noises making giving those with good hearing a heads-up on what's around. Also the characters themselves will usually pipe in randomly every so often when they hear special zombies nearby, when directing the way and even just commenting on the current situation. With four different characters and four campaigns, this means you'll get a bit of variety in dialogue each time you play. Oh and the quality of the voice acting is pretty spot-on too. The voices and dialogue match the stereotypes to a tee.
I haven't come across a game that uses music in such a clever way for a long time. Most of the time you'll probably just hear silence although every so often you'll hear creepy ambient music which eventually crescendos and becomes more tense as you start encountering the Horde or special zombies - and the Horde and special zombies have their own theme music too which helps further in identifying what's coming next. And if that wasn't enough to make the game feel even more like a movie, there's even a short 3-note ditty that acts as the theme song for the game and you'll hear it recurring in the aforementioned samples. Top stuff.
Very good graphics and can run on a modest system (although I've recently had a guildie report that this isn't actually the case). The graphics aren't revolutionary since it uses the Source engine but it uses it well. Occasionally there are some clipping issues (zombies poking their heads through walls, doors, etc.) but most FPSes have these problems so it's forgiveable.
Plot is your typical zombie flick which you'll either hate or love. Thankfully, I'm one of the latter and the fact that you take the role of what is similar to an actor in a film helps with the immersion. You're even rewarded with a summary of the game once you finish a campaign in the form of a movie credits screen.
The gameplay is quite simple but in order to survive on harder difficulties, exceptional teamwork is required as if you don't stick as a team, things can go horribly wrong. Basically you and three mates take the roles of four "Survivors" from one of four zombie flicks (which are actually the campaigns). The campaigns are broken up into chapters where the aim of each chapter is to get to a safehouse (which will unlock the next chapter). Along the way you'll fight against normal zombies (the Horde) and special zombies which have different abilities (e.g. a Smoker can strangle you with something resembling a retractable tongue - maybe lungs? A Hunter can pounce and pin a Survivor to the ground and maul them, etc). If teammates drop to the floor they need to be assisted back up by a fellow Survivor - if all teammates are down it's pretty much game over (even if they aren't dead). This helps to emphasise how important teamplay is. There's not a great deal of weapons in this game but I believe they've struck the right balance.
Ultimately the game is fun and it's co-op! Okay, co-op games are nothing new and if anything they're oldskool, thanks to the Internet making multiplayer games involving more than a handful of people, commonplace. So technically, it shouldn't be hard to make a co-op game. However, to do so is to buck against the trend and you really need some balls as a developer in order to give it a go. Thankfully this season we've had quite a few developers taking the risk and giving what the public wants! Many of you probably remember the good ol' days of LAN parties, where you and three mates could immerse yourself into an adventure battling the minions from Hell, alien creatures or even the evil monsters of Faerun. Now you can get to battle zombies in a game that was built from the ground up with co-op in mind.
One hand, replayability is really good. Zombie spawns are randomised each time you play and there are four difficulty levels for each of the campaigns. However there are only four campaigns (at the moment) and if you play on Easy difficulty it's most likely you'll finish the game in about four hours (so lesson to be learnt here, don't play on Easy, at least play on Normal!). Another problem is the random players from the public you may play with are either annoying or incompetent and can ruin the experience. Why not just play with your mates you ask? Sure, that's what this game is for but once your friends move on to another game, then what are you going to do? Therein lies Left 4 Dead's strength and weakness.
Versus mode fortunately helps to increase the games replayability though. In this mode you can get a chance to play with other human players as the Infected. Your goal is to prevent another team of human players reaching the safehouse for that stage. The more damage you inflict on the Survivors and the further away from the safehouse they perish, the more points you earn for your team. The opposition then switches sides and try their hand as the Infected to try and beat your team's score. It's a fun game mode but unfortunately you don't have the neat "Take a Break" feature on this one, which gets the AI to handle a character if you need to temporarily go AFK.
There was initially some problems early on with connecting to servers but these have been mostly resolved with the introduction of more dedicated servers and ones that are close to home too (hooray for Australian servers)! The game still occasionally have idiots that will join your game and ruin it for everyone else but to Valve's credit they've added a Friends-Only game option which only allows your Steam Friends to join the game.
Overall - 80%
For fans of the traditional LAN party, rejoice, for now there is a game built from the ground up for co-op! Just make sure your friends sign a contract to say they'll continue to play this game for the next couple of years or so to get your money's worth! :)