Whoever thought that fighting desperately to fight off hordes of menacing brain eaters could ever be so diabolically delightful and actual enjoyment with three other friends? If you were to tell me that a few years ago, I would not have believed you at all. First of all, zombie games weren’t very big before Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, and second of all- who’d heard of cooperative zombie bashing and slashing? Overall however, Left 4 Dead impresses on many fronts, and still stands strong in all of its brainy glory even today, four years later.
Whether you are playing offline in singleplayer or splitscreen cooperative, or online in one of the various attack and defend styled maps- as either a flesh eating zombie or a desperate survivor, the game is completely packed to the brim with content and impressive setpiece moments. This is truly a robust and deeply graphic and entertaining experience, and one that I wouldn’t want anyone to ever have to miss if I had the choice to make it a mandatory US law that every gamer must own a copy- unless of course, they are under an appropriate age of, say…sixteen.
Throughout the game, there are essentially only two goals for both the humans and the flesh eating zombies infesting the wasted world we once knew, until that terrible infection. For the surviving humans, their constant goal is to reach that next safehouse, gather up enough ammo to cut a swathe through the zombie hordes, and to gear up on medical equipment and pills until they can eventually escape their position. Also, one very important detail to pay attention to as well- never let the tank into your safehouse, mayhem ensues. Consequently, the entire purpose of the zombies is to eat more brains (duh!) and by this I mean to utterly decimate your team of survivors. Beware of the specially classed infected such as the smoker, hunter, and tank- as their respective traits may just do you in in combination. Killing ordinary zombies is one thing, but once one of these guys gets a hold of you, aside from being freed by a companion, there is no escape whatsoever.
This goes to show that teamwork is also the main focus of the game. Lone wolves do not often survive for very long in the zombie apocalypse, and those that do can count themselves extremely lucky- and in the minority of players. No, to take down this game, you’ll have to learn to watch each others back, constantly save other pinned or incapacitated players, and cut a deadly wedge through the undead defenses one bullet at a time- or a few hundred if you favor the assault rifles. Another key reason to watch your defenses and your back comes from the fact that no two playthroughs are ever the same. Sure, the levels never change- but zombies spawn in new locales every time you restart a level, and any trigger to set them off or alert the rest of the horde simply does nothing more than bring another wave of flesh eating meat down upon your heads as well, so place your shots carefully. Of course, that is much easier said than done in the chaos of battle and survival of the fittest, especially when armed with the magical zombie bursting weapon of undead killing choice- the automatic shotgun.
While weapons are somewhat limited (it is the zombie apocalypse after all, so you’re lucky to find them and ammo laying everywhere already) and no melee weapons make appearances in this version of Left 4 Dead- you can utilize a quick and effectively brutal gun smash on zombies to keep them at bay, and have a choice from four different types of weapons including shotguns, assault rifles, hunting rifles, and pistols. You always have a pistol with unlimited ammo as a backup, and can also wield them akimbo style as well. Since you can only have two weapons at a time, you can choose from one of the remaining three types of guns and a few subcategories of each. You’ll also be able to use one explosive- either a molotov cocktail (Shaun of the Dead style) or a classic pipe bomb (Harry Potter Puppet Pals) to great effect, and easily clear out large numbers of huddled enemies, or a charging witch.
On a multiplayer side of things- as mentioned before, you can play as either survivors (who of course want to survive the fight) or zombies (who try to stop them and destroy them one by one). Of course it is the most fun to play as zombies, especially since that is somewhat of a new idea in gaming- and toned to perfection here, or as close as it can come. You play as one of four special infected- including the hulking behemoth of a tank, barfing boomer, the hunter who claws at you like a wildcat and can leap insane distances, and the creepy smoker who leaves behind a foul cloud after he strangles you to death. Seeing as there’s not much more to do other than survive just as in the normal single or cooperative campaigns, multiplayer hosts two sides, each trying to outdo the other and completely decimate them. Zombies obviously have virtually unlimited spawns, while the survivors must survive until they successfully reach the saferoom. The zmobies main goal is to stop them, and that’s the whole fun of these addicting modes, and communication is just as key- if not more so than in the campaign stories.
One of the only really problematic letdowns in terms of gameplay, or lack thereof, would be the shortage of true content for single player related excursions and also the few maps for multiplayer. While matches are always fresh and exciting, using the same matches over and over again makes them quite boring after awhile- no matter how well designed they were in the first place. Of course, this isn’t that much of a big deal if you have an Xbox Live membership- as there is a ton of newer content out there as well, although most pertains to story mode content, and not necessarily multiplayer as such. The AI is ingenious, so even if you are forced to play solo, you will probably have a better chance of playing as the bots perform better than most normal players do throughout the campaigns. All in all, this little gem needs to e rediscovered by many players, even if the second game adds in where this one leaves off…
Concept: Add a brilliant zombie apocalypse pushing the boundaries of modern cooperative shooting and action to a somewhat linear single player story and a host of innovative multiplayer ideas and you’ve got a surefire recipe for enjoyment and fun.
Graphics: The graphics are still good by today’s standards, reminds players of Half Life 2’s creepiest settings on full auto, and also manages to include a stunning amount of detail on the many crawling corpses onscreen at the same time.
Sounds: The repetitive nature of the survivor’s dialogue is handy and annoying at the same time, but every time a zombie moves or hisses, the captured quality and soundtrack make for a pants-full inducing mix.
Playability: The lack of iron sights may be a slight letdown, but the game works fine without them, and continues on full speed ahead without interruption.
Entertainment: While there is only a handful of extra content to enjoy for online players, the high octane sequences and ever-changing spawning makes for a hectic ad frightful escape each and every time.
Replay Value: Moderately High
Overall Rating: 8.75