Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 4, 2008
I came back from an EA event last year raving about Left 4 Dead. Using the Source engine, it creates the kind of zombie apocalypse that a lot of gamers, including myself, have been looking for. You're set down in the middle of a massive horde of fast-moving, angry zombies and left on your own.
You and three of your friends, using limited resources, must shoot your way through an undead-choked environment to (increasingly dubious) safety. You can carry one large gun, up to two pistols, one first-aid kit, a bottle of painkillers, and one explosive of some kind, such as the recently added Molotov cocktails or a pipe bomb that attracts nearby zombies to it before it explodes.
Most importantly, Left 4 Dead cannot be played alone. If even one zombie reaches you, you're in trouble. Anyone who runs off on his own is going to die. You're forced to stick together and cooperate if you want to win.
At the same time, up to four other people (they are not your friends; not now) volunteer to be the Enemy, causing more powerful undead to spawn out of nowhere and come jump on your face. This includes the Hunter, who can now instantly knock down a survivor, leading to their death if they don't get help in time; the Smoker, who can choke a survivor with its lengthy tongue; the Witch, who sleeps somewhere on the map and will wreck your day if you somehow manage to wake it up; and the Tank, an enormously fat zombie that can take insane amounts of damage without dying and is way faster than it ought to be.
Left 4 Dead was supposed to come out in February, but it's still undergoing tweaks. All four of the main human characters — a biker, an old veteran, a businessman, and a teenage girl — have gotten brand-new character models, for one thing, and the maps have been adjusted. As you approach the end of a scenario, you'll run into what the developers call "crescendo events," where you'll be given time to prepare before triggering a massive showdown with a horde of zombies. These events allow you to set up crossfires, man mounted machine guns (which almost literally liquefy any zombies you hit), or detonate explosives, forcing zombies to charge you through roaring flames.
When Left 4 Dead ships, it'll do so on the PC and 360 (although you won't be able to play with gamers using a platform other than yours), with five maps containing four scenarios each, some set in the country and others in the city. It's gone through a lot of polish, leading to some amazingly evocative maps, and in the latest version, rewards have been added for exploring them. Digging through closets and dark rooms may reveal ammunition, weaponry, more first-aid supplies, or a couple of extra zombies that you don't notice until they fasten onto your head.
Left 4 Dead is focused on cooperative multiplayer, which means it's going to be like catnip for griefers. That's about the only complaint I can make, really (besides the fact that the Source engine still doesn't handle ladders as smoothly as I'd like), as it's otherwise an intense experience that you can play in 20-minute bursts. Left 4 Dead is the perfect short adrenaline rush, and I'm vaguely annoyed that I don't already have a copy.
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