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Left 4 Dead

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Valve
Developer: Turtle Rock
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2008


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Xbox 360 Review - 'Left 4 Dead'

by Matt Olsen on Dec. 11, 2008 @ 6:09 a.m. PST

Set in a modern day survival-horror universe, the co-operative gameplay of Left 4 Dead casts four "Survivors" in an epic struggle against hordes of swarming zombies and terrifying "Boss Infected" mutants.

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Valve
Developer: Valve
Release Date: November 18, 2008

After asking who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas (ninjas would own), the next logical question would be: What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse? While some will obviously base their survival on zombie movies, video games, or heeding the advice of Max Brooks' "Zombie Survival Guide," the best choice would be to team up with three buddies in Valve's latest title, Left 4 Dead for Xbox 360.

Plots involving zombies are a mixed bag. Some stories can be completely awesome, such as "28 Days Later," while others can be overwhelmingly lame in the case of "Quarantine." Regardless of the story, it usually involves something going wrong and the whole population mutating into flesh-devouring zombie fiends. Left 4 Dead is no different, and although we don't find out how the zombie outbreak occurs, we know that it's been at least two weeks since it started. Players will control one of the four survivors (Bill, Francis, Louis and Zoey) who are immune to the zombie infection and must fight their way through hordes of infected citizens to escape. Each controls the same, but their unique personalities are what cause players to form deeper connections with them. These personalities are what drive the story (albeit lacking) of the single-player campaign for Left 4 Dead. The single-player game is broken up into four separate campaigns (called "movies"), and each includes five stages. Overall, players will be able to fly through all of the campaigns in about six to eight hours.

All of the levels essentially consist of getting from point A to point B without dying. Throughout these stages, players fight through waves of zombies, the Infected, which come in a variety of forms and behaviors. There are your typical "weak" zombies that appear everywhere and either stand around or charge at you in the attempt to rip your body apart. They may appear weak individually, but they have a nasty habit of showing up in large groups and can easily overwhelm players. The Horde appears in various situations, such as scripted events where you're waiting for an elevator to arrive or a mechanical door to open. Another way to prompt a Horde appearance is to be vomited on by the grotesque Boomers or be in close contact with them when they explode upon being shot. Their disgusting gurgling noises are a sign that one is coming to your position, and it's best to be on guard to avoid a regurgitated fate.

The next Infected type includes the predatory Hunters, who like to creep around dark corners and pounce on unsuspecting victims while unleashing a bloodcurdling scream. Another survivor must punch or shoot the Hunter in order to free his pinned comrade. In addition to the Hunters, the Smokers are of the lurking variety too. They can lash out and drag survivors with their long tongues from a distance, and depending on the circumstances, it can take a long time before anyone rescues that person. Possibly the most vicious of the Infected are the deceptive Witches. Their moaning cries echo throughout the vicinity, and should a survivor disturb them, they will lash out and knock down players in a quick and horrific manner.

Finally, there are the Tanks, which, as their name suggests, are huge juggernauts of destruction. They can take a great deal of damage before going down, but not without dealing some of their own. Tanks can lift and throw large objects at the survivors and even send them flying with their colossal punches. Given the powerful nature of Tanks, they act as mini-bosses and are fairly uncommon.

Now, you may be thinking that these zombies sound pretty awesome and wonder if it's possible to control one. If you have an online connection and a subscription to Xbox Live, then you can thrash away in the title's intriguing versus mode. It, along with the other online modes, is the heart and soul of Left 4 Dead. Players will group into teams of four and take turns playing through the game as the survivors or prevent the opposing team from reaching their goal as the Infected. Infected players will be randomly selected to play as Boomers, Hunters, Smokers or Tanks, and all are a thrill to play.

If you aren't in the competitive mood, Left 4 Dead includes online cooperative play, which can offer you a better team than the AI-controlled ones. On the flip side, there are also a ton of bad players, so it's hit-or-miss. Essentially, you'll want a solid human team if you ever plan to take on the (optional) ordeal of completing the campaign on expert difficulty, and that is where the rubber meets the road on how imperative it is to play online with this title. The single-player campaign is nice, but you will feel shortchanged on the price of admission, due to its short length.

Fortunately, the single-player and all of the game modes won't ever feel dull, as every experience is completely unique. An innovative technology called the AI Director alters the gameplay experience dependent on the players' performance. If players are doing well, the AI will send out more Infected and provide fewer resources for players. On the other hand, the action will tone down if players are having trouble advancing through a level. With that said, Left 4 Dead is a game that you'll be playing over and over again for a long time.

Another thing that fascinated me was how easy it is for someone to pick up the game and play. If it's not Valve's track record that entices people to play the title, it's the zombie shooting action that will. The controls play out like your typical 360 FPS, where you move with the left thumbstick, aim with the right, fire your weapon with the right trigger and so on down that line. One thing that may disappoint players is the lack in variety of weapons. There are only a handful of shotguns and assault rifles to use, and you can only carry one of them in addition to the default pistol. A nice thing about the pistol is you miraculously have an infinite supply of ammo, while the other weapons have limited ammo that can be replenished from piles of ammunition scattered throughout levels.

Like your weapons, your supplies are also limited. You can only carry one med kit at a time for restoring your health and that of your allies. Players can pick up and use pain pills for restoring temporary health, and they can carry either one Molotov cocktail or one pipe bomb. These explosive weapons are good for countering hordes of Infected, as it can burn them or attract them to an explosive demise. In general, the controls are pretty solid, even though they don't have the precision of a mouse and keyboard.

Like in a real zombie apocalypse, you'll be paranoid about what lurks around a corner or behind you. Thanks to the impressive lighting effects and maze-like environments, that paranoia is well established. The character models aren't the best, but it is impressive that the game is able to hold up without any slowdown even when several dozen zombies are storming the area. I did notice some graphical glitches, like character model tears if you happen to run through or stand too close to another character or an enemy model sticking through a wall or door. Regardless of these minor technicalities, the title still looks amazing albeit creepy.

Going along with spine-tingling visuals, Left 4 Dead offers some of the most engrossing audio in a game in recent memory. The macabre sound effects and soundtrack dominate the atmosphere. Every single sound in the game has a purpose and represents something that could spell life or death for players. The music picks up when the action begins, and other features, such as the occasional sharp piano chord, will send a shiver down your spine. High-pitched screams indicate a Hunter is prowling nearby, while the echoing sobbing of the Witch will clue you to turn off your flashlight so as to not alarm her. It may be just me, but there's something incredibly disturbing about females crying in video games.

All in all, Left 4 Dead is an amazing game, and I highly recommend it, but only if you are able to play online. Otherwise, you'll be gravely disappointed by the limited single-player mode. If you are an offline-only player, then give it a rental; otherwise, buy the game. I have a feeling that this title will become as big of a multiplayer phenomenon as its brethren, Counter-Strike.

Score: 9.0/10

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