Left 4 Dead (PC) Review

I hate zombie games. Yes, you heard me, I hate zombie games. It always seems to be the same polygonal brain-dead corpse running at you, with the same abilities, same personality, creating an experience that is exactly the same throughout the entire game. Do I hate Left 4 Dead? No, I absolutely love it. I could play this shooter all day long; Until the undead cows come home, so to speak.

Left 4 Dead has no single story. The single-player and co-op modes have four separate stories, each designed to look like a different zombie-flick. Each of the characters has a unique and interesting personality. Louis is the technology specialist, Zoey's a college student, Francis is a tattoo-clad tough guy, and Bill is an old grizzled Vietnam veteran. Each character's in-game abilities are exactly the same, to make all of the survivors equal and none of them any more desirable than the others. This is a feature that I'm sure will defuse many arguments before they even begin.

Left 4 Dead is an incredibly fun game, for reasons I really can't put my finger on. Perhaps it's the consistently exciting pace, or the amazingly advanced and fun Director-AI system. Maybe it's the ease of playability, or even the fun of mowing down hordes of zombies with up to three other players, or AI-controlled henchmen. My favorite facet of this game is the Director-AI system, which monitors the player's style of play and abilities, then throws out an event or special zombie to make the game better for the individual player. Upon replaying a level of Left 4 Dead, your experience will be uncommonly different from your other play-throughs.

The zombies in Left 4 Dead are quick, weak, and dumb as posts. The basic zombies are easily killed with any of the weapons you pick up throughout the game, but incredibly capable of taking down even the most experienced players when in large groups. Stronger, Faster, Sneakier, and much more intelligent than the basic zombies are the special-or boss- zombies. There are five types of boss-zombies, each as different as the survivors. Each of the boss-zombies have unique skills. The Tank is an enormous hulk-like creature that can throw survivors terrifying distances, and can withstand amounts of damage that would scare even the most experienced zombie-slayer. The smoker is a coughing zombie with an infinitely long tongue, which it uses to constrict and hang the survivors. Perhaps the most disgusting zombie in the game is the Boomer. It looks like a morbidly obese man, and uses its zombie-attracting projectile vomit to attack the survivors. Boomers can't be simply killed on sight like the other zombies, because haphazardly shooting a boomer when it's a bit too close will result in a shower of it's zombie-attracting puke. When you get hit with this gunk, the zombies begin to stream out of every doorway and hole in the vicinity. The Hunter is the ninja of the bunch, jumping long distances and slinking around until it's within striking range. The last form of Boss Zombie is the Witch. The Witch is to be avoided at all costs. When you startle a witch by shining a flashlight on her, making too much noise, or attacking her, she turns around and strikes at the survivor that disturbed her. Her swipes instantly incapacitate you, making her one of the most dangerous zombies in the game.

The sights and sounds of Left 4 Dead are not without their flaws, but certainly the best I've ever seen on the Source engine. Each and every detail was well implemented, and never detracts from the overall feel of the game. The atmosphere is constantly portraying an over-acted, low-budget horror movie. The music is quiet, and almost entirely composed of small, heavily-emphasized piano tunes. As if the music didn't immerse me enough, the graphics only make it better. Valve's Source engine is beginning to show it's age, but somehow they've avoided the obvious graphical decay of their engine in Left 4 Dead. Beautiful textures ,film-grain effects, and a very slight but effective "un-sharp"post-processing effect create the look of an old drive-in style movie. The only problems with this game lie with the graphics, and are only minor. The first is the clipping that I commonly encountered while playing. When walking toward a closed door, I heard a loud knocking noise. I wondered what could be behind it, until the head of a hunter clipped through the door, showing a flawed collision and occlusion system. This isn't game-killing, as Left 4 Dead doesn' t work with suspense as its main scare-factor. You're much more likely to be creeped out by the terrifying witch, than anything jumping out at you. My second complaint is the low-poly models that inhabit this game. Yes, it was made that way to help out those of us without high-end computers. I realize why it was done, but I don't believe that they should have neglected those of us with the rigs to run more modern graphics. Don't get me wrong, the graphics are still beautiful and do exactly the job they're meant to. They just don't look as good as they could.

Left 4 Dead is an amazingly fun and entertaining game. I recommend that everyone buy this title as soon as they can. They will not regret it--it's not scary, but the atmosphere is pitch-perfect for the subject-matter. The characters are packed with personality, and even after hearing "I'm reloading" near-constantly for almost three hours it still doesn't irritate me. That's an accomplishment. Valve's most recent game is just as good as the rest of its library, and that's saying something. The bottom line is that if you enjoy games of any kind, you'll enjoy Left 4 Dead. You say you don't have a rig expensive enough to run recent games? You can run Left 4 Dead without a hitch. You say you don't like shooters? You've nothing to worry about, Left 4 Dead sets itself apart from the recent flood of shooters through its attention to detail, and emphasis on simplicity and the fun of plowing down the undead for hours with your friends.

I give Left 4 Dead a 9.5 out of 10 zombie-devoured cow corpses.

"Left 4 Dead (PC)" is on sale November 18, 2008 and is rated M. Shooter.



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