Left 4 Dead Review

There have certainly been many notable zombie games over the years, but none has managed to capture the feel of one of the greats in the lexicon of zombie movies, Dawn of the Dead. A ragtag group of misfit survivors, surrounded by hordes of zombies, who must work together if they are to survive, let alone escape their situation, seems like it would make a great basis for a game. The folks at Valve apparently agreed, and the result is Left 4 Dead. The "4" in the title refers to the four survivors of an apocalypse that has left the rest of their city's residents zombified. Your goal in each of the game's mini campaigns it to work with your fellow survivors to fight your way to a safe zone from which you can be rescued from the city. All that stands in your way is a few thousand zombies...

The game consists of four campaigns divided into five levels each, although calling them campaigns is not entirely accurate. There aren't any cutscenes, story elements, or plotlines involved; in each case it's simply a group of four survivors making their way to safety past hordes of zombies. The environment may change from urban to rural between the campaigns, but your primary goal of surviving does not. This structure means that you essentially have 20 levels or maps in the game, and in fact you can choose to play any one of them at any time. Those looking for a rich single player experience along the lines of Dead Space or Resident Evil should probably pass on the game. It certainly can be played by a single player with the AI controlling the other three survivors, but the experience is not too much unlike playing an online shooter offline against bots. It's a game designed for multiplayer play and that's how it's best enjoyed.

Everything about Left 4 Dead has been designed to encourage cooperative game play, and it's not just that you'll have to protect each others' back since the zombies often attack from all sides. Each player can only carry one weapon in addition to the relatively weak pistol, and ammunition is limited. This means that each player must step into a role that fits the situation. For example, the player with a shotgun should take point while the group makes its way through the close quarters within a building, while the one with an assault rifle should lead the way across an open area. When a player is out of ammo, the others will need to protect him or her so that he or she is not forced to try and hold back a surge of zombies with a pistol. Players will also constantly need to be aware of each other's status and provide help when needed, be it to revive an injured and incapacitated player or to break an ally free from a zombie's vice-like grip. The party that plays together stays together. The rest end up as zombie chow.

The limited number of levels is a bit disappointing, but the developers have taken steps to keep things from feeling stale too quickly. First of all, the zombies' locations are not set for each level and are randomized each time that you play. The large room that was the site of a zombie ambush in one game may be eerily empty in the next. There are also special zombies among the zombie masses that throw a wrinkle in the standard zombie encounter. For example, there's one that vomits a liquid that attracts zombies like flies to honey. Trust me, you don't want to get splashed with the stuff. There's another that can snare a player with a very long armed tentacle and drag him away from the group. The addition of these special zombies forces you to stay on your toes and keep an eye open for a teammate in trouble.