Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Review: Left 4 Dead

On November 18th 2008 Left 4 Dead breathed new life into the undead corpse of the zombie survival games. This game was developed by Valve and distributed by EA. Left 4 Dead is a First person Shooter (FPS) that uses the Source Engine along with a new AI system, plenty of flesh craving zombies, and team work oriented co-op to renew people’s faith in this failed genre.

Despite fantasizing almost every night that I would be thrown into a world where fighting off zombies was a fact of life, I was actually very hesitant to buy this game when it came out. The zombie survival games along with many other games such as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Superman Returns fell into a category of titles that had unlimited potential for awesomeness but always seemed to drop the ball when it came to execution. Every time news about a new zombie game would come out I would flock to the internet hoping that this game would be the one that would fulfill my fantasy, but after Resident Evil 4 decided that Mexicans were a suitable stand in for zombies the truth sank in that no zombie game would ever live up to what I had built in my head. I tell you this because this game was developed on the Source Engine and I don’t want to be considered a supporter of this game merely because it is on Steam.

I finally broke down, bought the game, and installed it on my PC. Right off the bat the game seemed nice enough graphically and after selecting Big Boss (Bill) as my character; I went to town mowing down zombies. Playing through the game I began to realize that all the annoying things that had made other games like this suck were not there; there was no stupid gimmick villains like the Resident Evil games had, or whiffle ball bat weapons of Dead Rising. No, what this game had was pants wetting mood music, jump out of nowhere enemies, and enough wailing screams that I spent half the night afraid a zombie would jump out of my closet.

After running through the single player campaign and enjoying it, I called three of my friends and demanded that they buy the game and join me in zombie killing fun. What was a pleasant surprise was that spawning points for boss mobs and weapons had seemed to change, and the intensity of the zombie hordes increased as we got better.

These changes in game play were due to “The Director”, the games artificial intelligence. If Left 4 Dead was an ice cream sundae, then “The Director” would be the cherry on top. Instead of using the standard difficulty setting for a game Left 4 Dead’s AI controlled it. It was an impressive system, the games AI controlled not only the difficulty, but the music that was playing, the spawning of the enemies, and the mood of the game.

For everything right that Left 4 Dead did, there were several noticeable flaws and short comings in the game. Probably one of the most noticeable was the lack of a narrative story that the game was originally suppose to have. Though you sure to thoroughly enjoy killing zombie after zombie you are never really given any grand story as to what is going on. Also while the developer’s seemed to have spent a great deal of time developing the games “Director” AI, they apparently forgot about giving your computer controlled comrades the same time and dedication. You will find while playing that either your team mates will walk so far behind you that any zombie would have enough time to eat you and have a cup of coffee, or that they will jump in front of your bullets and then yell at you for shooting them.

All and all Left 4 Dead did a great job at clearing the low standards set for it by other zombie games. Though a story is sorely absent, I doubt you will notice as you’re firing your M-16 off in a horde of zombies. You can’t rely on your team mates for anything, but that is true for any squad based FPS made in the last decade. The game is a good single player game and a great multiplayer game; and the AI will make sure you can have a new game with every play through. My final analysis is that Left 4 Dead is worth any price tag attached, but try to make sure that your friends are purchasing their copies with you.