- Buy the Game
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ombies and video games go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it’s really no surprise that so many zombie-centric titles are released each year. While a majority of them fall into the survival horror category, there have been a few (like “Dead Rising”) that have strayed from the norm to deliver a more unique experience. And if there’s one title that does it better than any other, it’s Valve’s “Left 4 Dead,” an innovative shooter that places an emphasis on teamwork and thrives because of it. Twice as frantic as “Dead Rising,” and just as suspenseful as the average survival horror game, “Left 4 Dead” is so good at what it does that you’ll feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a zombie film. The only difference is that you'll want to watch this one again as soon as it's over.
There isn’t very much story to “Left 4 Dead” other than the brief introduction at the beginning of the game, but all you need to know is that a mysterious infections has turned a majority of the free world into flesh-eating zombies. You never find out more than that, either, but it hardly matters, because “Left 4 Dead” isn’t really about answering questions, but rather about getting from point A to point B without dying along the way. Though the zombie horde rarely causes problems (as long as you don’t agitate them by setting off car alarms and such), there are some that have begun to mutate into a superhuman version of the species called Special Infected. These include the Boomer, who blinds the survivors and attracts the horde by vomiting bile; the Hunter, who pounces on and incapacitates you from high locations; the Smoker, who pulls you away with its whip-like tongue; the Tank, a giant hulk who pummels everything in its way; and The Witch, the strongest of the bunch who wants nothing more than to be left alone. Of course, if you shine a flashlight on her or make a lot of noise, be prepared to get knocked on your ass.
You play as one of four survivors (Vietnam War veteran Bill, college student Zoey, IT analyst Louis, or biker Francis) working together to get to safety, and to help you on your journey, you’re equipped with one weapon (machine gun, shotgun or rifle), a backup pistol with unlimited ammo, and your choice of either a pipe bomb or Molotov cocktail. The Molotov creates a lake of fire that is good for slowing down large groups of Infected, but the pipe bomb has a flashing light on it that attracts the zombie horde and consequently blows them to bits. The latter doesn’t really have a weakness, other than it doesn’t always attract every Infected in the area, but the Molotov can cause problems for your team if a burning zombie lights you on fire.
On the defensive side of things, you have even fewer options. First aid kits heal 80 percent damage and can be used on yourself or a teammate, while pain pills give you a temporary health boost meant to get you through to the next safe house, where you’ll always find a fresh supply of weapon ammo and health. You can also pick up additional supplies along the way, but with the exception of ammo, they’re pretty limited. Thankfully, Valve has made accessing everything relatively simple. The D-pad controls your pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails, pain pills, first aid and flashlight, the trigger buttons shoot and melee, and the face buttons jump, reload, swap weapons and perform actions like reviving teammates and opening doors.
Reviving teammates, in particular, is probably the most important aspect of “Left 4 Dead,” because if one teammate dies, there’s a pretty good chance that everyone else won’t be too far behind. It really takes the whole co-op angle to a completely different level, because not only do you need to worry about yourself, but your friends as well. This means going back to save incapacitated teammates from Hunter and Smoker attacks, sharing health packs, and even making sure not to shoot one another, since friendly fire is very much a part of the experience.
Though there are three different ways to play the game, they all follow the same path, with the survivors making their way through one of four locations (hospital, airport, train yard and countryside), each split into five chapters. Those without an Xbox Live account can play the single-player campaign with three AI characters filling in the rest of the team, and while it’s a lot easier to win with the computer on your side, it’s simply not as fun. The real campaign was meant to be enjoyed with four human players, and it shows. Players can drop out at any time and new ones can join in, and if you need to leave the room for a bathroom break or snack, you can set your character on idle and have the computer take control until you get back. And then there’s Versus, which pits two teams of four against one another as they take turns making their way through each chapter of a chosen location – first as a human survivor, and then as one of the Special Infected trying to stop them.
Obviously, one of the main complaints about “Left 4 Dead” is the lack of variation, but while it may seem like playing the same thing over and over again would get old fast, it’s surprisingly fun every time. Though it would have been nice to have more locations and weapons to choose from (hopefully, Valve will add some DLC content in the future), when all of the elements work as well as they do here, you don’t really notice the repetition, let alone mind it. “Left 4 Dead” isn’t just one of the best team-based games ever made – it’s a zombie lover’s wet dream that is so wildly innovative and addictive that it deserves a place on every gamer’s holiday wish list.