Dale Dietrich
friedman: always supply your comparative advantage
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Left 4 Dead

Categories: reviewsvideo games
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image 3.5 rating  (3.5/5) – shooter – zombie – survival horror

Reviews: Metacritic 89% | Game Rankings 89.17% | zero punctuation 
Reference: wikipedia12 | Achievements
Walkthrus: Mahalo | WikiCheats | GameFAQs
Developer: Valve Corporation, Engine: Source 

This is not my normal style of game. I hate zombies. I hate zombie games. I fully expected to hate this game. However, given its stellar reputation, I rented it, expecting to play it for an hour, and toss it. That almost happened.

At first I played the single player campaign. I didn’t know what was going on. I was frustrated. I kept dying  repeatedly. The game provides no in-game save option. Consequently I kept getting sent back 20 minutes to the last (rare) check point – a game construct that annoys me to no end.

After a couple hours of futility I was about to return it to the rental store. But, I had heard that it must be played online to be enjoyed. Having no friends with the game I loathed the thought of going online with unruly 13 year olds running off in every direction telling me how much I suck at it. But an amazing thing happened. I had fun.

left 4 dead - hordes of zombies

I was into a game within 30 seconds. At first, I didn’t put my headset on. I expected to hate it and didn’t want to hear others berate my ineptitude. Strangely, 30 minutes later I noticed I was having fun – a lot of fun. At one point I was about to die and then someone came by and healed me. What? That never happens? Where did this sudden benevolence come from?

I put the headset on and found adults and teens playing. They were actually helpful. To succeed they needed me and I needed them. This was my first experience of online play with strangers where we all worked co-operatively together.

Amazingly, I spent the rest of the afternoon (about 4 hours) finishing the campaign with a changing set of adults (and teens). The game was uniformly fun from beginning to end.

Game Play

In single player, the game opens by setting the stage with a terrific back-story (Metal Gear style). I wish more games did this. I’m talking to you Prince of Persia.

The game consists of four longish levels (referred to as ‘scenarios’) where you and your team must make it from point A to point B alive (additional scenarios can be downloaded for an extra fee). Since the scenarios can be played in any order, there is no difficulty ramp – its uniformly tough all the way through – especially if you attempt to play it alone.

left 4 dead - team must survive the horde of zombies

You are besieged by hordes of zombies of varying kinds. Your four-person team must work co-operatively to stave them off. At the end of each level the team must hold a zone for 5 to 10 minutes as they wait for extraction. This last part was always the hardest as the game tosses everything it has at you with only teeny breaks to give you an opportunity to regroup.

Game Encourages Co-operation:

Valve did four very smart things to both eliminate griefers and to pull-off a quasi-miracle – getting strangers to work co-operatively online:

  1. Achievements: To heal a team mate a player must give up their health packs or pills. In most games, these would be horded. But the game rewarded players by way of Xbox 360 Achievement points for healing team mates. Beyond that, if you lose a team-mate the game gets much harder. Players want to save a dying team mate to increase their odds of survival.
  2. Your Dead on Your Own: In every other game, playing co-operatively with strangers online is like herding cats. Invariably, your ‘team’ runs off in different directions and they rarely communicate with each other – let alone stick together. In Left 4 Dead, if you go off on your own, you will die – very quickly and very violently. To succeed players must stick together.
  3. Ability to Vote Users Off: Typically only the host of an online game can boot off an aberrant player. In Left 4 Dead, any of the 4 players can initiate a real-time vote to boot a team-mate. If the majority agree (and cast concurring votes) the miscreant is booted off. The AI (or someone waiting in a lobby) instantly takes their place.
  4. Leaving Them In the Closet: This is the best idea of all! If a gamer dies, they’ll respawn in a closet somewhere necessitating another team member to let them out to keep playing. However, if someone has been naughty, the rest of the team can, err, assist in their death, and then let them rot in the closet. It was hilarious to hear the jerk screaming from the closet to be let out, while the rest of us carried on without him. Other games must pick up on this ingenious idea! :)

Game Play Video

Below is a YouTube Video of  game play. You can get a handle on what the game is like here. But I wouldn’t watch too much as it shows a a good chunk the ‘Death Toll’ level/scenario and is, ultimately, a spoiler.

Limited Replay Value

As I said above, the game was not at all enjoyable in single-player mode. Having successfully played through all four scenarios of the campaign online, I had no desire to play through them again.  If, perhaps there were a dozen levels on the disc, I might have recommended this game as a purchase. That said, the scenarios were a bit longer than a typical game level.

There is a competitive ‘versus mode’ where you can play as a zombie trying to stop other players from successfully achieving their goals. I didn’t try that mode as it didn’t sound like it would be much fun to me.

Conclusion

Apart from Halo, I have rarely enjoyed playing video games over Xbox Live with strangers. This game, and my recent experience with 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, are delightful exceptions. This game, in particular, is made for online co-op and literally forces gamers to do something that, experience has shown, most are otherwise  incapable of or unwilling to do – work together.  I imagine that this is what raiding is like in an MMoRPG. I hope these games portend more enjoyable online co-op to come.

While I had a lot of fun playing what I played, my score reflects the lack of on-disc levels and, ultimately, its limited replay value. This game is not fun when played alone. But, for a weekend rental, if you have Xbox Live and are otherwise a shooter fan, I heartily recommend it.

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