Release Date: November 17th, 2008
Rating: M (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language)
The zombie apocalypse packaged as a mixture of first person shooter and survival horror. All of this plus an outstanding multiplayer feature – what more could someone ask for in a thrilling zombie-fest video game? Oh right, the option to play as the undead instead of the humans. The choice between you and your friends blasting through the undead, or choosing to become the special infected, each having their own unique powers to defeat the gun-toting human team is a difficult decision indeed.
Let’s talk gameplay. The game itself was optimized for Xbox 360 and PC. Being a PC gamer myself, I search for smooth character movement and above average graphics. The Valve servers definitely deliver on those fronts. I always appreciate some kind of character attachment if it’s available. Playing a character that you don’t really know feels empty and takes away from the overall gaming experience. That’s one reason L4D really stood out against other co-op video games, as you have four charismatic characters to choose from when playing: Zoey, Bill, Francis, and Louis, each adding to the experience with their own unique dialogue and catchphrases. You can rely on them to let you know when they find ammunition, new guns, or health packs. They’ll also provide assistance by healing you if your health is low, or helping you off the ground if you’ve been incapacitated by one of the undead. If, by chance, you do die, then depending on the difficulty setting that you’ve chosen you will respawn a few minutes later in the level, usually in a closet or building that one of the other players has to rescue you from. That’s fun in itself but once actual humans control the characters, the game becomes even more of an entertaining experience; AI teammates aren’t exactly willing to listen to your plan to stay on the rooftop for better visuals on the hordes of zombies because they’ll already be fighting through the mob of infected down on the ground, all the while shouting comments about how you’re not helping. Charming.
It doesn’t matter how many times you play through the levels, the undead will be sprinkled around the maps differently each time. They could be wandering aimlessly around a wide open rural space, or come running after you screeching their rabid desire for your flesh. They look gross, to put it bluntly. They look even more disgusting when you riddle their bodies with bullets or toss a pipe bomb into the swarm that’s following you. The animations of the deaths (second deaths?) of the undead are fantastically done, allowing for decapitations or flying limbs. What they don’t animate is the feeling of triumph when escaping from one level into the other by finding the safe house and taking refuge, reviewing the team’s stats until the next stage loads.
When (not if) you play in “Versus” mode, your goal switches between surviving as part of the human team and attacking as part of the infected team. You’ve got three special infected options, and sometimes a fourth. Boomers scratch and vomit on the survivors, the special bile attracting hordes of normal infected to the survivors that were covered in the substance (side note, if you shoot a Boomer and you’re close to him, he’ll explode with even more bile – just a heads up). Hunters are stealthy, wearing a black hoodie and pouncing ferociously onto their victim and scratching until someone pushes them off, or simply takes them out with an automatic shotgun. That’s not the only gun that can be used, but it’s efficient and a personal favourite of mine. Smokers can rope survivors up in their slimy snakelike tongue and incapacitate the person by dragging them some 20 foot distance and pawing at them with their massive claw hands. The occasional fourth option is the Tank; each infected player takes turns becoming the tank, destroying everything in their path with pure rage and bulk. Think of the Hulk, except more pink than green. And the Tank might’ve missed out on leg day more than once at the gym, but he’s still powerful, possessing the capability to spawn large chunks of cement and hurl them at survivors.
It’s terrifying to be running and hiding from these special infected to begin with. When you know it’s your fellow friend who has snatched you up with their surprisingly muscular tongue and is now dragging you away from your team, it adds an alarming, but exciting aspect to the game.
Occasionally survivors will encounter a Witch. You’ll know she’s around when the eerie sobbing comes from down the street, where she’s hauntingly crying with her face in her pale white hands. Skilled players can sneak up behind her while crouched and go in for a head shot. If it’s not pulled off correctly, the Witch stands up, starts screaming loudly (attracting more normal zombies to your location), and chases after whomever interrupted her cry session at a disturbing speed, clawing at the person until they are on the ground or dead. In other words, stay away from the Witch unless you like a challenge.
Although the game has been out for almost 7 years, L4D mods still continue to impress. Mods can come in all forms, from being able to change the character skin to a raptor instead of a human, or creating an entirely new game level for players to experiment with. There are servers that have been modified to the point where the players can build their own fortresses with the pieces of the original map itself.
Click here if you want to see an example of L4D modded servers starring my friends Joel, Austin, Lachlan and myself. (Warning: Language)
It’s okay to admit the truth – after playing through Left 4 Dead; you might kind of want the zombie apocalypse to happen.
Words By Mary Helen Josephine