Left 4 Dead is a highly ambitious zombie shoot-em-up game that, for a change, actually lives up to the hype surrounding it.
You play one of four characters who are stuck together during a zombie apocalypse. In most modes, the other characters are played by other people online. Your goal is to make your way from one safe house to another in one piece. Of course, along the way you’ll be presented with many challenges, be it basic zombie attacks, finding your way out of a city, or simply running out of ammo. Or perhaps you’ll be especially challenged as I was when I played for the first time and was getting used to the control scheme. I accidentally walked off the roof of a building. Thankfully my character managed to hold on, but one of my teammates was required to come help me get up.
What really makes this game unique is how it forces you to work together as a team. Zombies may pin you down and there is no way to get them off – the only thing that you can do is hope that the other players notice and come to your aid. As such, rather than running around like Rambo wise players stick together as a tight group. Thanks to voice chat in XBox Live, you can talk to the other players and devise strategies for best escaping the thousands of zombies that appear in each level. This dynamic is further reinforced when you realize that every time you play the game it’s different. That’s right – there are no scripted events. The game randomizes things every time you play, so if a zombie appears in a certain area one time, it might not the next. This really keeps you on your toes and forces you to communicate well with your teammates.
Aside from the normal mobs of roving zombies, there are a few “special” zombie types out to get you as well. These are stronger than the others and have special attacks, putting everyone on edge when they are around. Most make distinctive sounds and you may hear it before you see it, further upping the anxiety level.
Gameplay is broken up into a series of campaigns which each have several different levels. The campaigns each take place in different types of environments, but the aside from that there is little to distinguish them. Typically you will play as a group through an entire campaign, but if some of the players decide to call it quits they will be taken over by and AI player. There is also a single-player mode if you are unable to play online, but frankly without that human interaction it feels more like a practice round than the rest of the game. A final “versus” mode pits humans against zombies, and you actually have the opportunity to play as one of the more powerful zombies.
The graphics are amazingly realistic. The game developers worked hard to create a believable world and set a dark mood through dramatic lighting. I’m not joking when I say that I had dreams last night about being stuck in this video game world. The music and sound effects are also top notch, all adding to a really polished package with few flaws.
Overall, Left 4 Dead is the zombie game I’ve always wanted to see made and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s fast-paced, scary, and boatloads of fun. If you’ve got an XBox 360 and read this site, it’s a no-brainer (no pun intended).