Game: "Left 4 Dead"
Published by: Electronic Arts
Review: Left 4 Dead is a zombie survival movie, pitting you and three other characters against a seemingly endless horde of undead. And these aren't the slow, shuffling Romero undead either. No, these are 28 Days Later fast as hell zombies that will be on top of you, slashing you to pieces before you even know what happened. Because of this, the co-op nature of the game is absolutely vital to your survival--stay with the group, or you will die. There are certain situations where you require the aid of a companion to escape, so working closely with the other players is not only suggested--it's necessary. For this reason, Left 4 Dead is the co-op game fan's wet dream, and if you have a couple friends to play with, you'll have a great time.
Having friends to play with isn't necessary, however. While it's certainly more fun to play with people you know, you can always play with random people on the internet, and the AI for the NPC characters is more than up to the task. The first time I played it was just me and my roommate, so we had two NPCs along for the ride, and they were actually quite helpful in covering us when things got tough, helping us when pinned by zombies, and healing us when we were hurt. They're definitely not completely worthless like some AI companions can be.
What's nice is that since the game was designed for co-op play, when you do things like load your weapon or stop to heal, your character will automatically call out to the others so they know what you're doing, so it's something you don't actually have to keep track of yourself. And since your group has to stick close together, you can see where they are through walls in the form of a blue outline, so you can't get easily lost from the rest of the group.
There are more than enough zombie skins that you're not noticeably killing the same dozen people over and over, which is good, because when a horde comes rushing at you, it's like mowing down the population of a small country. This is like the Serious Sam of zombie games, only not quite so far over the top. There are several different kinds of "boss" zombies: the hunter, which will pounce on you and fuck you up; the boomer, a fat zombie which spews bile that blinds you and attracts the horde; the smoker, which will grab you with its long tongue that requires a save from a teammate; the tank, a hulking brute that rampages in a berserker rage; and the witch, who appears harmless and usually is--unless you provoke her. Then you'd best watch the fuck out.
The game is divided into four campaigns which last about an hour each, which doesn't sound like much, but here's the good news: Valve has talked about releasing new downloadable content, there are player-created maps on the way (including a replica of the mall from Dawn of the Dead), and there is an AI "director" that monitors the action and drops health, ammo, or hordes of zombies upon you when appropriate for keeping the tension at a high (but survivable, if you're smart) level. This means that no two run-throughs are exactly the same. You can't simply memorize the location of the power ups, or where or when the horde will come at you. So it's supposed to have a very high replayability factor, though to be fair I haven't replayed any of the campaigns yet myself.
One thing I was really struck by was how cinematic the whole game comes across. The opening movie sequence is one of the best I've seen for a video game, and the game itself really continues that same movie-like intensity. There's not much of a story to speak of--zombies show up, you kill them and try to get away--so in that sense, it really is very much like a zombie film.
This is one of the funnest video game experiences I've had in some time, so if you've been on the fence about this one, you really should check it out. And if you're looking for a great co-op team experience, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this game.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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