GarGamer

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Left 4 Dead Review (XBox 360) and My Introduction

Posted by paradisio on March 11, 2009

Welcome to my first review on GarGamer. My name is Paradisio, although my real name is Chris. I’m the creator/director of GarGamer and will probably be the most frequent submitter of content to the site. I’ll also be breaking down my typical review style I’ll be using for video games. If you have any input about the style, review or the site in general or simply an idea for a game to review, send them to paradisio15@gmail.com. I’m going to attempt to do at least one video game review a week, time permitting.

So, for my first real article, I’ll be doing a review for Left 4 Dead for the Xbox 360. This game isn’t exactly brand new, having been released back in November; but the community in the game is still active and going strong. Left 4 Dead (or L4D from now on), is a zombie survival-horror post apocalyptic team based first person shooter by Valve (that was quite the mouthful). While this review covers the Xbox 360 platform, it is also available on the PC as well, and most of the information here should be applicable to that version.

Gameplay: When starting the game, whether single, co-op or multiplayer, you take the roll of one of four survivors (or something else, see later) fighting they way through the apocalype in a hope to safety. You have one simple goal, to make it to the end where your chopper escape greets you… In front of you, lie thousands of zombies.

A lot of people look at the level list at first and are quite displeased to see a shooter with a whopping four levels. This is quite the misstatement though, as each of those levels is more like a line of levels, each bringing you a step closer to your goal, and each of those is bigger than most normal shooter levels. For example, in the first mission “No Mercy” you are trying to get to the top of a hospital where the helicopter will wisk you to safety; the first level is going through the streets of a city, the next is going through a subway station, followed by a warehouse/sewer level, followed by a hospital/elevator level, and then you have the rooftop finale. It all seems a bit segmented the way I say it, but it is very well connected in the game and very seemless, loading times excluded.

Most of the game is pretty outrageous zombie killing, who only pose a real threat if they surround you. The real risk comes in the special types of zombies, which there are four breeds of and two unique ones. Each has unique abilities that are devastating, particularly to lone individuals who have seperated from the group. For instance, the Smoker can ‘snipe’ you with a retractable tongue, entangling you and then dragging you to him where he beats on you until you die, he does or someone breaks you free. Basically the game encourages teamwork very well, as a lone survivor in the game will be very vulnerable to each of the special zombies.

The game also gives you health packs at certain locations that take a few seconds to use, in addition to two tiers of firearms, some pills you can pop for temporary health, a Molotov and a pipe bomb that lures zombies to their death.

What separates the games from most FPS is the “Director”, a special AI that makes it so things never get quite so boring. If you linger too long, you may experience a vast horde of zombies breathing down on you. It makes it so the game never gets dull and will always be action packed. Your heart will be beating with excitement the whole time.

The only real downside is that the AI team mates you are saddled with can be a bit slow to move on when you do, making you have to look back quite a bit to keep an eye on them. But otherwise, they are great and don’t require commands/supervision and as a bonus, they are crack shots. They actually might be too accurate given the difficulty you have the game on.

Plot: If there was a bad part of the game, this would be it. The game has basically no plot and you never really learn anything about the characters aside from a bit of their personality, nor do you learn the cause of the zombie apocalypse. For each mission you’re basically just trying to get to the end and escape via the chopper/plane. But for some reason it never really retracts anything from the experience and leaves more open to the imagination. It may just be the fact that the game never pauses enough time to give plot information, so you never really think about it. Whatever the true cause, I applaud Valve for making it a non-issue.

Visuals and Audio: Sadly, I do not yet own a HDTV so I have yet to experience the true graphical capabilities of the game on my own system. But the videos I still find to be very striking and fill me and portray the grim atmosphere all on their own, even during the few times there are no zombies in sight. The bleak, rainy skies; the destroyed buildings, and dead wildlife portray the zombie/post apocalyptic genre perfectly.

The regular zombies themselves are great and varied; everything from police officers to patients in open backed medical gowns. Not to mention the great Valve physics as you blow off their limbs and unload shotgun blasts to their chests.

The special zombies in particular are very evocative in look and sound. Each has a very unique appearance, ranging from the insane musculature and inhuman roars of the tank to the gibbering and bloated tank who seems to slosh with vomit every step.

The typical music track is a bit weak at times and gets redundant, but after a couple of hours of playing you’ll be filled with a tinge of fear and adrenaline as the music lowers and changes to a haunting melody as the sounds of a girl crying echo through the empty halls. The score gets the point across very well even if it isn’t incredibly long and varied.

Even though the game doesn’t give much information on the survivors, you do get a glimpse of personality from the audio. During certain points in the game one of the survivors may say a line, sometimes it’ll be funny, and other times it’ll be quite grim and dark. Regardless, these little sound bytes definitely give you a good feel for each character by the time you’re down with the game.

Time for the Money: Currently, unless you pick the game up used or on sale somewhere, you’ll likely be paying the original retail price still. But the game still packs a lot of value even if it seems meager. The four main missions won’t take long to complete on the normal difficulty, especially with the pretty good AI teammates, but you still have other difficulties to try to master, the highest of which I had significant trouble with. But because the AI director changes things up each time, I still have yet to get dull with the missions, even after several playthroughs of each.

But in my opinion, the greatest strength is in multiplayer. The weakest point is that split-screen co-op only works up to two players, if it was four, it would be fantastic. But online multiplayer is where it’s at, most notably, the Vs mode. In the Vs mode you alternate sides, one player the survivors… the other becomes the Zombies! When you play as the Zombie side you routinely get to play as one of the normal four ‘infected’ by you may get the chance to play as the special Tank as well, giving you the power to destroy all the survivors at once with it’s massive brute force. I really think this mode really spices up the game by giving you a new objective: Kill them before they escape. The biggest difference between playing the zombies is that most of them are very fragile, taking only a couple of good hits to kill, but unlike the survivors, you can respawn. Either way, the experience promotes great teamwork for both teams.

The biggest downside of the multiplayer is that there are a few bottlenecks that really favor the survivors and make being infected almost pointless if the other team really has any clue; fortunately these situations don’t last long typically. The other downside is that when playing as the infected, the respawn time can border on thirty seconds at times; which obviously exists to balance the game out, but can frequently lead to some major boredom and frustration. The only other problem I run into online is that the teams heavy reliance on teamwork can work against you if your team isn’t using microphones, so you may want to be a bit selective or really patient if you are going to play with random people.

Also, only 2/4 levels are currently available for online VS mode; but that will apparently be resolved in some free downloadable content in the future; which should further increase replayability with other features.

All in all, I’m extremely happy with this game, and while I don’t have a time played counter, I would estimate that I have easily put in over 40 hours into this game, even though you could complete it in one long sitting.

Bottom Line: This is one of the best FPS/Horror games I have played in quite a while, and combined with a great multiplayer and teamwork environment it’s a great buy. If you aren’t going to take advantage of the multiplayer though, I would say it’s a rental; I really think most of the value/replayability is in the multiplayer.

It’s not a perfect game, but it’s of Valve’s usual high quality standards and is a ton of fun. It gets two big thumbs up from me.

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