Hands-on / Left 4 Dead

I have never in my life played a game that has so perfectly captured the genre of the zombie film than Left 4 Dead does. Color me more blown away than a shambling zombie with a shotgun to its head. In case you don’t know because you’ve been hiding out in a bunker trying to escape the zombie apocalypse early, Left 4 Dead is Valve’s newest venture and is an FPS in which four players cooperate in order to survive a zombie infected world. And these aren’t you’re slow Resident Evil zombies, these are the leapers and sprinters from films like 28 Days Later. These are bad ass mothers.

Anyway, the level we got our hands on started out in a room with four survivors. All stereotypical zombie movie characters: attractive but tough female, black guy, biker dude/white guy and elderly general. You’ll have four “movies” to play through with each character having their own motivations and story lines for why they want to survive. Since the game is played cooperatively via a PC or a 360, I’m guessing you’ll get the full story no matter who you play with.

But on to the good stuff. Shooting zombies as a rag tag team of survivors is amazing. The game will literally throw a ton of zombies at you, all charging wildly while the four players have to defend themselves from the onslaught. With friendly fire enabled, this becomes a pretty tricky ordeal and a surprising amount of strategy is needed despite the fact that you’re basically fighting mindless flesh eating creatures. When a character is beaten or surrounded enough, they’ll collapse to the ground where you can then keep shooting as the zombies dog pile on you but you can’t stand up. Fight them off and a teammate can come over and revive you, don’t and you’ll die and need to wait a good long while for a respawn point. Some zombies will spit on you making you more attractive to other zombies and others will grab you with their inanely long tongue and drag you away from your group, forcing them to come and rescue you.

The two levels I played, one leading up to a hospital entrance and the other in the hospital, were smart and intense with floods of zombies attacking my small group, us barely surviving. This is survival horror. Health packs in the levels I played were few and far between, and we basically had to depend on each other in order to survive. You’ll be mowing down plenty of zombies for sure as ammo never seemed to be a problem, but you won’t be doing it with a lot of life. You will be doing it it with a lot of “oh s**t that was awesome,” though. Blasting a charging zombie’s head off with a shotgun feels amazing and when I don’t think, having a friend shout “behind you” and then tearing a zombie apart with a machine gun as you step out of the way would ever get old.

I played on the PC, so I’m not sure how the console version will work but the controls were perfectly effective with the ability to pick up four items, including a health pack, and while the guns I got to use were limited in range, it really didn’t matter since the game only made you care about getting your team to the next safe point where you could save. Also, things are like molotov cocktails and pipe bombs with zombie pheromones (so they creatures run to get it) add some awesome tactics to the game. I didn’t see much difference in gameplay depending on what character you were, but the banter that went on between the cast while you were playing was great and surprisingly humorous, another notch in Valve’s belt for creating seamless gameplay and storytelling.

Let’s see, anything else to cover? Zombies? Check. Guns? Check. Great online play? Check. Really, the only thing missing was the rest of the levels and some more play time.

[See also: Left 4 Dead gallery]