4 player co-op? Check
4 vs. 4 balanced multiplayer? Check.
Simple and straight forward gameplay? Check.
Huge gaggles of the living dead? Double check!
Valve seems to have a habit of making great games with balanced multiplayer and it really shows in Left 4 Dead. For anybody living under a rock for the last 10 years, Valve has helped to shape the FPS genre into what it is today with classics like Counter-Strike, Half-Life 1 and 2, Team Fortress, and Portal. They are also known for putting a lot of high quality work into their games and continue to update them for better performance and gameplay. Their latest release, Left 4 Dead, proves that multiplayer co-op is not dead but that many developers have been doing it wrong. It’s simple, easy to pick up, difficult to master, and a hell of a lot of fun.
This game is designed for multiplayer. A single player campaign is present and the AI controlled partners work great (something that Army of Two could’ve learned from) but it just feels empty and lonely. Having other warm bodies playing along with or against you in all videogames just adds a certain something.
Multiplayer is where the key gameplay is at and it comes in 2 types: 4 player co-op and 4 vs. 4. The 4 player co-op speaks for itself. You and 3 other buddies run from one safe room to the next while dispatching waves of zombies in between. There are several boss zombies that have their own special attacks and will usually show up at the worst time possible. Working together is a must because if 1 person wanders off and gets pinned down, it can devastate the rest of the team just to go back and help them. Don’t want to play along with random n00bs but don’t have 3 other friends? You can create a private match and have the excellent AI control any of the empty slots. Sharing of supplies between each person is important (the AI will even help you out) and friendly fire is on at all times which helps to emphasize the need for cooperation.
One aspect that enhances the replay value of Left 4 Dead is the AI Director. The Director is a part of the game that determines when and where enemies, weapons, ammo, and other objects will spawn at. What’s even better is that it will change stuff up in the middle of a game depending on the difficulty level and how well or poor your team is doing. Overall, the Director’s job is to keep things surprising for your team by mixing things up and actually making you work towards your goal. It’s like playing D&D with a crazy DM who likes to throw random stuff at your party to make it challenging and fun.
The second multiplayer mode is 4 vs. 4 and this is where a lot of the replay value will come from. One team is comprised of the 4 survivors getting through each chapter alive. The second team is made up of the boss zombies found in the co-op mode (excluding the Witch). The infected team is tasked with making the survivor’s lives complete hell. It is important to note that the zombie team doesn’t need to kill all 4 of the survivors; they are there to confuse, scare, and incapacitate them. Each of the 4 boss zombies has their own unique abilities and play style. The Director will randomly pick the boss zombie characters for players which helps keep people from hoarding one particular class. Having 2 very different teams for versus mode keeps the game from getting dull and repetitive.
I’ve heard some people argue that:
It’s short. Perhaps too short for some people. On the easiest difficulty you can literally rush through a single chapter within 5-10 minutes.
The weapon selection is a bit small compared to other FPS’s.
Crysis looks better than Left 4 Dead.
Servers on the PC can be wonky at times.
Yes it is short. But the longevity of the game rests within the 4 player co-op and 4 player versus. Much like Rock Band, the game is more entertaining and just all around better when playing with or against other people. On the Easy difficulty you can run through a chapter within a few minutes but on Advanced and Expert it can take upwards of 45 minutes just to get through 1 of the 5 chapters offered in the 4 campaigns. The PC has the potential for some great community made mods and additions as well as DLC in the future from Valve that will most likely be free.
The weapon selection is fairly small but it keeps the game balanced. Everyone starts out with a pistol that has unlimited ammunition and you can usually find a second pistol to dual-wield latter on in the chapter. At each starting point you are offered a choice of what to use as a primary weapon. There are Shotguns, an Assault Rifle, Uzi, and even a scoped rifle. Each gun is unique, useful, and has advantages and disadvantages over the others. There are also Molotov Cocktails and pipe bombs scattered around the levels to help deal with the gynormus waves of zombies. When playing versus, the small selection of weaponry mixed with the specific boss zombie classes offers a very unique and balanced side of gameplay we don’t see much of from other games.
Crysis looks better than pretty much anything else out there. Left 4 Dead runs off of the Source engine which has been around for several years but it looks especially good this time around. The animations, textures, and overall design for the characters and zombies are wonderful and they did a great job of creating the right atmosphere. There is also a color blind option which alters the health bars and crosshairs colors a bit that really helps clear them up for me (being that I’m partially color blind). Music doesn’t play much at all during the game but sound plays a vital role. Each boss zombie gives off a specific sound associated with it. When approaching a Witch, eerie music starts to play and creates great tension. Being on the Source engine also means that you don’t need a $1000 computer to run everything smoothly.
Servers on the PC can act strange at times. When launching a game you have the choice to look for a dedicated server. If a server can’t be found the host will make a server and still be able to play but may be a bit laggy. I did run into the occasional random server boot while playing the demo, but several updates to the retail game since then I have yet to encounter a problem. The system is great for getting a couple friends together or randomly joining some and getting into a game quickly. There is also the standard server selection screen which can be activated through console commands for those who want to use it.
Left 4 Dead is an amazing game that any fan of FPS’s should go and pick up (unless they are under 17, the game is rated M for many reasons). Great multiplayer co-op and versus modes will keep this game going strong for years to come.
*Note, in L4D they use the term ‘infected’ in place of zombie. I just like the word zombie more.