If I learned anything from years of zombie movies, the Evil
Dead series and games like Parasite Eve and Alone in the Dark
it's that eventually the world will be destroyed and the dead
will rise from the streets to feed on the brains of the living.
It's inevitable, and one must be prepared. Only the strong
and crazy will survive. That's why I go through life every
day stockpiling food, ammunition, garlic and of course gasoline
for my various defensive chainsaws in my underground zombie
been reading previews for a while and various mentions of
Valve's new action/horror shooter, Left4Dead, for quite some
time and it's finally here. Ever want to star in your own
zombie apocalypse movie or even better star as one of the
zombies? Now's your chance.
There's a reason it's called a zombie apocalypse folks. It's
the end of the world. It's two weeks after the first infection
was reported and to quote Francis (The tattooed fellow in
the screenshots) "Everyone other than us is either a
zombie or an asshole." Yes it's an M rated game and not
really one that's appropriate for the kiddies. There's lots
of blood and a bit of cussin'. A group of four survivors has
managed to hold out against the zombies. Join Bill, (old grumpy
survivalist guy.) Francis, (Smart ass tattooed guy) Louis
(the token black guy) and Zoey (the obligatory hot chick)
as they fight their way though the mindless zombie hordes
on four different missions. Play with the AI or with other
players. Playing with other players is much, MUCH better.
In fact I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare it
to be the best co-operative shooter ever. Even better than
Serious Sam or Quake 1 and as far as I'm concerned those two
have held the crown up until this point.
The essence of Left4Dead's first person shooter gameplay
is simple but it's Valve's masterful execution of the whole
thing that makes it worth playing over and over. As one of
a handful of survivors, make your way through zombie infested
towns, cities and farmland to the safe houses (There's several
stages to each campaign) and eventually to the waiting rescue
at the end of the campaign. When you start a level you'll
be able to pick up a health pack (which can be used on yourself
or another survivor) and grab either a shotgun (Can't have
a zombie apocalypse without a shotgun!) or an uzi submachine
gun to compliment your default pistol, plus full magazines.
You're going to want to conserve that ammunition as you make
your way though the levels as ammo dumps (not to mention extra
health packs or pills that temporarily boost your health)
are few and far between. Spray and pray and you're soon going
to find yourself relying on your pistol alone and that ain't
good. Not good at all. You're also going to have some seriously
annoyed teammates picking up the slack.
mention the match making at this point. One of the best things
about Valve games is the Steam friends list. I've never seen
another match making service that makes it so very simple
to get into a game with or without some friends. Love it.
Match making makes me a happy Marauder.
Hang Together or Hang Separately
lone players are dead players. Luckily you'll be able to see
the other members of your team as ghostly outlines through
the terrain if you get separated but wander too far away from
your teammates and you're going to get swarmed or taken out
by a super zombie and there'll be no one around to help your
stupid lone gunman self out. It's remarkable how smoothly
a game goes when you've got a team working well together and
how poorly it goes when you're playing with asshats. There
are keyboard shortcuts to issue commands to your team and
an in game text chat but for things to really go well you're
going to be using the built in voicecom. There just isn't
time to type out that you need help when there's a zombie
trying to eat your precious, precious brain. If a teammate
gets knocked down (incapacitated) by an attack or falls over
the edge of a precipice because they're clumsy another survivor
will have to pick their sorry ass up before they're able to
move again. When on the ground you'll only have your pistols
to defend yourself and since you're dying your accuracy isn't
the greatest. If you don't get your friends off the ground
in time they'll die. It's interesting and a bit depressing
to hear the remaining survivors bemoaning the loss of their
companion but not to worry you'll find a replacement waiting
for rescue in a closet or safe room somewhere up ahead. Open
the door and your friend will respawn to continue the killing.
The only exception to this is the final battle, where if you
die you're dead until the next game starts.
by a Smoker zombie's tongue attack and beat on by
his zombie minions. Don't go alone.
The game's difficulty level can be varied and damage from
zombies and friendlies goes down in the lesser difficulty
levels. At the lower levels of difficulty there are no headshots
from friendly fire "incidents" and the finale stage
will be much shorter. The final battle is a setpiece defense
where you'll call for rescue then try to hold a position until
the calvary arrives and gets you the hell out of dodge. It's
pretty frantic trying to hold off wave after wave of attackers
and boss zombies and it gets worse and worse as they chip
away at you. I've had quite a few games where one or more
players get incapacitated or killed at the last moment, often
on the very ramp or deck of the rescue vehicle. The immersion
level of Left4Dead becomes evident when one of your buddies
gets pulled away at the last moment when you're already safe
and you go charging back into the thick of things to save
them without thinking about it... And it's just as obvious
when you decide to just keep going while the zombies are feeding
on them and you feel sort of badly afterwards.
Between levels you'll get a quick recap of what happened to
each player. Most damage taken, most damage to the Tank, most
infected killed etc, and at the end of the campaign you'll
get movie style credits with more detailed information about
the complete campaign and a nice little "in memory of"
section for those who didn't make it, as well as a total zombie
body count at the end.
Like Team Fortress 2 you'll also be able to achieve various
accomplishments while playing the game. They don't do anything
but it's very cool to do something heroic and get a little
award for it. My personal favorite is the "Man vs. Tank"
award for taking down a tank single handedly.
The Army of Darkness
your way through the game you'll encounter lone infected wandering,
shuffling mindlessly about. In singles or small groups they
don't present much of a problem although you'll often shoot
one and have a pack come at you out of the bushes, but they
do wear you down and chip away at your health and supplies
as the campaign goes on. From time to time you'll be getting
a horde coming at you which will contain dozens and dozens
of zombies charging at you from different directions. In addition
to the normal zombies there's a variety of "boss infected"
which are essentially super zombies. In versus mode these
special zombies are controlled by players (with the exception
of the witch) which certainly adds to the challenge as they
wait to ambush your team. The infected players will spawn
as ghosts, move themselves to good positions and then spawn
in to catch the survivors unaware. They're also able to use
ladders that are only visible to them to get themselves into
good positions and if they're out of position can respawn
closer to the survivors with a click of their mouse button.
(Fatty) - They're fat, they make weird farting noises
and if they get within range they'll unleash a spew of bile
on your group which will then attract a horde of regular mindless
infected and makes you smell funny to boot. If a Boomer is
shot at close range the explosion will damage anyone near
them so it's best to knock them away or take them out from
- Hunters are fast moving melee attackers, able to leap great
distances and incapacitate humans. If a hunter gets on one
of your teammates and starts ripping away at them you'd better
knock it off or kill it quickly or you'll be short one human.
Smoker - An annoying infected when played
by someone who knows what they're doing, the Smoker's long
tongue can target survivors and pull them long distances,
strangling them and making them helpless for it's melee attack
or the attacks of lesser zombies.
Tank - At least once or twice during the
main part of the campaign and a few times in the finale stage
you're going to run into a tank. They're a massively muscled
and armored zombie that can kill a survivor with a few swings
and have a ranged stun as well. You're best to set this bad
boy on fire with a molotov and get clear. He'll follow you
right up and through buildings and destroy anything in his
way. Tanks take a hell of a beating so the whole team will
need to work together to bring them down.
Witch - The only boss infected that can't
be player controlled, the witch can be heard crying long before
you see her. Usually placed somewhere inconvenient you'll
often have to try and kill her before she kills whoever startles
her which doesn't take long at all. A very nasty zombie, she's
best avoided if possible.
you know what Dorothy's nightmares look like.
We all know that Source engine games have great graphics
but Left4Dead definitely raises the bar for detailed environments
and gameplay. Whether it's the amazing textures and facial
features on character models or the superbly detailed environments
and buildings the folks at Valve outdid themselves with the
graphics and ambiance on this one. Setpiece scenes such as
a spectacular plane crash near the climax of Dead Air and
the crazy guy holed up in a church who summons the hordes
during Death Toll really add to the already tense atmosphere
of L4D. I'm a huge fan of scripted events and there aren't
really that many big ones but when you see a good one it's
quite memorable. It's not just the big stuff that makes the
game memorable it's the little things like the zombie animations,
the blood splattered on your screen from close range kills,
the muzzle flash of your weapons lighting up the zombie hordes
coming down the hallway towards you or a wall of zombies flailing
their way through the pool of liquid gasoline you've set out
for them. The environments are partially destructible as well
with infected often coming through seemingly solid walls to
get you or breaking down doors or barricaded windows in their
search for your tender flesh. There's even leaves drifting
on the wind. It's truly the small things that make life worth
living, and make a world more realistic and believable.
The Four missions:
Mercy - A trek through the streets, alleys and buildings
of an infected city with the final standoff being on the helipad
atop a hospital. Watch that first step, it's a doozy.
Death Toll - Make your way to the river and
defend a dock and derelict house until the boat arrives to
get you the hell out of there.
Blood harvest - Zombies zombies and tractors
everywhere. Journey through forests and across farmland on
your way to defend a deserted farmhouse against the hordes.
Dead Air - Travel through the city to the
airport and a waiting transport plane. As you near the final
battle at the airport there's a spectacular plane crash that's
one of the high points of the game. Bravo Valve!
Sound and Music
like the graphics Left4Dead's music and sound effects are
excellent. The music sets a nice creepy ambiance to your adventures
with highs occurring during zombie horde rushes and encounters
with tanks and witches. The music also gives an occasional
little erie horror movie flourish that never fails to make
me jump a little. The quality doesn't stop with the music.
Characters talk to each other and keep up a running dialogue
Francis' little running jokes, characters reassuring their
buddies as they pick them up off the ground and mourning as
they pass their friend's zombie mangled corpses. Gunshots
in the distance, floorboards creaking, crows squawking in
the bushes and fields and the sounds of the undead moaning
and shuffling around all sound great.
Zombie Killing Weapons
have a zombie apocalypse without weapons galore to kill said
zombies now can you? You'll be fairly well equipped for the
upcoming madness with a basic unlimited ammunition 1911 pistol
and one of a variety of heavier arms. For starters there's
an uzi submachine gun or pump shotgun. As you progress through
the levels you'll acquire dual pistols, a semi-auto scoped
hunting rifle, (It's a Mini-14, but I guess that Ruger wouldn't
appreciate them calling it that.) an automatic shotgun and
a M-16 assault rifle. I didn't have much use for the hunting
rifle as I found that most of the engagement ranges are too
short or the enemies coming at me too fast for it to be handy
but some of the folks I've been playing with seem partial
to grabbing it as soon as they can. It is good for long range
headshots on witches but I find that using the M-16 and firing
bursts works just as well on the majority of the undead out
there. Any of the weapons can also be used as melee weapons
with a right mouse button knocking enemies away from you.
This is especially handy when you get caught by a rush in
the middle of a reload, something which seems to happen quite
often. All of the weapons have flashlights mounted on them
which comes in handy (stupid Doom3) in the sometimes dark,
tight areas of the game.
for any of the guns can be gained by touching an ammunition
dump or picking up a fresh weapon. As was mentioned above
you'd better be calling your shots and conserving your ammunition
or you'll soon be fending off hundreds of zombies with naught
but curses and your pistols.
about the environment are various explosive weapons, both
premade and makeshift. Molotov Cocktails engulf an area in
flames and there's definitely something to be said for setting
up a wall of fire in front of a wave of zombies and watching
them burn. Make sure you're back far enough however or you're
going to be taking fire damage and getting beat silly by flaming
undead. Pipe bombs attract any nearby mindless zombies and
it's great to throw one out at the start of a rush and watch
the gibblets and bits go flying when a few dozen zombies get
blown to smithereens. Propane tanks and gas cans make great
improvised explosives and it's always a good idea to set some
up prior to triggering the final stand offs on each campaign.
says fun like a gas can and zombies.
At ship time there are only four campaigns with the game
and only two of those can be played in versus modem. No single
player versus mode to practice. It's often awkward when you're
creating a lobby to connect to a low ping server as the game
autoselects a server. It works quite well but we often find
ourselves connected to servers across the world. It'd be nice
to be able to filter servers by ping and location without
having to enter console commands. Hopefully this is rectified
in a future patch.
We experienced some difficulty remapping the game's voice
communications away from it's default "C" config.
I'm pretty partial to using caps lock personally and the game
would map to this but it wouldn't work except when running
in test mode. Very odd. In the end I just left it at "C"
and got used to hitting that.
Not sure what's going on but the test system experiences random
pauses while playing the game online. Haven't had the time
to track down what's causing it. It's not common, but it's
not just us with this problem.(Update Feb 22/09: Loaded the
latest Nvidia drivers and the problem went again. Yay!)
a chainsaw. It feels weird not have a chainsaw to kill zombies
I was reviewing Pyschonauts a few years ago I started the
review off with this: "Is anyone else starting to get
a little tired of shooters? As much as I truly do love putting
bullets into generic Nazis, mutants, zombies, monsters or
Islamic terrorists, it tends to get a little old sometimes."
Valve has managed to take something that's a little old and
tawdry and make it fresh and exciting again. It's not a game
for everyone but if you like shooters and you've ever wanted
to live through a zombie infested end of the world scenario
without actually having undead monsters chewing on your leg
it's for you... And if you've never wanted to do just that
sort of thing there's something wrong with you and there's
no hope for you when the inevitable apocalypse arrives. The
rest of us will be well trained up and ready to survive, thanks
to Valve. Get it. Now.
to Goshwin, R-Khan, Protocal, VA_Killer and Strika for helping
with the killing for the making of this article. Tens of thousands
of the undead were harmed in the process. People for the Ethical
Treatment of the Reanimated are going to be pissed.
Please note that this review broke our offical record for
uses of the word "apocalypse" in an article. The
previous record was... none.