There have been plenty of zombie games before. The Resident Evil series, House of the Dead, even Zombies Ate My Neighbors. While all of them are solid(ok Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a classic), none of them really capture the spirit of fighting off the hordes as part of a small band of survivors like Left 4 Dead.
Left 4 Dead, for the Xbox 360 and PC, is a game meant to be played with friends. You play one of 4 survivors, trying to make your way past the hordes to safety. You start out on a rooftop, and make your way through and apartment building to the street. The storyline of the game is pretty generic, not that you expect much from zombie movies or games.
Where L4D shines is in the game play. Whether co-op or with AI, your survival really depends on your teammates. You’re able to heal teammates when they are hurt, or save them when they are in trouble. Conversely, there are times where your teammates must help you. And when they do, the feeling of gratitude makes it easier to want to help them, even at the risk of yourself.
The zombies in Left 4 Dead follow the 28 days later model, aka really fast runners. While they start out shuffling, if they catch sight or sound of you, they’ll come running. But there are more than just generic zombies. There are several other models, including the Boomer(a fat zombie that throws up/explodes on you, drawing hordes to you in the process), the Tank(think Barry Bonds on super steroids), and the Witch, a creepy child, who if disturbed comes at you with all the fury of hell. And she’s tough to put down.
Thankfully, the weapons help even the odds a bit. Shotguns, Uzi’s, Sniper rifles, and even dual pistols help take down the hordes. Molotov Cocktails and other bombs can clear a group very quickly.
What makes the game play experience unique is the presence of the AI Director. The director places weapons and ammo at random spots, depending on how you are doing. The Director also places the zombies in different locations, sets the mood by changing the lighting and sound.
In addition to online co-op, the game also offers a 4-on-4 experience, with one side as survivors, and the other as zombies. The zombie side becomes one of the “boss” zombies(i.e. Tank, Boomer, etc), and can command their hordes. It’s an interesting twist on the usual death match.
The graphics are up to Valve’s(maker of The Orange Box) standards, and the sheer number of zombies onscreen at times is very impressive. The music and sound really set the mood, especially when you can hear, but not see, certain zombies. The dialogue and exchange between the characters is especially amusing(like one character complaining about what he hates, then be asked what doesn’t he hate, and he responds, “I don’t hate this.”).
Left 4 Dead is a very strong game, and one that really benefits from having friends on your play list. While the single player is fairly short(its been rumored to be about 6 hours long), the AI Director keeps the experience fresh, especially with friends.
Gameplay: 9.5-Lots of fun, its hard to find many faults with this.
Sound: 9-Creepy sounds and music really get you in the mood.
Graphics: 8.5-The settings are terrific, and the zombie models are very detailed.
Longevity: 9-This is a must-own on the 360.