Left 4 Dead is a First-Person Shooter centered around four survivors of a zombie apocalypse who are trying to find a safe haven from the infection. It kicks off with an awesome cut-scene that introduces the characters, the world and most of the special infected. From then on out, the story and lore is told strictly through the world itself such as writings on the walls or more subtle touches like the placement of blood not caused by you shooting a zombie across the room. It is not the type of game where you have much time to stay still, the horde is relentless and worse still these are not your typical shambling zombies but ones that will sprint right at you as soon as you alert them.
This game was designed from the ground up for coop gameplay. Even if you do not have anyone to play with you will be accompanied by three other AI characters at all times. Luckily they can hold their own, and while their choices can be occasionally dumb, they will save you countless times. Running off on your own is a death sentence in Left 4 Dead. Be it from being overwhelmed by sheer numbers or brutally incapacitated by one of the five types of special infected, you will die alone if you are not a team player. In single player, if you are killed you will immediately lose and have to replay the level, so your survival is far more crucial.
Death in this title is odd. Should you die in multiplayer, you will respawn in a nearby closet which the other players must open to get you back into the game. It is a bizarre way of doing but it keeps you from staring at the screen until the end of the level should you succumb to the horde or get shot by a teammate. The AI will never hit you, but when playing with other players and the fighting gets really frantic, it’s not uncommon for someone to turn around and give you a taste of their shotgun. Sadly, the PC version does not have native splitscreen support while the consoles do. The omission of this feature in a coop based game was a terrible decision.
Before you begin your zombie massacre, you must first pick one of the four characters and one of 6 chapters. It does not matter in the slightest who you choose, they all play and handle exactly the same, other than their dialogue, the differences between them are purely visual. The PC does have one upside (other than mods) to it. Originally, there were only four maps, but two were later added as DLC which now come included for the Pc version. Finally, you have the choice to select which difficulty option you want to tackle that range from Easy to Expert. This not only increases damage output like other games, Left 4 Dead’s difficulties improve the AI, making their reactions times higher and overall smarter.
What really keeps this game playable even after nearly a decade since its release is The Director, an invisible force that drives the events and placement of items & Special Infected. The Director changes a lot of other things as well to keep the game constantly fresh. You can learn the layout of the maps, but you will never know what lies in wait on the next corner. It does not simply try to stop you from succeeding. Instead, it progressively dials things up or down depending on the state of things to keep you just barely going. This invisible pressure around your neck throughout does wonders to always keep you engaged.
The oppressive atmosphere is pretty good, but at the end of the day, this is still an Action game that will give you plenty of ways to fight back. There are three main form of weapons to choose from, them being automatic, long range or close ranged guns. These weapons all have their uses, and none feel anymore useless than the other. You will find more weapons later that fall into the previously mentioned category of three which are straight up upgrades leaving you no reason to not replace your starting gear. As a sidearm, you have a pistol with infinite ammo. It is definitely a last resort weapon or one to use to preserve ammo and can be dual-wielded if you find another pistol on the level.
Your health will not regenerate, if you take any damage be it from falling from high heights or being smacked across the face by a zombie, it will remain. Taking enough damage and you will eventually be wounded, greatly slowing down your speed and in such a fast-paced game it can easily spell your death. A quick temporary fix is to take a bottle of pills you may find around the level and put into your inventory. Taking these pills boosts your health up quite a bit, but it will slowly start to tick down to its original state. First Aid kits are probably the most valuable items in the game and are able to fix you up nearly completely. These red treasures are always given to you at the start of a level and depending on your luck may also be found elsewhere.
This is a linear game though it encourages exploration by way of placing items or ammo in off the path locations. Whether or not you choose to stop and explore a zombie filled area of the level is completely up to you, but you may regret it when you find nothing there while on the other hand, you may regret possibly passing up on items that could spell the line between life or death. It is a great risk reward system infinitely improved by the Director since you cannot simply memorize where everything is. Health pills and first aid kits have a slot of their own allowing you to carry one of each at any one time. There is also an offensive item slot that allows you to carry either a pipe-bomb or a Molotov cocktail.
The pipe-bomb’s sound draws in the common infected when thrown making it a great tool to clear out open areas though useless against Special Infected. The Molotov is pretty much the opposite in that it is great for narrow environments to burn anything that steps into its flames. Your last item at your disposal is a simple flashlight. Its battery never runs out, and there is only one reason to have it turned off. The special infected known as the Witch. It is the only zombie that is not actively trying to kill you, instead opting to sit in a random part of the level weeping. She is an extremely eerie “enemy” and is also much more dangerous than her looks may suggest. She does not take kindly to being disturbed like say, a random flashlight being shone into her face. Whenever she shows up the play-style of the game changes greatly, from going in blasting up a room to trying to slowly creep around.
You will have four other Special Infected that will do everything in their power to actively hunt you down. First off you have the Boomer who vomits a fluid that attracts the horde of common zombies to relentlessly assault him/her. The twist here is that he also spews his vile if you kill him as he explodes upon death, spraying those unfortunate enough to be near. Then you have a Hunter, an agile stalker that leaps across vast distances to catch a survivor that will be defenseless upon being in its grasp. Thirdly is a bizarre zombie called the Smoker who attacks from long range by pulling in survivors with its massive tongue. Last but not least is the massive creature known as a Tank, who as the name may suggest will destroy everything that gets in his path and will require the whole team to gun him down.
All of the Special Infected do have some way that you can handle them by yourself if you know what you are doing. A Hunter can be stunned for a bit by smacking them with your gun, the Smoker has a brief time that you can shoot it down before being left helpless and so on. It is still likely you will not last long by yourself, but there is always some form to fight back that you will discover as you play. Just glancing at it, it may seem like a simple shooter though there is a lot to learn other than shooting down everything. Like the fact that you can shoot a hole through a door and fire outside to give you some brief cover before the horde breaks through. Without a doubt, the most important thing to learn is the audio cues. Every Infected has a unique theme that will let you know exactly what you will face such as the sound of an oncoming horde or a specific type of infected.
Your typical normal zombie is not much of a threat until you get past the Normal difficulty due to the low amount of damage they inflict. Once you get to Advanced and Expert however, they will quickly whittle down your health at a moment’s notice. They are assisted by the great level design that never lets you feel safe. There is rarely a spot where you can simply tunnel them in to a single location, these guys will jump off roofs, climb fences, break down walls and swarm out of the ceiling to attack you from all angles. They are very sensitive to noise as well so accidentally shooting a car and setting off its alarm is the perfect way to get every zombie in the city to rush to your location.
As you travel from level to level, chapter to chapter, you will encounter various points where you must hold your ground for a time to progress. You’ll be starting generators to lower bridges, walking through metal detectors at airports and much more situations that require everyone to be prepared for a serious fight. At the end of each chapter, you will have to hold off the horde for a preset amount of time until rescue comes and these are the most exhilarating parts that will have you make use of everything you gather so far and possibly sacrifice your friends as you make a mad dash towards safety. These always give you some time to get the lay of the land and place some objects like gas canisters around to even the odds a bit until you set off the event.
The environments you will traverse are decently varied with all of the six chapters having a unique feel to them. From trekking through thigh-high water to blindly making your way through cornfields, there is always a memorable moment to be found in chapters. Aside from the regular campaign, you will also have access to the Survival and Versus modes. Survival shows you exactly how much The Director was holding back in its schemes and will throw truly overwhelming odds your way. You’d be lucky to make it more than a few minutes unless you have serious skill and a good party of players backing you. Versus is the only mode that has to be played in multiplayer and has you either take on the role of the survivors or in a unique twist, the Special Infected to terrorize the other players.
It is a ton of fun to jump around the place as the Hunter or to position yourself as the Boomer in such a way as to explode all over their party when they foolishly shoot you. Once one party wins the level or dies, it is their turn to play as the infected and terrorize us. To this day there are a decent number of players so it is rather easy to find a match and this mode is just a ton of fun. That in fact is the perfect way to describe Left 4 Dead, a ton of fun. Its only flaws are the dumb decision of not adding split screen to the PC version and the fact that Left 4 Dead 2 exists which includes all the chapters of this game. To not get into too much detail between the two games I’ll just say that the sequel does mess a lot with the feel of this game due to its new features but not enough to suggest buying it over this entry to anyone other than purists. Regardless if you go for this original version or its sequel you are sure to have a good time if you are at all into the FPS genre.