It's dark. You can hear faint screams of someone, or something. You're out of medi-kits and pain pills, and you just have your lone pistol left to help you. Your friends were massacred when someone set off the car alarm, leading all the zombies to you. You flick on your flashlight to inspect the large room ahead. The undead stagger around the room, until one of them sees you and runs straight at you. The other zombies become wise to you also and head straight in your direction. You slam the door shoot, shooting through it. You throw the last of your pipe bombs through the door and the zombies crowd around it and then...BOOM!
You have survived the apocalypse, but you sure are wishing you hadn't. Welcome to Left 4 Dead.
This game has had me excited and it was just from videos and screenshots. Getting hold of the controller and playing it myself only heightened my love for this game. It takes the tried and tested formula of four-player co-op, throwing in some zombies and a ton of ammo and tells you to kill the zombies and make it through each scenario alive. It's basically Counter Strike: Source, mixed with Dead Rising and a splash of Resident Evil. And it's the most fun you'll have this year.
The demo build I got to play featured the "No Mercy" chapter, with the Apartment and Subway areas unlocked to let you play through. You can go through the chapter either online or offline. Online is the main mode to pick as the whole ‘teamwork aspect is better pulled off with a bunch of real people. You grab your weapons and ammo and fight your way through the hordes and hordes of zombies to reach a safe room at the other end of the map, which allows you to restock before the next part of the chapter.
Left 4 Dead is a zombie horror film in game form. It's like a playable 28 Days Later, ridiculously fast zombies and all. The Director AI definitely adds to this, and it shows. I played through the demo build about 7 times and each time was completely different. Weapons, health kits and pipe bombs were all placed differently. Zombies were in completely different places, with some stretched containing no zombies where, on the last play through, hundreds stood. For those who don't know, the Director AI acts as...well a director of a film. It places objects and enemies in different places throughout the level as well as ramping up or decreasing the difficulty according to how well you are doing. On one occasion, I was playing on Expert and blasting zombies left, right and centre, so the AI decided to ramp up the number of zombies thrown at me, chucking in a Boomer and a Tank for good measure, and I began to struggle to keep on top of it all, resulting in two of my team members going down and myself limping through. Each play through is literally a different experience. Absolutely nothing was the same in each of the 7 playthroughs I did. The amount of replay value this could give is phenomenal.
The main feature of Left 4 Dead is the four-player co-op and when playing offline your fellow characters are controlled by AI, and this AI is pretty smart. They are capable of looking after themselves; finding ammo, healing you or themselves and pumping lead in the belly of a zombie that's ripping you apart. But really, Left 4 Dead brings co-op back to its roots. You actually have to co-operate. In games such as Fable II or Gears of War, co-op is just there so you can smash skulls in with a friend. In Left 4 Dead, you actually need to co-operate. You need to stick together at all costs, watch each others backs and patch each other up if needs be. You need to distribute weapons and health accordingly. Here, there's no point taking the lone health pack so that the one with little health can't heal themselves. Ammo, as well, needs to be found quickly as shooting through the hundreds of shambling corpses can use it up quickly. In one instance, I found myself leaving my friend to be mauled by zombies so I could take their assault rifle. Granted he wasn't too happy with me, but I needed that gun as I had little to no ammo. That may sound really bad, but it's survival of the fittest in the end.
The phrase, "You're only as strong as the weakest link" has never rung more true than whilst playing Left 4 Dead. If you've got a gung-ho member of the team who thinks they're a post-apocalyptic Rambo, then you probably won't last very long. Luckily, sticking together has never been more easy. Your friends appear as blue silhouettes through the walls, so it's easy to regroup or find them if they're being attacked. There is no HUD, so to speak, and there is no map at all, so you need to explore the right route to the safe room that will ensure you pick up some nice goodies, but stay alive at the same time.
The Source engine is pretty good at handling all the zombies on screen at once. At times, when I accidentally shot a car triggering it's alarm, hundreds upon hundreds of zombies kept pouring out of buildings. Luckily I kept a number at bay thanks to a molotov cocktail I had handy and mowed the rest down with my shotgun, knocking a few that came too close back then shooting them in the head with my pistol. The surprising thing is, doing things like what I just mentioned is so easy to do. It is the definition of pick up and play. The first time I played online, I was dropped in halfway through a level (which is another nice feature). If a character is being controlled by AI instead of a person, you can hop in and take control of that character easily; I was helping my team-mates out, shooting hordes of zombies, laughing and screaming when a Witch came out of nowhere or a Boomer burst through a door and vomited on us, leading to more zombies descending upon us.
Left 4 Dead is just one of those games that needs to be experienced with 3 other friends. And I mean ‘needs’. Playing on your own is fun in itself, but screaming at your friends for not covering your back or celebrating after just mowing down a whole horde of the Olympic sprinter-like undead makes this game that bit more amazing. It may be too early to tell, but Left 4 Dead is a strong contender for Game Of The Year from what I've played so far. Expect a review shortly.