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Friday, November 28, 2008

Left 4 Dead - Review

To those in the US, I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. Now it's Black Friday and time to BUY BUY BUY. I on the other hand am at home waking up from a comatose state of an overdosage of good food yesterday. So now I will be reviewing for yall, not because I'm bored but because I love you guys.


Left 4 Dead is about... forget it. I'm not gonna try and make this more than what it is. There's no super complex story. Viral infection breaks out and there are those immune to it. Left 4 dead decides to then focus on a specific group of three guys, one gal who decide to work with each other to escape the city. At least, that's the story of the first campaign.

Since there's nothing really more to say about this zombie survival horror fest in terms of story, let me get right down to gameplay. (Mind you, I'll be speaking from the PC player's perspective, thus certain "difficulties," such as aiming a sniper doesn't exist. Sorry, I'll stop taking stabs at rabid FPS console players. I mean it thsi time)First off, to get a general premise of the story, you should probably see I Am Legend or at least, the evac scenes and add the zombie scenes to it to get a good idea.

Yes, the intro is very important. I'll get to that later.
So any avid FPS player has had their fair share of zombie survival horror games. If you had PC copies of Half-life and Half-life 2 (including Counter-Strike), you'd have played even more thanks to so many zombie mods made for those games. ANYWAYS, I'll say this about the trailer. Nearly everything you do in the trailer, you can do in the game. No joke.

It goes like this. You have a health bar, but it's purpose changes many times. The first time you're alive, it's just a health bar. Once it hits zero, you've fallen and now are on the ground. Not, you're dead, you're fallen and you need someone's help to get you back up. During this time, you can fire your pistol veeeeerrryyyy sllooooowwwllyyy against any zombies that want to kill you on the ground. Because once you've fallen, your health bar changes from a solid bar to numerous tiny bars. This means, your health is "temporary", it's set on a timer and slow goes down if no one decides to help you in addition to dropping when zombies hit you. If you take full damage while on the ground or if your health timer runs out, you're dead. If you're rescued by a friend, you get back up with 30 "temporary" health. My friends and I consider this "bleeding state." I don't know what the actual name is. This health will go down to 1 and stay at one assuming you're never hit again. If you fall down again, you're sent back to fallen mode, and if you're rescued again, you're in a fatal state, or what my friends like to call "black and white state." Because in your perspective, everything turns black and white. You start off with 30 temp health again, but if you fall, you will die. You can fix either of these states with a health pack that will restore your life back to 80 or more depending on how much health you had. Usually, it's 80 if you're in any red state (color of the health bar). Also, your running speed is dependent on your HP, whether it's temporary or solid. Around 60 is where you start running a bit more slowly and 30 is when you're limping. You can attempt to relieve the pain by taking pain killers (and gaining around 60 temporary health) but health packs are very important. If everyone's FALLEN/Dead, it's game over.

I wish I could tell you all the weapons there are (supposed to be around 16. Edit: I may have read the trailer at the end of the demo wrong. I'm pretty sure it said 10 NEW weapons but they may have said just 10 weapons...) but because my friends and I haven't beaten the first campaign yet, I can't really say it. I'll explain why we can't beat the first campaign later. But, with the first campaign, you start off with either an uzi or a pump-action shotgun and a pistol. You can pick up a second pistol for duelies, and if the random number generator is feeling nice, you can find a table of weapons which consist of an M4 carbine, Hunting (sniper) rifle, and an auto-shotgun. Along the way you can also find either a pipe bomb or a molotov cocktail.

All the zombies are alike... Actually sort of. I'm a big fan of Valve and their attention to a lot of detail. Especially this. In the first campaign alone, there are around... 25 different models for the generic type of zombie. Some have certain facial distinctions, you have both genders, a hospital is filled with nurse, doctor and patient zombies. Certain areas have military camo zombies. So when they swarm, it looks like a swarm and not just "oh look, there's a hundred Zack's." You will see overlapping, I never said you won't, but the overlaps won't be as obvious unless you paid particular attention to a specific zombie.

Then there are the special zombies. There's 5 of them and you can only use 4 in "versus mode" due to one having to fulfill a specific condition. They are as follows.

Smoker: These zombies are particularly tall and have a tendency to make smoke trails when they run. They have long tongues that can wrap around your body and drag you to them and rip you apart. Or just drag or body and let the hordes that you're dragged through kill you en route. When they die, they leave a smoky explosion. You know one's near by the hacking/coughing or raspy voice.

Hunter: Hooded parkour freaks. They honestly remind me of the main character of assassin's creed except without the killer assassin tools. They jump on a guy and rip him/her to shreds. If you get it off fast enough it won't deal damage. Annoyingly fast, impressive pouncing abilities. A deep growl with a high-pitched male shriek.

Boomer: The fat zombies. really fat. They puke on you to designate zombie hordes. My friends and I have basically realized that this zombie's purpose is to mark the enemy. When they explode their barf does as well and when you're slimed expect a zombie horde to attack you. They sound like they have loud bad digestive systems or they're constantly underwater.

Witch: Tiny albino girls with extremely long nail claws. Honestly? This zombie's actually pretty harmless, unless you shoot it, shoot in front of it, get too close to it shine a flashlight on it, or anything that could cause temporary seizure. You know you're close to a witch when you hear a girl crying and there's creepy music playing over the bass. Witches are more like frightened little girls, only that if you startle a witch, you're most likely dead unless you have REALLY skilled teammates. Also, witches only attack the person that startled them and then they try to run away. This is the zombie you can't play as in versus mode.

Tank: Everyone hates the tank. These are massive beings with around 8000 HP (the typical zombie has 50 I believe). They run a bit faster than your full running speed. they throw parts of the ground at you, and if you happen to be in a path of a tank running after someone else, you're fallen with a bit of HP overkill. Needless to say, headshots are priority but it's sometimes hard to find the head in such a massive upper body. It also has it's own epic rolling horn music, but you can hear one a bit further away by its super deep and loud voice. I occasionally mistake these for hunters.

The music is solid. There's this low bass humming in your ear throughout a lot of the game but when a swarm comes, you hear sharp notes with the brass section and super high paced music. A good mix of orchestra and synth. Then each special zombie has their own music which is both fun and annoying to hear. Annoying in the sense that you have to deal with one of them (let's say tank).

The cast of characters is great. You have Bill, a veteran, Francis, tattooed biker guy, Louis, a office worker, and Zoey, a girl (Yes, that's her occupation. They all look normal so i can't really tell if she does anything). What's great is that they all have their own set of lines based on a mold. You can kind of tell through the trailer but just listening to a lot of their dialogue throughout the game is funny. Also, there's a chance you won't get the same dialogue very time. For example, there's a part in an elevator when one time, Bill is talking about how this "zombie apocalypse" is nothing compared to the one he faced during his war time. Another time, Francis asks "who beefed" in the elevator. They talk a lot, and sometimes it helps lighten the mood of the game. Occasionally Zoey says "Dude, i'm half your size, get up." When she's helping a fallen character.

Now, the main reason why my friends and I haven't been able to beat the first campaign. Left 4 dead has 4 difficulties: Easy, Normal, Advanced, Expert (interestingly enough, in the console, it's labed Normal, Hard, Expert, Impossible). Any avid FPS player will be able to bulldoze Advanced solo with a bunch of bots as the other 3. Expert... not so much. Campaigns start off relatively easy and become harder the more you progress. So the first level is always a cakewalk compared to the finale. Expert is when you have more frequent swarms and multiple special zombies appearing at once. Voice communication and teamwork is absolutely necessary. You also need to balance the weapon spread. 4 Shotguns will not survive, and neither will 4 uzis. (what I prefer to call) 2nd tier weapons are different. There can be a spread of 3 carbines and one auto shotgun. Or 2 carbines and 2 auto shots or 2 carbines and one hunting and one autoshot. My point is, you need to learn to work together. This isn't quake, you cannot, I repeat, you CANNOT run and gun and pretend that you'll make it. that simply does NOT work. If at any point you are struck, you will flinch and stop moving. You cannot take on a zombie horde by yourself.

However. I find expert to be the only FUN difficulty because it's hard. It's one of those games where you get a sense of satisfaction when you beat it. Because of its difficulty however, I suggest playing expert with a bunch of really good FPS friends. Because friendly fire is always on, you need to have people who are really good with their trigger finger and will all follow the same strategy. Here's the thing, there's a chance you will meet 3 other expert players that are also good and follow similar strategies and you 4 will then blaze through the levels having fun. That's not going to happen very often. The lottery chance of that happening is too slim. Honestly, you're better off finding friends. Here's the thing. If you have 4 really good teammates, Expert isn't so bad, since everyone knows what needs to happen and communicates with their teammates well. I've yet to have that chance. I communicate really well with one of my friends and need to pull half the weight for another. That's beside the point.

The thing is, if you get tired of Expert, find it to be too easy. You can do something about it (unlike the Xbox version. Sorry). You can console mod it. Make swarms happen more frequently, increase the zombies' health, make more zombies in a swarm. Lower the recharge time required for smokers to spit out their tongues. Make those Hunters move even faster....

I found the demo to be like a "casual" game for hardcore gamers. But now that I've seen the entire game (4 campaigns and versus mode in which you have 8 players taking the role of the survivors or Special zombies) it's like an extended casual game for hardcore gamers. It's one of those very easy to pick up and play games that are always fun because of the AI director (or what I like to call an advanced random number generator). One of the great things about the maps is, although there's a fairly linear path for the survivors, there's always around 4-6 different paths the zombie swarm can take meaning you can't just throw a molotov at where you expect a zombie swarm to appear because that may not happen. They may bypass that route altogether.

It's a game worth getting for survival fans. I won't say horror, because horror lost it's image a while ago.

Oh yeah. Graphics are good. You'll probably need a good PC due to the processor dealing with a lot of zombies.

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