- Review: Left 4 Dead
- March 1st, 2009
I should start this by saying that I generally dislike first-person shooters. Once I understood the concepts of aiming, cover, vantage points, suppression fire, and using the appropriate tool for the job, I felt like I had grokked something deep about them, and learning new ones just became an exercise in something I already knew. It was using the same tactics in space, against terrorists, and so on.
Admittedly, there have been a few exceptions. The Aliens v. Predator games scared the crap out of me. Bioshock was just so damn weird that I had to like it (Corey: "So, you're this crazy motherfucker in an underwater, psychic 1930's mock up sci-fi city trying to eat children." Me: "SOLD!"). But on the whole, FPS games just don't capture me. (Though I realize that I'll be dealing with a lynch-mob of twenty-something males for saying so, the Halo series did absolutely nothing for me. )
The quickest way to summarize my review of Left 4 Dead is that it fits into that weird niche of unique shooter games that I actually like.
Foremost, the scales are certainly tipped by the content. If it deals with zombie-variants and a post-apocalyptic world, there is already a 50% chance that I'll like anything. If it was freaking french toast served in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, my little brain would find it to taste better (not that french toast really needs zombies to be better... I'm just saying). Also, I think I am actually bound by my religion (whatever the hell it is) to morally approve of shooting zombies. And if an auto-shotgun is involved? Even better.
Speaking of auto-shotguns... I am constantly forced to re-evaluate my relationship with the game Counter-strike. On one hand, I had the same problems with it I did with other first-person shooters. You play it the same way you played ever other shooting game. But... there was this other factor. I have hazy college memories of jumping around, "tea-bagging" fallen counter-terrorists, and repeatedly (and I do mean REPEATEDLY) knifing the V.I.P. to death.
That interaction with other live human beings was the absolute best part of the Counterstrike experience.
And they have taken it and made it way better with Left 4 Dead. The mechanism of the differentiated undead, such as the hunter, the smoker, and the tank FORCE people to work together as a cohesive unit, else they get quickly pulped. When you up the difficulty on the game, trying to go "Lone Ranger" ends up being a pretty reliable form of suicide. In fact, I believe the programmers specifically made the game's A.I. try to kill you if you do this.
Speaking of A.I. That may actually be the best part of the game.
Getting a shit-kicking? You'll be getting that assault rifle before you know it. If you become "Our Lady of Perpetual Headshots", you can plan on using the lame-ass uzi right up until the bitter end. The A.I. also controls pacing. One of the things I can't stand in FPS games is when you are constantly mobbed by bad guys. You get burnt out and the villains lose all their dramatic impact. The computer in Left 4 Dead does a really nice job of pacing the encounters. Unnervingly quiet periods will change into shit-your-pants "Holy God, the undead are on all sides of me" adrenaline in a matter of seconds. Even better? There are times when the game actually tells you that you are about to get fucked from all angles. These points are insanely fun, because you find your team scouting out the terrain, creating a battle plan, giving everyone a role, and the scrambling frantically to make your plan actually work (or trying not to get your respective faces eaten off).
I guess a testament to the tactical depth of the game is that I wrote a section of this review talking about the tactics, then cut it because I realize that it would only be remotely interesting to people who have played the game, and if you are reading my review, I assume that you probably have not.
That said, if you have any fancy for cooperative video games or the undead, Left 4 Dead is absolutely worth it.
PS - Despite the obvious gender problems, I feel that I am actually "Our Lady of Perpetual Headshots".