November 27, 2008

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Left 4 Dead, (PC/360)
Valve Corporation, Nov. 18, M

By Glenn "Molotov cocktail" Given production@hippopress.com

OH NOES! THEY DIDN’T TELL ME ZOMBIES COULD RUN!

Actually, I was familiar with the whole speedy zombie tweak but Left 4 Dead brings the visceral horror action to gamers’ hands far better than the mall-bound time trials of Dead Rising ever did. Despite its thematic associates, Left 4 Dead is decidedly not a traditional survival horror game. Up to four players control a small team of un-infected survivors and must co-op their way through a set of modularly paced scenarios from hospitals to airports to countryside locales, all under the onslaught of the ravening hordes of “undead” (technically they are super-rabies-infected people). Game play is fundamentally linear in that each scenario presents a limited series of paths to various safe houses (for re-arming and revival) and a final evacuation point, where inevitably a tsunami of zombies will make one last valiant effort to eradicate your coterie. The twist is in the enemy A.I. called The Director, which tracks player movements and dynamically adjusts spawn points and enemy group composition as well as changing lighting, music and in-game chatter to reflect the profile of the team. The Director does a great job of keeping multiple playthrough of the game’s four levels from growing stale. The sense of a limted shelf life isn’t helped by only allowing versus play (in which another team of four can control a small selection of super zombies like the bile-retching Boomer or wall-scuttling Hunter) in only two scenarios. While it may not have the jam-packed value of The Orange Box, Left 4 Dead does asymmetrical FPS exceptionally well, though the lack of battlefields for online, where this really shines, is disheartening (in Valve’s defense it is unlikely that L4D will go un-expanded on the PC). Bonus points for digital distribution via Steam. A-Glenn Given