Left 4 Dead Preview

[Originally posted at GameStooge.]

As you may have already found out, those who preordered Left 4 Dead have access to the demo, which is a fairly meaty experience, as you can sample the gameplay from both single player and co-op multiplayer for two levels. Not included is the versus multiplayer experience, in which a group of people take the role of the hording undead.

The game really stresses a cinematic experience – players “star” as one of the four survivors on the poster of the “movie”. Bill, my personal favorite, is the grizzled Vietnam vet, Louis is basically Ben from Night of the Living Dead, Francis is a biker dude, and Zoe is the rich girl. They interact with each other nicely – calling each other by name, shouting out orders and information (ie. “I’m reloading!”), and even calling out targets. It’s one of the rarities in a game in which you can truly identify with the heroes of a shooter, especially since they rely on each other for survival.

The object of the main modes are simple: get your ass to the safe rooms. Through it all, you have to pick weapons, grab healing kits, and other items. This is one of the few games in which everyone desperately needs each other. For instance, healing kits are one shot deals in which you can either heal yourself or heal a teammate, and you won’t hesitate to heal an ally, even when you’re at medium health.

The game uses a “director” to heighten suspense, so you never get the same scenario all at once. A handful of shambling, blase zombies can explode into a mob rush of a hundred 28 Days Later-style attackers. The specialized zombies are truly annoying – especially the boomer, who not only explodes to cover you in goo that obscures your vision – but the goo actually summons a horde of attacking zombies to your position. Other hazards include the hunters, who behave like the fast zombies in Half-Life 2, and smokers, who not only emit a fog, but has a long prehensile tongue that can snatch a survivor away, and woe to the group if the smoker is far away and drags the victim way, way from the group.

Teamwork is always stressed. People who rush off solo will quickly be zombie chow, especially since they can only be revived by other teammates. Hunters will pin a survivor, requiring another survivor to get it off. All the while, the choreography is staged so that disaster occurs at the worst possible moment – making for the best possible experience.

If there is a single complaint, it’s that one must play at the hardest level of difficulty to provide a real challenge, and as usual, if you randomly choose players, you may not get a cohesive team. But when you’re playing at the deadliest level, and you manage to shut the door on a boomer who was inches from entering the safe house with you, it’s about the purest gaming experience you can get.

The game comes out in a little more than two weeks on November 18, and we’ll post a review not soon after. If you want to sample some gameplay, simply preorder it for the PC via Steam or the Xbox 360, and get to play the demo – it’s better than most multiplayer shooters available now.

By: Jonah Falcon

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