Romero's heroes

Left 4 Dead Screenshot

HIGH It might have taken fifteen years for someone to figure out that a zombie-killing FPS was a good idea, but at least the wait is finally over.

LOW Other than the fact that you actually get to kill zombies in it, there is nothing to recommend this game.

WTF Bombs that make loud beeping sounds make zombies attack the bombs. Car alarms that make loud beeping sounds make zombies attack me. What?

The premise is simple and clean—there's been a zombpocalypse, and only four people are left alive in a city full of the "infected". For those uninitiated, "infected" is code for "fast zombies who are easy to kill because they're still technically alive". This means that during the heroes' arduous trek from the starting point to their ultimate rescue, headshots are neither a necessity, nor a particularly smart tactical choice.  Actually, there's just one smart tactical choice, and it's both game's strongest and weakest point. The contentious tactic? Teamwork.

Left 4 Dead is a co-op only game. It's essentially unplayable in solo player mode—the team AI is incredibly timid, always hanging back and letting the player get attacked and battle all of the enemies first. The non-player characters also neglect to throw grenades or use the environment or emplaced weapons to battle enemies. This renders the game all but impossible on anything but the easiest difficulty levels. While two-player split-screen is possible, in that eventuality there are still two computer-controlled characters, and the underlying problems still persist.

The only way to get the full experience out of the game is to go online and round up a full crew of players, which, as with all online games, puts players at the mercy of strangers. The quality of experience that Left 4 Dead has to offer is entirely dependent on the quality of player they encounter, more so than any other game I've encountered. This is because the game requires a total commitment to teamwork at all times. In addition to the normal hordes of zombies that surround the players at all times, there are five types of "special infected", each of whom has the ability to incapacitate the player with a single attack, and go on to kill them quickly if the other players don't swoop in and rescue them. Practically, this means that players can't separate at all for more than a few seconds at a time without being killed in an extremely unpleasant manner.

Left 4 Dead Screenshot

There are four distinct stories, or "movies" that the players can enjoy, each one telling the same basic story: The survivors start at one end of an area, and have to fight their way across it order to make their escape. These levels can be played in any order, and effectively break down into difficulty levels (in addition to the damage-based difficulty levels that the player has access to). The two urban-themed levels are a little easier. By virtue of the fact that they're set almost entirely in narrow hallways, there are usually only two directions zombies can attack from, so it's very difficult to be taken by surprise. The two rural levels are much harder, as the players spend much of the time surrounded by dense, impenetrable forest that zombies can come rushing out of at any moment.

While shooting the hordes of zombies is certainly entertaining enough when played in a group, the repetitive structure of the of the game ensures that things will get old quickly. There's next to no exploration required, and precious few alternate routes through each area. This means that every level plays almost exactly the same every time. Yes, the concentrations of enemies change from level to level, but essentially every room in every level is full of zombies, so it's only changes of minor degree. All the major events of the game, sieges where the players have to defend themselves from a horde of zombies while a pathway opens slowly, are exactly the same every time.

The so-called "AI director" is supposed to randomize things to keep the game moving, but in practice that just boils down to sending an additional charging horde of zombies after the player if they stay in one place for more than a minute. The game is bare to the point of absurdity—play through one of the chapters, and the game has shown every enemy, weapon, and situation it has to offer. While the specific geography of the maps may differ, the encounters they offer are mind-numbingly similar.

This repetitiveness is what bothered me most about Left 4 Dead (other than the obnoxious use of a number in place of a word). There's always going to be a little been-there-done-that to a game that expects players to run through the same levels over and over again, but most games of this type give players something to keep them interested. Whether it's learning the advantages and disadvantages of various classes, upgrading weaponry, or just earning new costumes, developers find ways to encourage replay. This was apparently not a concern for the Left 4 Dead team, because the game doesn't offer anything to encourage replay. The multiplayer component of this multiplayer-only game is so basic and threadbare that players can't even design their own character's appearance! Despite the fact that there's no plot to speak of, players are forced to control the same four utterly generic characters, none of whom play any differently.

Left 4 Dead Screenshot

Left 4 Dead's one saving grace is its Versus multiplayer mode, which pits two teams of players against each other over the course of an entire story, taking turns playing each chapter as either the survivors or the special zombies determined to murder them. It's an ingenious mode that I wish we'd see a little more often, where the survivors are playing the level normally, but all special zombies are controlled by the other team. Scoring is based on how much health each survivor has when they get to the end of each chapter, multiplied by the number of survivors left, and after each chapter is played once, the teams switch roles and the level resets, giving each team a chance to try out the other's role. Due to the role swapping games of this type take twice as long to play, but that inconvenience is more than made up for by the intriguing challenge that human opposition adds to the game. The spawning and behaviour of the special infected is so predictable that they don't provide much of a challenge. Going up against intelligent zombies who can communicate, plan, and co-ordinate their efforts adds a level of randomness and excitement that the rest of the game is sorely lacking.

People love killing zombies. That defining truth underwrites something like 20 percent of the video games industry. The fact that until the release of Left 4 Dead there wasn't a first person shooter about killing hordes of zombies is bizarre oversight, and the fact that the game rectifies that error makes it a worthwhile exercise. Unfortunately, the multiplayer-only focus limits the amount of people who will be able to play the game, though, and the limited length and variety of that multiplayer experience ensures that the game is unsatisfying as anything other than a basic, visceral endeavor. Yes, shooting hordes of zombies is fun, even more so with three other friends. But the game doesn't have anything to offer beyond that simple activity, and it most likely stop being relevant the moment someone makes a zombie FPS with a little more depth. Rating: 7.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 6 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 3 times) and 10 hours of play in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, language. It's a game solely about constantly shooting zombies to death. Maybe the kids shouldn't be playing it. Although, to be fair, by the standards of zombie games the gore is relatively tame. You won't find a great deal of decapitations and limb severings or anything like that, and when zombies are blown up they dissipate into a fine red mist.The goriest thing here are the blood decals that splatter everything when zombies get shot.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The music in the game is specifically tuned to warn the player about different kinds of danger, and without that, you'll have a little more trouble knowing when the zombies are coming. That being said, this is a Valve game, which means it contains their famously thorough and helpful subtitles.

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
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25 Comments on "Left 4 Dead Review"

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Nuvix
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The reviewer made several good points, but he wasn’t objective. He was apparently blind to everything Valve did well with this title, and I think that makes this a very poor quality review. Those 8s and 9s the game has been getting are from reviewers who have seen these same flaws, but weren’t oblivious to the positives. People who give it a 10 are kidding themselves, but so is this guy. Any reviewer worth his salt knows how to do 2 things: 1) Capture both the good and the bad 2) Recognize features others may love and find a place… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

[quote=Anonymous]Review single player mode:

I love horror games, but not Lef 4 Dead.
Not scary, too many zombies at the same time, kill and kill and kill and nothing more to do.

Reminds great horror films, but the game fails to capture their atmosphere.

For me: a total deception…

[/quote]

Anonymous
Guest

Review single player mode:

I love horror games, but not Lef 4 Dead.
Not scary, to many zombies at the same time, kill and kill and kill and nothing more to do.

Reminds great horror films, but the game fails to capture their atmosphere.

For me: a total deception…

Sean Riley
Guest

[quote=Mike Bracken]I was with you until here, but this entire paragraph is silly.
[/quote]

You’re not kidding.

“The purpose of the critic is not to reflect the popular opinion, but to educate it.” — Roger Ebert.

In other words, when one critic disagrees, he is attempting to argue that the popular opinion is wrong. Sometimes this is done well. Here, I believe, it has not been done so. But to disagree with the masses is the blessed right of the critic.

Mike Bracken
Guest

[quote=Anonymous]Oh, on another note, when 99% of gaming magazines praise a game it does mean that the 1% that bash the gane are wrong. The reviewer should be writing for the majority of people that are going to buy a game, listing the good points and the bad. Not saying things like “it should be more like dress-up games so this game is bad!” [/quote]

I was with you until here, but this entire paragraph is silly.

Anonymous
Guest
I disagree with this review as well. While you do mention a few good points about the game, most of your review was negative. I’m not sure what jaded you about this game as it’s one of the best games ever made; no other FPS has been so team-based. You do make some valid points, but the good points about this game far outweigh the bad. -Playing with strangers: So? Some strangers are just as good as friends, others are not. Some strangers BECOME friends. If a player is weak, the game becomes more challenging. It’s still a relatively easy… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
A lot of people are missing the point of this game. The maps.weapons, enemies etc are almost incidental. The whole point is the interaction between players, ideally strangers, in multiplayer co-op. That creates all the drama and a storyline develops from it. I’ve had games where I geninely developed an emotional bond with a fellowplayer and went out of my way to help them out. In others I’ve hated another player and been forced to save them when leaving them to die would have been my natural instinct. I’ve sacrificed myself, I’ve given up health packs and generally behaved in… Read more »
Sean Riley
Guest

I always love the way that some people think that a critic disagreeing with other critics somehow makes him ‘wrong’.

Much as I disagree with this review as well, that he’s the only critic to be negative about the game isn’t evidence.

Daniel Weissenberger
Guest

One more time for the cheap seats: The answer was… Witch.

Anonymous
Guest

this editor has rediculous ideas and sometimes it even seams like he hasn’t played the game he mentions there being 5 different types of special infected but there are only 4 (boomer, hunter, smoker and tank)
he is the only critic to give this a score under 8.0

Daniel Weissenberger
Guest
[quote=Sean Riley]Wouldn’t “Left 2 Die” make more sense as a nickname? :D[/quote] Yeah, I totally give up my objection to numbers standing in for words. Left 2 Die is a great title. Seriously though, my complaint about the Special Infected was not that they’re especially hard to beat – just set the Tank on fire and keep a post between you and him and he’ll be dead in no time – but that the way they each tackle you to death in essentially the exact same way only heightens how restrictive and repetitive the gameplay is. It’s fine if you… Read more »
Sean Riley
Guest

[quote=Anonymous]This is the same guy who defended that piece of shit Alone in the Dark game.

This websites proves that indepdent game review sources can be just as bad if not worse than mainstream game review sources.[/quote]

Yes, because GOD FORBID someone take an unpopular stance on a game.

Bullshit. I disagree with this review as well, but defending unpopular works and savaging popular ones doesn’t make you a bad reviewer. That’s not evidence.

Anonymous
Guest
[quote=Anti-Social FatMan]Complaint about bots: I can finish all campaigns on advanced playing with three bots. I can finish No Mercy on Expert. Complaint about two player: My friend and I execute the bots and duo on *expert*. We call it Left 2 Dead. Complaint about being at the mercy of strangers: F-r-i-e-n-d-s! It’s a game designed for play with friends. Boss zombies: People who play the game for more than a few hours (or have some skill) learn how to deal with the bosses by themselves. Even the tank can be taken down by one person – on expert –… Read more »
Omer Altay
Guest

I Agree with the reviewed here, the game is overall great, but the repetitiveness is certainly there. The game only has a handful of campaigns, and once you play through them in co-op, that’s it. You’re done. Playing them more than once isn’t fun.

I’d love to see some updates to the game that add new additional campaigns, because the game’s multiplayer component, although fun, also gets repetitive.

Sean Riley
Guest
[quote=Anti-Social FatMan]Complaint about two player: My friend and I execute the bots and duo on *expert*. We call it Left 2 Dead.[/quote] Wouldn’t “Left 2 Die” make more sense as a nickname? 😀 As for my comments above, a better observation: I like the game, I really do — But it’s far from flawless. The shortcuts, in particular, madden me. I like a few surprising alternative routes for versus mode; getting to surprise your pursuers is a good idea. But the crescendo moments should not be skippable, and whoever thought they should be needs to shot. Only with paintball guns,… Read more »
Anti-Social FatMan
Guest
Complaint about bots: I can finish all campaigns on advanced playing with three bots. I can finish No Mercy on Expert. Complaint about two player: My friend and I execute the bots and duo on *expert*. We call it Left 2 Dead. Complaint about being at the mercy of strangers: F-r-i-e-n-d-s! It’s a game designed for play with friends. Boss zombies: People who play the game for more than a few hours (or have some skill) learn how to deal with the bosses by themselves. Even the tank can be taken down by one person – on expert – using… Read more »
Jacob Harris
Guest
the thing about this game is it is purely based on the people you play with, i once played it with some friends and i had loads of shotgun ammo (im a good shot/hoarder) and everyone else was low on ammo, and there were too many for them to handle with their guns and i just told them to go ahead and held them off, i killed most of them, but a few got to me and then my friends came back and saved me. another time, i died stupidly at the beginning and my teamates didn’t realise i was… Read more »
Sean Riley
Guest

Oh, and since I’ve got another chance to write about the game, here’s another thing that pissed me off – the game can apparently only handle one dynamic light source at a time, so even though all four of us are in a dark room, my flashlight is the only one that flashes light.

Agreed.

Also, why the HELL are there shortcuts to skip crescendo events? They just rip away the strongest moments in the game, and once you know about them there’s no reason not to use them.

Sean Riley
Guest
I’ve gotta take the opposite tactic: I love this game — It radiates an odd sort of purity in the simplicity of the set-up that gives it a lot of room to maneuver into unusual territory. The basic idea is that it’s a purely co-op game, that the basic skill and capacity the player is meant to bring is the ability to master the co-operative shooting and assistance needed to survive the peak pressure cooker moments. After that, the rest of the elements fall into place. Low numbers of maps? Yes, because this means that new players are more likely… Read more »
Daniel Weissenberger
Guest
I see what you’re saying, Gene, but the point I was trying to make is that if you get four people who enjoy playing games together, they’re going to have a good time notwithstanding the particular activity. I’m not going to reward a co-op game for giving me platform to game with my friends, because that’s what it’s supposed to do – that’s like rewarding a baseball game for featuring baseball. Executing your premise means that your game works, not that it’s good. Beyond being a co-op game about shooting zombies, what does Left 4 Dead bring to the table?… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
Guest
Come on, Gene… losing much credibility? That seems a little harsh, especially coming from you. You guys have got to admit that Dan has some valid points. Only four playable scenarios is pretty pathetic, and the lack of things to earn or work towards is pretty stunning given today’s development environment. Personally speaking, I played only 2P co-op and had a great time with it, but the game started feeling stale by the second day. It’s all just over too soon, and I would guess that some people (like me) don’t get a lot of mileage out of replaying the… Read more »
Dale Weir
Guest
Whether he dismisses co-op/multi-player or not, I think Dan still makes a good point about the repetitiveness. During my play throughs, the people I played with were thoroughly bored by the repetitiveness of the levels. I don’t think the pacing helped either: “I see a zombie! OMG here they come! Melee attack! Shoot! Shoot! Oh God help me!” Then silence. Go look for the nearest table to load up on health and ammo, proceed to the next area, then repeat the whole thing over again. Personally, I didn’t mind that so much. I love co-op and am willing to sit… Read more »
Gene P.
Guest

Making a quick stop here, but fully agreed with the lack of appreciation for multiplayer. The minute I read Dan saying that L4D’s experience relies solely on relying on strangers, the review lost much credibility. Apparently there’s no such thing as gathering up a reliable group of friends online to play.

Why should a game FORCE you to do that? I dunno. It’d be pretty tough to play a game of soccer by yourself wouldn’t it?

sleeveboy
Guest

Someday Gamecritics.com will find a critic who understands and appreciates multiplayer gaming, and treats it on a level somewhere above utter contempt.

Izzardius
Guest
To be fair, getting a full game together is far easier on the PC version through Steam as opposed to rounding people up on the 360. Games like this are more at home on the PC anyway due to the greater ease of distributing updated and DLC. I agree in that the true value in the game lies in multiplayer, and that NPC players are virtually useless, especially in versus. However, L4D features a better fundamental understanding of co-op play than most titles I’ve come across. In co-op I should have to rely on my teammates heavily, and failure to… Read more »
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