A Review of the Video Game Left 4 Dead: Apocalypse Now?

Sometime between five and six months ago, a few friends and I had a long conversation about what we would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. We discussed weapons, vehicles, hideouts, and the like. Good times were had, but when we found that we would soon be able to live out those dreams of mowing down hordes of flesh-eating automatons with a pump-action shotgun, we could barely contain our excitement.
Just watching Left 4 Dead would cause an avid zombie fan to salivate. The “common infected” rush at the team of four survivors with every intent to rip them to shreds while the “special infected” loom in the background, readying an ambush. In the midst of a firefight, the screeching and screaming of the hordes of infected can often drown out teammates’ cries for help, or even the sound of other threats nearby. The game implements a special visual filter that creates “film grain” to emulate that “old zombie movie” feeling. Light is also a vital tool that the developers placed within maps to guide the players through streets, sewers, airports, apartment buildings, hospitals, and various other structures and areas.

There are a total of four campaigns in Left 4 Dead, with each consisting of five individual levels. The fifth level of each campaign is a “stand-off” where the survivors attempt to defend a lightly fortified location from an onslaught of hundreds of infected, as well as the supporting special infected.

The special infected are quite a treat to fans of the zombie survival genre. Working in the vein of favorites such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, Left 4 Dead features five special infected, four of which are playable. The first is the Boomer, which is a highly-effective special infected that requires the survivors to re-think the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. In addition to the “Boomer Bile” attack where the Boomer vomits on survivors, attracting new hordes of zombies, the overweight baddie also explodes on impact. This means that if one survivor shoots the Boomer while he is close to the others, a blinding green goo will splatter all nearby humans, attracting even more infected. The second special infected is the Smoker, which is a deadly long-range infected that has the ability to grab survivors from hundreds of feet away with its tongue and drag them towards it. When the smoker is killed, it explodes into a cloud of smoke, blinding the survivors as well. The third of the five infected is the hunter, which is the “ninja” of zombies. This hooded abomination can jump from rooftops, walls, and other obstacles and pounce survivors, rendering them defenseless until assisted by fellow team members. There are also two more infected, one of which is the only infected that is not playable. This is the witch. She is one ugly, menacing monster and will take out any survivor in one hit when provoked. The other special infected is the Tank, which is an unstoppable force that can take bullets as if they were marshmallows, and can knock over cars and other objects.

These playable “special infected” can all be accessed via the Steam online multiplayer versus mode, where players take turns being survivor and infected on each level. While all four campaigns may be played with friends, only two of them may be played in versus mode. However, it is reasonable to assume that the other two campaigns, as well as some new ones, will later be added into the game.

While Left 4 Dead can be an intense, atmospheric experience, it is not without its flaws. Occasionally an exploit is found and used by teams to give an unfair advantage in versus mode, such as walk-through doors, climbable walls, and other things. Fortunately, those are normally addressed immediately by the game developers. Also, when placed up against a team of four friends who have practiced and grown skilled together, a thrown-together team of random strangers generally will not stand a chance. This flaw could easily be remedied by some sort of match-making system, but for now, the game will get by.

Left 4 Dead is a masterpiece of its time, and while facing criticism from many picky gamers, it stays true to the style and atmosphere of the Zombie Culture while still being an enjoyable and fast-paced FPS. Kudos to you, Valve.

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