Left 4 Dead unlocked last night on Steam, and I can safely say that it’s fun times.
A brief summary of the game if you’ve been under a rock: Four people play cooperatively against hundreds of zombies, reenacting a horror movie as they try to make it to the safety of an extraction point.
Players take the roll of one of four horror movie archetypes: Bill, the grizzled veteran; Francis, the tattooed biker; Zoey, the cute girl; and Louis, pulling double duty as both the yuppie and the black guy who dies first. (I don’t know if the AI is rigged for it or what, but it seems like Louis is always the one startling the instant-kill witch zombies or getting sprayed by a boomer or what have you, regardless of who’s playing.)
The AI “director” changes up the placement of the zombies depending on how the game is going, effectively managing the pace of the experience and making each play through of the four scenarios different each time.
I was a little worried when the demo earlier this month didn’t grab me, but the full version seems much more fun, though I’m having trouble putting my finger on why. It seems like the difficulty has been tweaked up a bit, which might account for some of it. The demo was a little on the easy side on advanced mode, while expert mode was a suicide run.
I said it before, but it bears repeating that there’s some impressive animation work in this game. The zombies may be running abominations, but they look great when they dash, leaning into turns and bouncing off walls. Plus, there’s a lot of them at once, a vital component of any zombie experience, not that you’d know from looking at Dead Rising for the Wii. There’s also a particularly impressive “man is the real monster” moment during the Death Toll scenario.
One thing that fell flat for me, however, was the one feature I was most looking forward to. The versus mode where you can play as the zombies isn’t necessarily bad, but all the careful pacing of the co-op campaign goes right out the window in favor of a more deathmatch-y experience. I was looking forward to being the monster that jumps out of the closet, but that’s not really an option. (Seriously, I spawned in a closed closet before remembering that zombies don’t know how to use doorknobs.)
I have to wonder, however, if Valve has priced themselves out of sales on this one. It’s not that the game isn’t worth a full $50 necessarily, it’s that they gave us three games for the same price in the forum of the Orange Box, and each one was every bit as good as Left 4 Dead. They may have raised expectations a wee bit high.