Left 4 Dead

GC 2008: Left 4 Dead Preview

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It seems as if zombies are the new black. First, a successful remake of the classic Dawn of the Dead hit our screens receiving a huge amount of praise and even more recently, Dead Rising was a resounding success for Capcom way back in 2006. Now, industry veterans Valve want in on the act.

Left 4 Dead pits you and 3 survivors (who can be computer controlled AI if you wish) against a relentless zombie army in a co-op experience that is meant to scare the wits out of you. The Games Convention was my real first hand experience of the title and the fact that we got live commentary from Valve legends Gabe Newell and Doug Lombardi made the experience that little bit more special.

The first thing that initially struck me about Left 4 Dead were the visuals. Crisp detailed textures, superbly rendered character models and a lighting engine that adds so much atmosphere to the situation that it would be enough to scare the beejezus out of even the coolest of characters. It all seems to set a mood of desperation. You know, that feeling that you get when you are unsure what is around the next corner ...  The immersion aspect to get to that point is key and the visuals definitely help check that box. Lombardi at this point assured us that the 360 version and the PC version are identical to one another.

Come on though, let’s be serious, a game needs to do more than look good in this day and age. It needs to play well, entice the gamer and evoke the senses. Left 4 Dead does all these and stylishly as well. The director script is a big part of this and it will cleverly assess your performance, your team mates performance and the team performance as a whole before deciding what to throw at  you and when. What this ultimately means is that every playthrough will be different. Lombardi and Newell claimed to have played through the campaign over 1000 times now which bodes well for the rest of us.

The director code affects the world around you in every possible way whether it is the amount of ammo it drops, the placement of health kits or the amount of onscreen enemies which can be anywhere up to and beyond of 70 depending on the player’s performance. It factors in such things as accuracy, friendly fire, damage taken, team functionality and general speed. Newell told us that a good team playing well may struggle with the sheer difficulty because ammo starts to become scarce and it’s tricky facing off against a wall of zombies with only a couple of clips left but it is then likely the director script will respond to you struggling and so on.

The game boasts about 8 kinds of zombie in all; there are the unique zombies known as Tanks, Boomers, Smokers, Hunters and Witches as well as the 3 types of standard zombies which differ in terms of speed and viciousness. Newell made his way through the streets and side alleys of an all but zombie deserted, dark city scene before he sunk in to the subway and was faced by the grotesque beast zombie, the Tank. After endless clips later and some terrible team work it must be said, the Tank was despatched but it hit the team pretty hard.

The little touches make such a difference throughout the Left 4 Dead experience and it’s great to see Valve apply them. The game features a dynamic audio that responds to key things in the environment, for example, if you come across a big ammo stash and you’re full, your character will inform the others of your find through their character dialogue. It’s all a part of the behavioural science of the game that adds to the whole immersion of the experience. Want to shine a torch in your companion’s face? Great, go ahead, but he’ll raise his hand to shield his eyes from the bright light. At this point, Newell placed emphasis on the whole world and its interactivity with the player saying that to get a truly great experience you must make the player feel like they are there and can interact with anything and anyone.

If the incredible amounts of replayability weren’t enough, Lombardi told us of their plans to release DLC after the release of the title that would include new achievements, new characters and new maps with new scenarios.

The game at release will feature many modes to keep you busy which include 4 separate campaigns, a skirmish mode that allows gamers to play one map and finally, a versus mode that pits survivors against a series of boss monsters.

When the game ships on November 20th, Left 4 Dead is surely a must buy. If 30 minutes alone with it in a dark room was enough for us to cast away all doubt and fall head over heels for it... Imagine what a week of all zombies and no sleep with a bunch of friends can do. Goodbye social life, hello zombie hordes!


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Game Info


US November 20, 2008

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