Left 4 Dead Review (PC)

What do you get when you put zombies, required cooperative gameplay, cinematic design and an intelligent AI engine together? You get perhaps the best shooter of the year. Welcome to Left 4 Dead.

During your stay in Valve Software’s newest game, you should know a few very important things. This is no game for the faint of heart. There are lots of infected to wipe out. Not hundreds; thousands. Every time you jump into one of the four character’s personas, you and your team will wipe out at least several thousand, including tens of ‘boss’ infected.

Meet the dream team: Bill, a Vietnam vet; Francis, a self-centered destructo-matic; Louis, the paranoid workoholic; and Zoey, the horror movie college student extraordinairre.
Infected may be weak individually, but groups can easily overpower even the most prepared team.

It’s also incredibly visceral, so mind the dark areas, screams of wild hordes, epic musical tones and occasional vomit-inducing noises. Because Valve sought to create the most cinematic experience in a game to date, much of the lighting is like what you’d expect to see in a horror film. Most areas are lit well enough to see fine while using a flashlight, but it also gives tremendous life to the scenery. Buildings have texture, which you’ll notice when you aren’t being reduced to dust.

But most importantly, everyone needs their team. Courage doesn’t suit survival, so if you’re the alpha male type, you’ll be the first to go. In fact, L4D has a built in reminder that fearless individuals can get everyone killed. Once a player’s health is gone, they drop to the ground and are able to shoot enemies. They get 300 health points, which gives adequate time to clear out a horde of infected so that friends can help their fallen teammate up.

Of course, if someone loses their health completely, they can only be healed properly by using a health pack, the scarcest of all items in L4D. In the Expert difficulty, health packs are only placed in safe zones, the beginning and end of each level where no infected can spawn. So minding your health is just as important as minding your manners. If you’ve used up your health pack already, the only option is to have a teammate heal you. Suffice to say, everyone wants a health pack for their own personal use.

Then again, in the harder difficulty settings, not working as a cohesive team, aka working as a single unit, will get you killed pretty quickly. Infected can get to any area fairly easily, and there are enough open spaces to require players to find themselves completely surrounded in all directions. Without teamwork, the whole crew dies so quickly, it’s humorous to watch. Enough Youtube videos are out to prove that.

Weapons for curing the infection are part of three groups: standard guns, serious firepower and thrown explosives. Standard weapons include your choice of pump-action shotgun or an Uzi clone, with a secondary pistol. Serious firepower consists of an automatic shotgun, assault rifle and a hunting/sniper rifle. And finally, there are the explosives, a pipe bomb and Molotov cocktail.

Standard guns are located in safe zones, with ammunition caches strategically placed around the map. Pistols are fairly weak in comparison, but two can be used simultaneously and they never run out of ammo. On top of that, they are the only weapon that can be used when you get incapacitated. The serious weapons are much more scattered and more difficult to find, though their ammo is also replenished by any weapon cache. However, if a player dies, they can’t get their gun back unless they go back to where they died. Because, you know, the gun didn’t go anywhere.

Pipe bombs are essentially noisy grenades; they make a lot of noise, which draws infected to them, then explodes killing anything in a 5-10 foot radius. They’re great for eliminating hordes or giving your team a good 10 second break to heal up, reload, or get the hell out of there. Molotov’s set a similarly sized area on fire, which infected just run right through and die from first degree burns.

Also found on each of the twenty levels in the four separate yet equal campaigns (five levels per campaign) are propane Tanks, gas cans, pain pills and chain guns. Even with all these little helpful items, the most powerful weapon in any team’s arsenal is their wits. Taking out hundreds of infected at once is almost impossible without heavy casualties in an open area, but if the team hides in a room with only one or two entrances, the bottlenecks can and will keep everyone alive and healthy.

The maps are large, and whatever you can see is somewhere you can actually get to.
Visual details are a huge part of Left 4 Dead. The cinematic feel is everywhere and in everything.

What is surprising is how powerful and important the melee attack is. Consider this: three infected are running at you and you’ve got a shotgun. You can only shoot one of them in time. What do you do? Use the gun as a bat and swing it at the other two, stunning them for long enough to shoot off another few rounds. The melee strike is so important that not using it is like not playing with a team.

Don’t think it’s just killing the zombie-esque infected though. There are five types of unique boss-infected in every level to take care of: Hunters, Smokers, Boomers, Tanks and Witches. Hunters and Smokers are very similar; both incapacitate survivors, the former by pouncing on them from a distance and the latter by grabbing them with its huge tongue from a distance. Then these bosses just scratch the hell out of whomever they’ve caught until a teammate comes to the rescue.

Boomers are by far the most despicable and disgusting creatures in the game. Their bubbly gurgling is enough to widdle away any courage you may have while simultaneously making you forget you wanted to eat ever again. Boomers throw up on survivors, and their puke is something the infected love. So if you’re the lucky one to bathe in Boomer vomit, the infected will be after you and you alone. This has a very particular strategic value as well.

Then there are Tanks. They are as they sound; monstrously sized and almost impossible to kill. Nobody should ever have to run into one with just standard weapons, but it happens. When it does, whoever isn’t carrying a auto-shotty will undoubtedly curse very loudly. Tanks take lots of damage and can easily incapacitate and kill survivors. They can also scale walls, run faster than injured survivors and you can’t stun it. In effect, unless the area you’re in has some physical limitation that a Tank cannot get past, it’ll take down at least one of your teammates with ease.

Finally, Witches are fairly rare, but they are unlike the other four boss infected, which are all playable in the verses gametype. Witches just sit in one place and keep to themselves unless a survivor gets too close, points a flashlight at it or shoots it. Then it goes ballistic and rips whoever startled it apart like they’re a toy. One could easily eliminate an unprepared team, but they tend to just kill the first person to startle it, then run off.

As I just mentioned, L4D is not just about playing through the cooperative campaign. There’s also a verses mode, which pits eight players together; four survivors and four infected. The infected bunch play as randomly selected boss-infected (except for the Witch) and have to find the best place to attack the survivors, while the survivors just play through as they normally would. This makes a great mess of things, and is incredibly fun.

Yet even with all this, the best part of Left 4 Dead is how nothing is ever the same twice. The AI “Director” calculates how survivors are doing based on their health, weapon usage, team cohesion, and several other factors to decide where to place ammo caches, special items, infected, hordes and bosses. It ensures that every time your team fails, you won’t play the exact same thing twice. Those infected around that corner might not be there next time, or there might be 30 instead of 20. Whatever the case may be, the Director ensures that every situation is unique.

It’s putting all of these things together that makes L4D not only one of the best shooters of the year, or even one of the best games of the year, but possibly one of the most entertaining games ever made. Why? Because everything fits perfectly. The genre, the replayability, the cooperative play, the level design, the Director…this is a game that people will play for years to come. Four campaigns that span twenty levels in total takes roughly five hours to beat on easy and normal difficulty, eight to ten on advanced and twelve to twenty on expert. But the second, third or fiftieth time through, you’ll enjoy it as much (or more!) than the first run through.

A Boomer. It's big, ugly, disgusting, makes awful sounds and it can be your worst nightmare.
Lighting in Left 4 Dead is ghastly. Buildings, infected and everything have enough texture to produce realistic images.

Strangely enough, the biggest lack in the game is Valve’s servers. They’re still not able to properly host everyone playing, and often getting in a game is nearly impossible. We recommend finding third party servers to play on until they resolve their issues, because it’s incredibly difficult to play online much of the time. Connecting to players overseas is also problematic, both for dedicated and non-dedicated games.

No matter what you say, Left 4 Dead is an excellent title. It gets everything right. It’s simple enough for anyone to play, unique enough for everyone to enjoy, and intelligent enough for no one to get tired of. Isn’t that the game we’ve been asking for?

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By Kres (SI Elite) on Dec 01, 2008
9.8?? Really that good? Who played it?
By Marco_Fiori (SI Veteran Newbie) on Dec 01, 2008
I agree close to the score. 9's fair. It can become a chore in Extreme, but it comes with the difficulty.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Dec 01, 2008
9.8 is really high. Valve bribed the writers Kres?
By Kres (SI Elite) on Dec 01, 2008
I'll try to get a comment from the writer. Hold on...

James is this really a pearl you make it sound like? :) As I see we scored it as high as it goes. Not sure if 9.9 and 10.0 is possible. :) Though we filled those spots.
By Jamez (SI Newbie) on Dec 01, 2008
Yes. It really is that good. It's by far the best game I've ever played. If there was only one game I could play ever again, this would be it easily. I see no reason to score it any less than excellent, superb, wonderful, magical...not perfect, but certainly an amazing display of gaming. It's fun beyond fun, exciting beyond exciting, and...I'm running out of words.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Dec 01, 2008
Oh and lol it wasn't a bribe. It doesn't really go like that. :)
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Dec 01, 2008
The one big detractor is that there is a severe limit to the maps to be played (4). Isn't a problem when you're playing, but when away from the carnage that reminder can be a turn-off for a repeat play. Yes, it is different every time you play but how long before the repetitious gameplay of kill, kill, kill sets in? It's a decent shooter, and has been rated highly by gamers but I'd be interested to see what it scores when re-visited in 6 months. When you do get on a server, btw, it is very easy to get kicked by the other players to make room for their friends. This is more of a LAN game, than a MP experience. For the latter, CoD4 is the better choice. As for the score, I'd give it a solid 8.5.
By HELLKNIGHT13 (SI Elite) on Dec 01, 2008
I give it a 10 lots of fun:)
By AceofSpades (SI Member) on Dec 01, 2008
This is a great game and it deserves the 9.8 it got.
By Kiam99 (SI Veteran Member) on Dec 02, 2008
I think it also is a great game and 9.8 is also what i would give it.
Enjoy the need for co-op and the versus mode :)
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Dec 02, 2008
Wow, you guys just made me buy a game :P
By TheInsider (SI Newbie) on Dec 02, 2008
No game deserves 9.8 but this is definetly the best game i played in months.
By DarkStalker (SI Veteran Newbie) on Dec 02, 2008
Great game, finished it twice already :)))
By Malonn (SI Member) on Dec 02, 2008
I heard that the game is more geared towards co-op gameplay. Is that true?
By Malonn (SI Member) on Dec 02, 2008
nevermind. I didn't read the review before I posted that.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Dec 03, 2008
Ok bought it via Steam. It really is a unique experience. Great to play with other people online, not so interesting in SP. Who likes team play, zombies, should definitely give it a go. You will at least going to enjoy it occasionally on long term basis. At least I plan to! It's a thrill!

I would score it 9 for MP.
7 for SP. It's supposed to be played online.
By GreatTeacher (SI Member) on Dec 04, 2008
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Dec 05, 2008
I think this game is a blast and it is welldeserving of all the praise it receives from all press around.

I think that even though the single player experience isn't as rich as the online one, it is still very good and fun. Also, depending on your teammates and lagg issues, single player games can be paused - very important if your gaming room is wall to wall to where your five month old son is sleeping - or waking up screaming... ;)
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 06, 2008
Sound great! How about the system requirements? As there is no demo available, sharing of that experience would be greatly appreciated:)
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 06, 2008
When I read it all I could think of is that the boomer seems a lot like Oogie boogie, anyone else too? But that apart this is indeed a very good game, and if it wasn't, not even half of the hype would arise through the public out there.
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 06, 2008
9.8 is good. This game is a masterpiece. Shooting Zombie is not a boring job! And the graphic is terrific! Go, Left 4 dead!
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 06, 2008
Unfortunately not everyone can go for those graphics isn't it? But whatever, we do like to see how awesome they are, and how perfect they make them, right? Even in low graphics this is still a very good game.
By RurikGreenwulf (SI Veteran Newbie) on Dec 09, 2008
9.8 Almost a perfect review dont' ya
Well there is a lot of game who were given with a total review of 10 or 9 but when the time passed new games apeared and new points of view this games down to 8 or even 7 I think there are a little giving too much is hard to carry a perfect review and terrible for doing a sequel What will have to do Left 4 dead 2 to get better than a 9.8 pretty hard for Valve
By richard58 (SI Newbie) on Dec 09, 2008
very good game! the good graphics, the gameplay is very good.

Not to mention the explosion of zombies that are coming to fear from time to time! XD lol
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 10, 2008
Saw Romeros latest Land of the dead, and all i'm saying is that Zombies are getting smarted by the day...
Oh dear lawd! Fear the Zombies!
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Dec 11, 2008
Heh heh heh Devel, Romero is old school, new school is... ok Romero is the king ;)

Left 4 Dead is actually IMO the new CS source, the game you log onto, jumnp into a game in progress if you only have a few minutes to spare and blast away, earn some achievements and then log off as dinner is ready or kid starts to scream etc etc.

When you have time, go to game lobby, find a nice game and blast away. I would have liked for a better selection in the game lobbies, like seeing the ping and such also to select languages in the games. I played with a bunh of Russians one night, very good players no doubt, but they kep chatting in cyrillic all the time...

A better game chooser and this game would indeed be worthy of the 9.8!
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 11, 2008
I know how choosing servers are a pain in the neck. Most of the Ps3 Titles suffer from itand only if you're lucky you'll end up in a good room. Maybe they can make something like BF2142, that shows all room related information.
By Carapa (I just got here) on Feb 27, 2009
my friend tolled me that the game sucks , but i played a bit and it was pretty good
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Feb 27, 2009
I have a thing for Smokers (even tough I hate cigarettes). They have a very nice breath. Boomers are fun as well, especially when you take em out from close range, makes the screen go waah! And those witches are really hard to kill. :S
By Benadeto (SI Veteran Member) on Feb 27, 2009
Wowerine, clever pun there.
But seriously, L4D is a great game... works well, plays well online and only a few faults that make it a little shunned by other zombie games e.g. dead rising, zombie panic source.
like for example;(1) u can' t run through a lvl be ur self, the slightest hunter can ruin a whole epic journey, (2) the weapons are too powered up, like in zombie panic source, its all scavenging on no ammo but they're different types of zombie games, L4D is more kill EVERYTHING and zps is more survival, and i respect that. other than that, AWESOME!! 9.3 Mobile Infantry Medals for the valve crew... good job.
Nick ( Benadeto )
By op1r1ty (SI Newbie) on Feb 27, 2009
This game really deserves the 9.8!
By op1r1ty (SI Newbie) on Feb 27, 2009
witches are easy at easy , but at expert they are like gods!
By Hamarik (SI Core) on Mar 03, 2009
i haven't plaied this game beacuse it sounds like "doom" where you just kill monster that walk towards you. I personally hate this kind games beacuse it gets so damm dull shooting zombies most of the time. When anyone thinks that "left 4 dead" isn't like i described it please say it
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 03, 2009
I don't think weapons are too powered up! Imagine slamming a piece of rotten meet with your daily newspaper. It would split it into half! And I guess the shotgun is more powerful than that, and I wouldn't be weird if it killed 5 zombies in one shot (in Call of Duty 4 and WaW you can kill up to 3 people with a sniper shot - as far as I did)...
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 03, 2009
Just one real negative after looking closely at the game mechanic. The Source Engine is getting old, and it should have been entirely re-done for this full-fledged release, instead of for HL2: Episode 3 as they plan. It really is starting to look its' age and this is only obscured by the fact that most of the game is played in the dark. Gameplay 10/10; Graphics 7/10 (being generous).
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2009
I think that the gaphics are actually really OK. Nothing that deters from the gameplay, but sure, it is not the newest brand spaniking engine and even if it show, I don't mind.
Hamarik, it is nothing LIKE Doom, promise! You have supervillians that actually incorporate some nasty tactics against you as well as the mindless mob being either very lame, and then goes frenzy and then it is a real hectic time to survive...
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2009
Yeah. Source Engine is getting old. And I think that Black Mesa and H-L2: E3 will be the last games to use it. And the new engine from Valve will come with Half-Life3. But I'm not sure any of us will be enough alive to see it (even our kids), knowing Valve and their Hyper-speed game development!
Sometimes I think Valve and Blizzard have something against making games faster. They also like delaying stuff, and making you pray before sleep for a new trailer or hint for their new game... LOL
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2009
No problem, they will bring in a new idea: micro-episodes so that you only have to wait a few years between each. ;)
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2009
Hahaha! They are already doing it. Half-Life2 is extended with three episodes, two of them have been released, and they really pushed hard to squeeze it out (like a piece of our favorite organic human product).
These micro episodes last like 6 hours or so, to short to be called a full game, and to long to be called an expansion (considering this is a FPS).
Way to go Valve! ;)
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2009
Great game indeed! It's better to play with friends etc than complete strangers. Much laughter as well as enjoyment makes this a perfect co-op online multiplayer
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 05, 2009
But most of the time it's really hard to find a co-op mate that can surely play good. And when some of the spots aren't taken, they are being filled by bots (which sometimes even turn out to be smarter than real human players!).
The sweet part is when you play as the zombie guy...
By crawlroman (SI Core) on Mar 10, 2009
I just tried this game,and its AWSOME,the gameplay is almost perfect(if the teammates are good^.^),the graphics are awsome,sound also great and the requirements are lower than all the ones you find on the internet...i got a 1.8ghz procesor,768 mb ram and 256 vram with pixel shader 2 and i play perfectly on max rezolution...I recomand this game with LOVE \/ ^.^
The note this game got is WELL DISERVED=D
By RockPaperNuke (SI Newbie) on Mar 22, 2009
Played it, love it.. The SP is short and needs to really be considered as training levels. It's when you hit the versus modes that things really become great. 8 players, hopefully people you know and the fun never ends.
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Apr 03, 2009
wow i would give it a 8.9-9.0 because there is actually no plot whatsoever but it is like a Order:
Go to Safehouse and shoot whatever comes at you
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Apr 03, 2009
My copy arrived today! But I can't play it as I have so much work! Argh!
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Apr 08, 2009
Had a few gaming sessions with mates. Absolutely great fun and for a laugh.
By slaythat (SI Veteran Member) on Apr 14, 2009
Left 4 Dead makes both sides of the zombie apocalypse a thrill to experience, as long as you're not alone.

The Good:
Dynamic enemy placement make each play-through different Tight controls and well-tuned guns Stiff challenge makes survival difficult and thrilling Versus mode expertly turns the tables Killing survivors is as fun as killing zombies (if not more so).
The Bad:
Campaign is less fun when played alone Only four campaign maps
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Apr 14, 2009
Some nice reviews slaythat! Can't forget to mention the Survival mode coming out next week and mods to come. But that will be another review when the time comes =)
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Apr 23, 2009
Anyone played the new Survival Mode yet?? Opinions?

I think it's quite good. Nice change from the Campaign and VS modes. I think a few new maps would be a nice addition - probably a good few months in the future.