With only a few months left before players can get their hands on some zombie killing co-op action, the excitement surrounding Left 4 Dead is reaching fever pitch. But with such a simplistic core concept to the title, the question remains...can Valve pull it off? From what we've seen of the title - not to mention Valve's numerous delays for spending extra time polishing their product - we think that they will produce a solid effort. Half-Life 2, Portal, Counter-Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2; let's face it, everything they've touched in recent history turns to gold. But there are a few variables in this title, which leave a question mark of whether Left 4 Dead has the chops to live up to the other stars in the Valve Software stable, but that's a meaty question that we'll tackle later.
For those of you that haven't paid much attention to Left 4 Dead, the concept revolves around four players teaming up with each other to battle their way out of the city that is swarming with the 'Infected', a large quantity of the population that has been infected by a virus, turning humans into zombies of varying strength and speed. Surviving this game isn't going to be a cake walk. You'll need to have your wits about you as you run-and-gun your way through the game's four 'scenarios' in order to survive.
The title's character's are nothing to write home about, but their not supposed to be. Valve writer Chet Faliszek has explained that the characters are meant to be your 'Average Joe' types rather than the big, beefy action hero type ala Duke Nukem. Faliszek sees this as a key component of the title as the female teen, generic office worker, old war veteran, and biker are meant to represent a standard bunch of characters that you would come across in an urban setting, giving you more reason to connect to the group, thus giving the title a more overall sense of tension. While you might be playing as 'Average Joe', be rest assured that you'll be packing some serious heat in order to cull the zombie population.
While the election of weapons available in your arsenal isn't large enough to get a weapons dealer excited, there are a number of nifty choices to choose from. Players will be able to strap on the likes of an assault rifle, a shotgun, dual pistols, as well as a selection of pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails to really get the party started. These weapons are generally found during safe house checkpoints, where player are able to stock up on ammo and heal yourself with a first aid kit. These checkpoint sections play a very important role in the title as the ammunition is not constantly flowing, leaving players to make conscious decisions when taking on the enemy, making sure that you don't leave yourself vulnerable and out of ammo at the most inopportune time.
In addition to playing as the human survivors, players will also be able to see how the other side lives, by choosing to play as one of the more powerful boss creatures of the Infected camp. Playing as the Infected offers a change of style to the human survivors, with the Infected able to see survivors through the walls at a certain range, see in the dark and bust down certain walls to set up an ambush. Rather than carrying weapons, each zombie boss comes equipped with special attacks, giving them an advantage over their human counterparts.
As previously mentioned, Left 4 Dead will comprise of four separate scenarios in lieu of a traditional campaign structure where players will find themselves battling the zombie horde in a variety of locations. Within these scenarios are five maps to set the pace for the actions. The first four maps of every scenario will consist of players swiftly moving from safe house to safe house, with the final map culminating in a massive onslaught of infected zombies, with the aim being to survive long enough for rescue to arrive.
The action itself is brutally fast and furious, which will need everyone on the team pulling their weight in order to get the job done. With such overwhelming odds and varying skill levels of players, Valve has implemented an AI system which scales depending on how well your team is doing. If the team is barely surviving, you're likely to see less enemies on screen, where as if your team is completely blitzing the level, the game is going to throw a large number of enemies at you. The AI is not randomised, but it does decide how and where the next group of zombies are going to get the jump on you. Zombies can jump down from the air vents, bust down doors, climb up the elevator shafts, and even knock down a wall or two to get to you. This means that every time you play a level you will be presented with a different experience, making the game's replayability factor astronomical.
With an emphasis on speed, the game's combat system has be spot on to keep players prepared for what they are about to face and by all accounts, the combat system in Left 4 Dead looks like it's shaping up nicely. When a zombie is coming at you, players have the choice of blasting them with a gun or right-clicking the mouse to put the boot into them to give yourself some space. This is an important factor when you consider that the sheer number of enemies coupled with their speed will make every second count, especially when trying to perform an action like trying to reload. With an emphasis on co-op play, it's good to note that even while on the defensive you'll find times where you'll need a little help from your friends. For instance, if a zombie vomits on you, - which will attract all nearby zombies like flies on you know what - knocks you to the ground, or even just grabs a hold of you, you will require a teammate to pick you up before you become zombie food. As well as giving a buddy a hand up, players can also pass over pain pills or their own medkits to use on ailing teammates. Co-operation is absolutely key to your entire team's survival. All it takes is one player to run off on their own and the rest of the team are left hanging.
Although for all of its pluses, there are a few issues which may hamper the title in the long run.
The number one issue being friendly fire being constantly turned on. While co-operation between all players is key to survival, any of you that have played a round or two of an online shooter will know that it doesn't always pan out that way. Valve has explained that measures have been put in place such as voting an annoying player off the team, or even checking a players stats before you are willing to team up with them, but until the game hits the shelves, the success of these measures will remain an unknown.
The other issue to take into account is the fact that the title only comes loaded with four scenarios. While Valve have promised that more scenarios will be loaded up into the game over time, the fact that Valve currently has their fingers in many pies (which currently consists of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 and regular gameplay updates to Team Fortress 2 amongst other things) leaves many speculating on how long players will be left hanging for new material in Left 4 Dead. Counter-Strike: Source and Day of Defeat: Source players know only too well how long it has taken for new maps and features to be implemented into these titles, leaving the online community with the task to create new material to keep the gameplay fresh.
Even with these issues in the back of our minds, Valve's track record speaks for itself and Left 4 Dead is shaping up to be another fun title from the house that Gordon Freeman built. The fast-paced co-op gameplay coupled with the zombie killing action/horror vibe leave us confident that this is one title that we are going to have fun playing.
Left 4 Dead is slated for release on PC and Xbox 360 this November.