If the shooter genre were a horse, it would have long ago been killed, beaten into tiny bits, and sent off to the glue factory. In the realm of genres, shooters are as obligatory as platformers and seem to be a no-brainer go-to for developers and publishers looking to make a bunch of money.
Also overdone is the zombie genre. In the past several years, full zombie games and zombie add-ons for otherwise zombie-free games have sprung up like the pants of adolescent males when a hot substitute walks in the classroom.
In this teeming sea of shooters and zombiepocalypsers, two titles shine like twin lighthouses.
Left 4 Dead infected the systems of Xbox 360 and Windows gamers in November 2008, following two years later for the Mac. Developed and publishes by Valve, acclaimed creators of Half-Life and Portal, Left 4 Dead reanimated the shooter genre.
Left 4 Dead introduces four survivors in a world that has already become overrun by zombies. Being among the very small percentage of the population to be immune to the zombifying virus, the survivors are still susceptible to death by physical trauma at the hands and teeth of the flesh-hungry undead masses. They must work together or perish.
The game has your usual shooter staples: Hand guns, shotguns, automatic rifles, sniper rifles, exploding projectiles, health items, crouching, quick-180s, and manual weapon reloading. It also has your requisite zombie-game aspects: Hordes of mindless fiends (zombies, that is, not fans of Justin Bieber), flashlights for the often-dark environments, and special infected humans that have turned into effective mini-bosses. (In the case of L4D’s mini-bosses, you’ll be ensnared and dragged with 100-foot tongues, knocked to the ground by long-distance jumpers, barfed on so that you attract more zombies, sliced by fast witches with talon-like fingers, and have cars thrown at you or be thrown yourself by enormous brutes.)
Standard fare aside, one thing that makes Left 4 Dead stand out is its AI Director. This feature controls enemy spawning, item locations, and music based on how the players are doing in the current level. This gives the four separate “campaigns,” each of which take about 1½ hours to complete, significant replay value.
Left 4 Dead relies heavily on co-op and is most fun when played with others, whether online or local. Teamwork is crucial, as those who try to lone-wolf it will soon be incapacitated by special infected or just surrounded and mowed down by the horde. Players who get knocked down or fully incapacitated need assistance from their teammates to get back up.
Cooperation is so key to survival that in the absence of human allies, the game pads out the roster with bots to make a full party of four. Thankfully, the bots follow the lead of the human players and are generally good at helping slay zombies, staying out of the way of friendly fire, and helping downed allies.
Left 4 Dead even offers a versus mode where players can control the survivors in the campaigns as normal while other players control special infected and try to wipe out the survivors.
Left 4 Dead 2 was released almost exactly a year after the Xbox 360 and Windows launch of the first game, which caused much controversy. Many gamers felt that Valve should have released L4D2’s content as DLC for the original Left 4 Dead. However, Valve indicated that although the sequel reused most of the graphics and the game engine of the first, there was too much new content for it to simply be DLC.
Left 4 Dead 2 follows another group of four survivors. Five new “campaigns” are offered, each again taking about 1½ hours to play, but with an overall story that ties them together. New weapons are available, including melee weapons that can replace the infinite-ammo handguns of the first game. L4D2 also has three new special infected: A smaller version of the brutish car-thrower from the first game that can grab a player and bash them repeatedly into the ground, one that jumps on the survivors’ backs and rides them toward other enemies, and one that spits balls of acid for area-of-effect damage.
The sequel also adds another versus gameplay mode that requires the survivors to collect gas cans to run power generators while other players control special infected to stop them. This mode generally takes less time to play that the normal versus mode, which requires playing through an entire campaign.
Besides that, Left 4 Dead 2 doesn’t really offer a super-upgraded experience compared to Left 4 Dead. In fact, IkeCube and I played through L4D2 first and then the original L4D about a year later, without feeling like we were missing out on too much in the first game compared to the second. Left 4 Dead 2 could really be called Left 4 Dead 1.5.
Even with the strong similarities between the two titles, though, I definitely feel that both are worth owning for anyone who likes zombie shooters. Each game offers roughly six or eight hours of co-op campaigns that have high replay value, plus the versus modes offer dozens of hours of additional value. With how cheap these games have gotten – currently about $20 for the first and $30 for the second on the Xbox 360 – it’s not only feasible to own both, it’s downright worthwhile.
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About the Author
|Markham Asylum is a founding member of Delta Attack. His tier-1 favorite genres are role-playing, puzzle, and strategy. His tier-2 are adventure, shooter, and platformer. He strives to provide spoiler-free postings whenever possible.
Markham Asylum has written 398 posts on Delta Attack.