Left 4 Dead Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Despite its cinematic inspirations, Left 4 Dead doesn’t try to be anything but a game. Essentially it’s a zombie blaster, with the emphasis on co-op play, where any form of narrative was clearly an afterthought for the beloved developer: Valve.

The flimsy story covers a zombie apocalypse, but doesn’t tell us much about how this disaster came about, nor does it tell us much about the four characters, in fact it tells us very little. But this is no bad thing for a game that is designed around replayability, and it’s the drama of the parts you play that are actually going to produce the real storytelling of Left 4 Dead.

The game can be played both in online and offline co-op and is quite clearly designed to be played in such a way (though the capable AI makes sure lone players are never left too much out in the cold). Left 4 Dead is always encouraging teamwork, you’re able to heal each other, revive each other, help each other out in desperate situations and just generally be polite to one another, there’s even achievements built around helping each other out, which will make even the idiots appear as if they’re kind and considerate people, because achievements hold that kind of power.

Valve have done their utmost to make Left 4 Dead as accessible to play as possible. Whenever team-mates are in a spot of bother, the HUD will inform you, as will the wonderfully desperate music and screams of your team-mate (possibly from both the player and his character). Usually when any member of the survivors come up on supplies, they’ll shout to let the others know of their discovery, which, with all their other little comments, provides at least a modicum of character to the game, even if your real life team do not.

The undead themselves aren’t the shambling kind, but are the fast and relentless type. They come at you thick and fast and only good teamwork will see you get to the end of each of the four stages. Things are mixed up with different enemies, there’s the Boomer, which spits bile, get hit by this and the zombie horde will be on to you as if you’re the only brain in existence. Smokers will reel you in with their long tongues (further proof that smoking is bad for you) whilst Hunters will pin you to the ground. Tanks are the most resilient of the lot and take the combined might of your entire teams weapons to take them down, and finally there’s the witches: these can floor you in a single hit, though with care, they can be avoided altogether.

The four campaigns are No Mercy, which has you walking and shooting around an urban environment, Death Toll, which allows you to make a racket with your guns in the formally peaceful countryside, Dead Air which is set around an airport and finally Blood Harvest, a zombie infested farm area. They’re all largely linear, though occasionally there is different routes to veer off to, but thankfully not enough decision making to take you away from the action. All of the campaigns climax in a massive battle, where you must try to hold off the masses of undead, whilst awaiting rescue of, which is a harmonious and epic note to end each campaign on.

Four stages may sound lacking but at least Valve have made an attempt at making them re-playable. This comes courtesy of the AI Director, which is essentially a system which determines item and enemy placement based on a number of factors, including your ammo, your health and your skill level. So if the director deems you’re having a hard time for example, the zombies will become slower, it’s almost as if the game is playing with you and it’s a bit of a shame that Valve haven’t given it a maniacal voice, making it a character in its own right. But ultimately it does what it’s meant to, granting the game a surprising amount of replay value.

Further replay value and variety comes from the versus mode, of which is team based and sees one team of survivors taking on a team of infected. The infected are able to choose where they spawn in their attempt to thwart the effort of the human team and can use all the abilities that the AI enemies can. It’s not as good as the regular campaigns, but is still an enjoyable break from that other stuff.

Left 4 Dead occasionally feels too repetitive and is minimalist with its options, but has as much memorable moments as it does members of the undead. It’s a well tailored co-op experience with some great design flourishes, that are a wonderful accompaniment to all that zombie blasting chaos.