Left 4 Dead is Valve's latest franchise to take advantage of their seminal Source engine. The first game, Left 4 Dead, originally released on November 17, 2008 in North America for the PC, and has since been released on the Xbox 360 and Mac platforms. The sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, was released for the same platform a year later on November 17, 2009. The Left 4 Dead franchise is famous for its cooperative gameplay, an aspect which is seminal to the franchise.
Both games in the franchise have been very well received, with both games receiving several awards from a variety of publications. Coupled with high sales on both games, Left 4 Dead has proven to be a profitable franchise for Valve. The first game has an aggregate rating of 89% on both Game Rankings and Metacritic, with the second game receiving the same scores on all platforms. Awards include numerous Best Multiplayer Game of 2008 (for the original) and Best Xbox 360 Game of 2009 (Left 4 Dead 2).
The franchise has seen its fair share of controversy as well, surrounding a variety of issues. The first game received significantly less controversy, only receiving minimal negative reception for its "severed hand" box art. Left 4 Dead 2, on the other hand, has had a boycott (among gamers believing the sequel came too soon), controversy for its "severed hand" box art, racism (for the game's black zombies), and a ban in Australia. The ban in Australia is most notable, as the OFLC refused the game classification (along with other games, such as Fallout 3 and Aliens vs. Predator).
Left 4 Dead
Released: November 17, 2008
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
In the early stages of development, the first Left 4 Dead was being made by Turtle Rock Studios. Valve became the main developer after they purchased the studio.
Left 4 Dead introduced some gameplay elements that would be refined for the sequel. Of these is the A.I. Director, an artificial intelligence system that allows for a kind of procedural narrative by changing up the spawns of Special Infected, weapons, and equipment to create a new experience each time the game is played. The game puts a heavy emphasis on cooperative play; lone wolves will get torn up very quickly.
At launch, Left 4 Dead only had two game modes: Campaign (solo or cooperative) and Versus. Campaign had four levels, both only two of them were playable in Versus. Valve released an update after release which added the two missing levels to Versus, and at the same time they put out a free DLC pack which added a new game mode called Survival.
Left 4 Dead 2
Released: November 17, 2009
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Left 4 Dead 2 was a controversial game. Many gamers were upset that Valve was releasing a sequel so soon after the first game, and blasted the company for not keeping their promise of supporting the first game with several DLC packs. In addition, the game was banned and censored in Australia and Germany due to the high level of violence.
Gameplay wise, Left 4 Dead 2 is very similar to its predecessor but it's also a much larger game. At launch, it had five game modes including two new ones called Scavenge and Realism mode. Several new weapons and Special Infected were also included, making the game much more varied than the first one. There are also "Uncommon Common" Infected, which are unique zombies that have special traits. Each campaign has one type of uncommon common infected.
A primarily cooperative based experience, the Left 4 Dead series takes place in several different smaller campaigns, rather than a long ongoing experience. This stresses the multiplayer aspect of the series, and the ability to just pick up and play the game. The first game contained four campaigns (No Mercy, Death Toll, Dead Air, and Blood Harvest) while the second game has five (Dead Center, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, Hard Rain, and The Parish).
In single-player or cooperative play through the campaigns, players go through several chapters, fighting zombies and trying to reach the safe house in each chapter. Each campaign also ends with a grand finale or escape vehicle, such as the helicopter in Left 4 Dead 2's Dark Carnival (which, subsequently, ends up being piloted by an infected, leading into Swamp Fever).
The games each have a variety of weapons with which to dismember, destroy, burn, or shoot zombies. Safe houses contain extra ammunition, health packs, special items (e.g. Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, etc), and guns. These safe houses are impenetrable from infected individuals until the door is open.
Each game in the franchise has contained an online component of some sort. The major mode that has been in both games is the versus mode, in which one team plays as the four survivors while the second team plays as the infected. The goal of the infected team is keep the survivors from reaching the safe house. At the end of each chapter, teams are evaluated and given points according to how well they did.
The infected are broken up into two different types. Normal infected consist of the grunts; these zombies' true power is when the horde attacks en masse. Special infected are varied zombies with special abilities, such as attracting other infected directly to the survivors, singling out and attacking survivors, or even controlling a survivor's movement.
An obese hunk of flesh, the Boomer is mainly used to indirectly cause damage to the Survivors. His main attack is his ability to puke out bile that covers the Survivors, obscures their vision, and attracts hordes of common Infected. When used well, the Boomer can make the Survivors extremely vulnerable to further attacks from other Special Infected and cause disarray. However, the Boomer is the weakest Special Infected with an astounding 50 hit points. Even though he's easy to kill, it isn't always the best option because upon death the Boomer explodes, spraying bile everywhere which can cover nearby Survivors. This creates a new type of strategy that players sometimes utilize in which they run into a room that the Survivors are hiding in, hoping that they get killed so the humans get covered in the ensuing puke explosion.
Long and lanky, the Smoker is used to separate Survivors before causing damage. He can be thought of as the sniper of the Special Infected since he almost always attacks from a distance and is often positioned in high places such as rooftops. Using his long tongue, he can snare Survivors and pull them away from the group. While being dragged away, two things could happen. The victim could get caught on something like a vehicle and will then take continuous choking damage until freed (this also happens if the Smoker is on a roof since he cannot drag humans vertically). If the victim is hauled all the way back to the Smoker, the zombie will slash at him with claws. Like the Boomer, the Smoker also has an additional ability that triggers upon death. His body acts like a smoke bomb when he's killed; the surrounding area is covered in smoke for a short while, obscuring vision and causing the Survivors to cough.
The fast and nimble Hunter can dish out a lot of damage, but usually needs the assistance of the other Special Infected in order to do so. His main ability is his pounce, which enables him to leap on Survivors and claw at them after pinning them to the ground. While he could go about his business alone, doing so will often get him killed easily if he just jumps right into the middle of the Survivors. So, the Hunter usually must work together with the Smoker or even the Boomer to separate or otherwise disorientate the humans before leaping at them. Should the Hunter decide to leap into the middle of the Survivor group, the humans will stumble backwards for a moment which gives him time to deal damage. He is one of the fastest Special Infected due to his insane jumping skill which can be used to scale buildings and cover large amounts of ground very quickly.
Left 4 Dead 2 introduced the The Jockey who has the speed of the Hunter and the ability to separate Survivors just like the Smoker. However, he isn't as high profile as the Hunter. His main purpose is to sneak up on Survivors and leap on the back of one of them. The Jockey then gains the ability to steer the human away from his friends and possibly into more danger. The player can slow down the influence of the Jockey by trying to move in the opposite direction, but it's impossible to stop the Jockey completely. Like the Hunter, the Jockey can leap, but his jumping distance pales in comparison to that of the Hunter's.
The Spitter is no doubt one of the creepiest of all the Special Infected. Like the Smoker, she is most effective at long range. Her main ability is her projectile spit attack which forms acid pools on the ground. When a Survivor is in the acid pool, they take large amounts of damage that actually increases the longer they stay in it. This ability is useful for downing Survivors that are hiding in small rooms or for temporarily halting them from advancing through a section. The spit does not stick to Survivors, meaning it can't be used to attract common infected. In addition, her spit cannot harm the zombies.
Similar to The Tank in looks but not power, the Charger can bowl through Survivors while grabbing one of them and carrying them a large distance. Once the sprint is over, he proceeds to slam them up and down into the Earth until killed. The Charger has a lot of health but he can strangely be killed in 1-2 hits with a melee weapon.
The Left 4 Dead universe takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where an international infection has taken over the majority of the world's population. The survivors who remain must fight their way through hordes of infected individuals, attempting to get to safety. In Left 4 Dead, the four survivors are Francis, Bill, Zoey, and Louis. There is little to no story in Left 4 Dead, with each campaign being completely independent of each other, the only similarity (story-wise) being the four main characters.
In Left 4 Dead 2, however, Valve put a higher focus on story. Each of the five campaigns link together. Taking place in the southern United States, Left 4 Dead 2 follows Coach, Ellis, Nick, and Rochelle as they make their way to New Orleans, Louisiana. They travel in a variety of vehicles to get there, first making use of a stock car, then a boat (after a helicopter they summoned ends up being piloted by an infected individual). The game ends with a grand finale; the survivors make their way across an exploding bridge, making their way to the last military helicopter leaving New Orleans.
In both games, each safehouse contains various writings scrawled on the walls from people that passed through earlier. It is through these that the narrative is told. Some of the writing may contain clues as to what lies ahead; some may be from people telling family members where they are heading next; others may simply be for humor (one safehouse in particular has writing from several different people telling how many zombies they've killed).