Mmmm, Smoker Dust
There is no better indicator of what kind of year 2008 was with releases of shooters that treaded new ground in platforming, role-playing, and the infected taking over the world one campaign at a time. In the latter’s case, it also pushed multiplayer into an interesting direction. Credit to Valve for not only making a technically impressive game, but for proving that a game could be built around multiplayer without having to be an MMO. The heavily discussed AI director does some things I like, and does some things that I simply can’t understand. And the nice balance between each four player team means you can replay the relatively short game without feeling bored.
Left 4 Dead is the perfect example of taking something that wouldn’t normally seem all that impressive visually and using the lighting to kind of hide that fact. It makes for a great companion to the action which is summed up for me at least, as simple and inching towards complete nervous breakdowns. This engine just has a dull sort of look to it that works perfectly for this sort of game. It could have felt completely different if everything looked as if it were coated in plastic. Instead it feels gritty and real, but still appealing. And because of all these things, it runs great.
The action is very cutting edge if you ask me. On a very basic level you feel the tension between yourself and your teammates. As the survivors you have real threats to worry about, and it requires team work like no other. It only intensifies when your being attacked by a group of infected and you need help. People screaming and yelling while they struggle to free themselves pushes the feelings you have in the game. And it’s just really cool. As the infected, the balance is there to have each of the four special infected used as fair as possible. Hunters, as it turns out, are my least favorite to use. They only really work after a survivor has been separated from the group. The Smokers are my favorite since it ultimately turns into a game of harassment and chaos. Sitting on a roof-top and picking off survivors is so rewarding that I anxiously wait for my turn to be the character. Boomer’s are a nice way to split groups up but I can’t say I take much pleasure from that unit. Finally, the Tank, which for me personally isn’t that fun. Being so strong has it’s issues. You can walk fast, you certainly can’t sneak up on anyone, and the tank only seems effective against 2-3 survivors. A group of 4 could easily take one out.
I’d only say this about the campaign, why so little? The amount of time you play each chapter can really add up to a full game but that also means your playing 4 hours worth of content dozens of times. All I could think about was the potential for more. A mall, a snowy village, other countries and terrains, forests and lodges. Playing on a 360 means mods are out of the question and that leaves me with very little flexibility. Right now I think the campaigns that shipped with the game are fantastic. There is no weak chapter in the game but the AI director also doesn’t make each experience unique enough to ignore the fact that you’ve played The Apartments ten times. I can appreciate the AI director as much as anyone, but where was all the time put in if I’ve got 20 or so levels. They aren’t very long, and definitely aren’t giant set pieces for the most part. I don’t know, I guess it’s a good thing that all I want is more.
Left 4 Dead is kind of a weird situation. It’s very shallow and deep all at once. You’ve got limited weapons, small levels, and little variety. But Left 4 Dead has the replay value that justifies it and makes up for the weaker parts. I would have serious trouble recommending it to someone who wasn’t going to play online. You can play offline, and even earn achievements without ever getting onto Live. But that isn’t how anyone should experience it. It’s not the point. There’s no question, multiplayer only shooters are a hard sale specifically because of that. So to have Valve make a real attempt at something I’ve never seen before is pretty cool as a gamer. We all know how rare it is to see a very established genre do something different. Maybe it’s the start of more. Now, seriously, where is Episode 3 guys?