Thursday, November 20, 2008

Left 4 Dead Demo Impressions

Is it just me, or are zombies kinda trendy now? I mean, since 1968, we've had a handful of zombie movies, a good many descended from Romero or Russo, who worked on the original Night of the Living Dead. But even with zombies showing up in Michael Jackson's Thriller video they remained sort of a niche topic until Resident Evil. But even after Resident Evil, it took a little while, but suddenly we're deluged in zombies. Max Brooks wrote two books about zombies, one of which has been optioned for a remake. Simon Pegg starred in Sean of the Dead, a black comedy homage to Romero's films. Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead were given a modern remakes, and Romero himself gave us Land of the Dead, which itself lead to a PC and Xbox game of the same name, and the direct-to-video Diary of the Dead. Dead Rising, one of the early hits for the Xbox 360, was about a reporter stuck in a mall full of zombies. And we've got more zombie stuff on the way.

One of the most-anticipated zombie-related media is Left 4 Dead, a survival-horror, first-person shooter hybrid from the makers of Half Life. And while I don't have the game, a demo is available on Xbox Live, and just so I'd have something to write about, I decided to talk about the demo.

The demo begins after you pick one of four characters. You can play co-op with up to three other people, with each player taking one of the characters. Any characters not taken by you or another player will be AI controlled. The game then puts you on a roof near a pile of weapons, then suggests that you need to get from that roof to wherever. A hospital, I think. It doesn't matter, because the demo doesn't take you that far anyway. The object of the game is simple enough: survive to your destination.

In co-op, the game is simply a blast. You find yourself coordinating your efforts with the other players to most effectively clear a path and watch each others' backs. You can move from one spot to another, making sure that there's someone covering the guy in the lead and someone else watching the path you just came from, just in case. The game loses something in single player, though, as the AI for your allies will shoot, but who knows how they determine what to shoot at. Also, they'll follow you around, but they do a poor job of covering you while they wait for you to move ahead.

One cool thing about the game is that the AI placed the enemies at random, so each time you play the enemies are set up in different locations. This helps to keep things fresh in replays. There is one little problem with it, though. There are zombies everywhere. The first level has you escaping an apartment building, and I'm pretty sure there are more zombies in the apartment than actually could have lived there. That's not too bad, except every now and then the AI likes to throw in a zombie rush, where after you've methodically cleared an area of zombies, a horde fo them will suddenly come charging around the corner at you. I might very well be the only person to say this, but it's too many zombies. When you've cleared a floor of zombies on your way down from the roof, then as you've almost cleared the next floor a horde of them come rushing from the way you came, it loses it intended effect. Instead of a pannicky fight to survive, you're taken out of the game when you start asking, "if I killed all the zombies behind me, where'd these guys even come from?" You stop feeling like you're trying to survive a zombie infestation and start feeling like you're playing a game that's screwing around with you.

Which leads to another issue. The game is divided into levels or chapters, and the demo covers the first two. Each chapter begins and ends in a safe area. You start on a roof near ridiculous pile of weapons. You end the level by running into a room with a two heavy doors and another large pile of weapons, ammo, and first aid kits. This serves a game mechanic that is, perhaps, necessary; at the end of the level you replenish your health and ammo. But you can't help but wonder who'd stockpile all those guns and ammo there, and then leave it. Was this town expecting a zombie invasion? Did they build zombie shelters and stockpile them with supplies? It might be necessary, but it's another thing that draws you out of the game

At the end of the day, it's hard to actually assign a score to something like Left 4 Dead, because it's almost two different games. If you've got friends buying the game who want to meet up with you and do the entire game as a co-op experience, by all means get the game. If you don't have friends, or if your friends are like mine and have lives and can't reliably meet online, you might want to take a pass on Left 4 Dead, as the single player experience is definitely a little lackluster.


science412 said...

Too many zombies is what makes the game so insane and fun. And games are supposed to take you out of reality. I can honestly say that I've never once played a game and thought about the reasons for the things that are happening in the game. Plus, when I have 20+ zombies rushing towards me, the last thing I'm thinking is "How is this possible?"

Mike said...

Games are supposed to take you out of reality by drawing you into theirs. For example, when I'm playing Fallout, I don't think like I'm playing a game, I think like I really am wandering the ruins of D.C. Sometimes a game does something that jars you out of its reality and back into yours. When zombies come rushing at me from an area I already cleared, that's what happens in Left 4 Dead. I'm being reminded that I'm playing a game.

Anonymous said...

i think it actually looks like its gonna be kinda fun...