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Mowing down the undead infected horde with an automatic machine gun is an everyday dream for us thirty something males. Fortunately though, Left 4 Dead lets me fulfil this disturbing fantasy with one of the greatest zombie shooters ever made. The four campaigns are fairly dull in single-player but taking this game online resulted in some of the best gaming moments I've ever experienced.
At first I wasn't enamoured with its seemingly run-of-the-mill scenarios that were strung together by a minimum of plot and narrative. But this isn't a single-player game in truth. I easily blasted through the four campaigns in little over four hours, but I found the real game came to life when I went online.
Playing the same scenario's with three friends brought the environments of Left 4 Dead alive. The tension was palpable as my team crept through buildings, farmhouses and across the bleak open spaces. I have to admit that although the game isn't scary it still gives its fair share of thrills and exhilarating moments of action.
Foolishly thinking I could finish her off whilst she still sat on the ground, the weeping Witch suddenly rose up and gutted me in one go. I never made that mistake again.
What makes this rather generic setting more interesting are the individual ‘special' infected classes I faced. The Smoker can ensnare players with a long tongue, dragging them from safety. The Hunter can leap around and pounce from great distance. The Boomer, which I found to be the most disgusting, whose vomit and bile (which can be released at will and on death) blinds the player briefly and attracts a horde of infected. The Tank is the toughest of the lot and is a muscular beast that takes a lot of damage to kill. And finally the Witch, whose crying sound cue produces the creepiest moments in the game.
At first I didn't know what she was or what she could do. But after straying too close and foolishly thinking I could finish her off whilst she still sat on the ground, the weeping Witch suddenly rose up and gutted me in one go. I never made that mistake again, especially after being blamed for the whole group's death.
This aspect of the game is really what made it incredible cinematic and enjoyable. Whilst there's no overall plot or narrative finish, the little pockets of story that we made up ourselves were amazing. Each campaign came up with different situations that kept giving us huge enjoyment. Whether it was tentatively making our way through cornfields or holding off a huge attack at the door of a safehouse, the game has all the right hooks for generating a dynamic story.
I remember going from elation, after fending off a tank, to utter despair as I was dragged off a roof by a Smoker and sent crashing down to the street dead.
Part of this is due to the level design and the various points on the map when large amounts of infected attack. These ‘Alamo' style moments helped to bring the frantic nature of the game home with a bang. I remember going from elation, after fending off a tank, to utter despair as I was dragged off a roof by a Smoker and sent crashing down to the street dead. The game also provided one of the great cinematic moments of my gaming history when a fellow team mate sacrificed himself so the rest of us could escape. Seeing him holding back a tide of infected as we scrambled for the escape helicopter is just one of fantastic experiences this game allows for.
All this is from the survivors perspective and the game has a versus mode which allows players to take control of the infected whilst playing an on-line match. With the game being quite easy to pick up and play it was a shock to adjust to a very different style of play for this mode. Playing as a Smoker, Boomer, Hunter or Tank isn't quite as satisfying as I thought it would be. Aside from the Tank, which I only managed to play as a couple of times, the other infected classes die very quickly. I soon found that taking 20 or 30 damage off a human player was a major achievement and the fun of hiding in a closet to pounce on players quickly wore off.
What kept bringing me back were the online campaigns. Thanks to the A.I. Director, which makes sure that the pacing and content of each level is never the same, the game has an almost unlimited amount of replay value. I found that with the right team Left 4 Dead never got old and will be my multiplayer game of choice for many months to come.
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