First Impressions: Left 4 Dead

After developing Portal and Team Fortress 2; Valve is now steadily at work on their latest title, “Left 4 Dead,” which will hit Steam and major retailers on November 4th of this year (2008) for North America and November 7th for Europe. Left 4 Dead was first unveiled at the end of 2006 under the helm of Turtle Rock Studios, which was later acquired (i.e. absorbed, merged, etc) by Valve (given both studios having good relations with one another), hence how they ended up jumping on board the project. The story to Left 4 Dead is as follows; A unnamed virus has swept across the world and everyone affected has become the essential equivalent of a zombie. You take the role of one of the four survivors of the virus who must fight the hordes of victims in a First Person style of gameplay (FPS or First Person Shooter). Sounds relatively simple enough. What sets Left 4 Dead apart from other titles of the same genre is the gameplay and actual assets featured.

Valve’s primary goal with Left 4 Dead is to spark a change in the Co-Op style of gameplay often flawed for various reasons. Clearly, a decent amount of forethought and planning has gone into the gameplay aspect of Left 4 Dead as it’s vastly encouraged you work together or else you yourself will end up dead (along with your other team mates as well) at the hands of the vast amount of zombies featured. Running off on your own to be the sole “hero” is not wise and it’s doubtful you’ll last long. Players must stick together in order to fend of the enemies present as well as help each other out when a particular team mate happens to fall into a snag (becoming overwhelmed, falling off a ledge and hanging, injured, etc). To even further mix things up for the player, Valve has added an intriguing new AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept they’ve dubbed “The Director.” As player’s progress; The Director will observe the group as a whole to decide upon the difficulty curve, pacing, number of enemies, etc. There are no set spawn points for enemies within the game. Everything is varied upon the given factors and circumstances of the players. If you have a team that works well together, has little friendly fire, and a decent amount of health; The Director will spawn enemies at a greater number and in a more diverse strategic manner to up the ante and make the game much more difficult. However, if you have a team that’s poorly performing with a low amount of health; The Director will ease up on the player and lower the amount of enemies and set the difficulty curve at a lower rate to offer a bit of a break.

The Director also affects the player’s individual perspective as well. Music and visual effects are implemented in a procedural manner to reflect upon the player’s particular condition and situation. Combine the procedural alterations between the variations of a player’s experience individually and as a whole; and you have a game that encourages a vast amount of playability that further drives the entertainment and value of the product. It’s a rather intriguing concept that makes up for the fact it’s yet another title in the over saturated First Person Shooter genre of gaming. One to four players may jump into the roles of “The Surviviors,” although you don’t necessarily need more than one role filled as The Survivors can also be controlled bots via AI. Co-operation, again, is the key as players have the ability to aid each other and any selfish player present will soon be corrected (and can ultimately be booted by other team members in a voting system present). Players can communicate through automated commands courtesy of quick menus present (certain commands will be automatically uttered when reloading or spotting an infected civilian). And to further drive a co-operative style of gameplay, the developers allow players to spot each other through walls, obstructions, etc by utilizing a green glow around each player when blocked by an object.

There is a particular backstory to each character, though there will be no cutscenes in the game to further flesh it out. Instead, the developers have recorded a vast amount of dialogue that will be featured pending upon the various situations the player encounters. This further encourages multiple playthroughs and keeps the gameplay at a solid pace rather than breaking it up with cutscenes or a linear timeline, as well. Overall, I’m very intrigued with what Left 4 Dead has to offer. The concept isn’t particularly original by any means; though the title makes up for it by introducing enforced principles on top of rather solid gameplay. There are additional modes to extend the experience and various other aspects to further add depth to the game itself. Though I still have doubts on whether the actual gameplay will grow repetitive; despite the measures taken. The fact that it’s a First Person Shooter also leaves me leary as the genre has become rather bloated and over saturated in the industry, as of lately. Left 4 Dead hits the PC and Xbox 360 this Winter, with a possible Playstation 3 port in the works. For more information, please visit the official website at www.l4d.com.

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