As of late most mature games have been taking themselves a little too seriously. With graphics being tweaked to no end and storylines and character developments becoming more complex and filmic, games have actually forgotten that they are meant to be just that: games.
I know that with the advancement of technology and a quenchless thirst for detailed gore that would make the offspring of George A. Romero and pre-Lord-of-the-Rings Peter Jackson feel a teensy bit queasy, game developers obviously need to continue pushing back the boundaries to keep the industry afloat (while at the same time kicking and spitting on anything new and subversive), but am I alone when I say that I actually buy a game because that’s what I want to play?
Yes, it looks pretty because as we are all aware there isn’t much nowadays that doesn’t look like a big slice of awesome pie (with sex) but from a personal standpoint it makes a change to actually play something that is very conscious of the fact that it is only a game. Okay, when I say that it doesn’t take itself seriously, I’m not necessarily implying that it’s a ‘funny’ game. By all means no. A zombie apocalypse may sound like a barrel of laughs with a saucepan of giggles on the side from the outset, but being mangled and torn into edible chunks soon stops being shits ‘n’ giggles and just becomes plain ol’ shit, really.
I’m not even saying that a game being serious and post-modern is necessarily a bad thing but it’s nice to just switch off the pretentious settings of my Xbox and just get down to some balls-to-the-fucking-wall gaming. What Left4Dead does is remind people that just because this is the 21st Century and though there are enough buttons on your controller to power the Large Hadron Collider, that doesn’t mean the game spinning in your disc drive has to reflect that. Simplicity works just as well.
Enough rambling, time to do some motherfucking reviewing what-what (And with Left4Dead 2 scheduled for release soon I’d best get cracking really!).
In the midst of a zombie outbreak you play as one of four survivors: token old guy, token tough guy, token black guy and woman. They have names but you’ll find them out for yourselves; try to have some surprises left in your life.
The object of the game is your basic survive-to-the-next-level stratagem in which you must bullet-rape the fuck out of hordes of the undead in a violently glorified way until you reach the end. Weapons are limited: you each have a pistol and a heavy weapon that you choose at the beginning. Pistols contain infinite ammo, bigger guns are limited. ‘Prioritise your weapon-usage’ is probably an adage you may wish to adopt.
But the essence of Left4Dead lies in team work. Running from the start of the level to the safe house at the end – leaving nothing but a trail of empty cartridges and poo along the way – is not a guaranteed (or wise) means to complete the game. Allow me to elaborate further:
At the start of each chapter (four in total – there’s a number theme here isn’t there?) you are advised by in-game captions to stick together in order to survive. And with good reason too. “Fuck that!” You’ll say, “I’ll let those retarded bot characters get swarmed while I make a run for it in my pink tutu and tiara. What could possibly go wrong, you twat?”
How valiant of you. For one you, yourself, could be the subject of said swarming and succumb to a serious case of zombie-stamp-on-face. It’s at this point that those ‘retarded bots’ you left behind are needed to a) sedate those zombies with awesome firepower, and b) help you to your feet before you bleed to death on the ground.
In Left4Dead when a player (computer controlled or otherwise) loses all their health they become incapacitated (or “incapp’d” in game lingo) and it’s up to remaining team members to help them up. But it goes beyond simply helping weaker people up off the ground like a Saturday night pissed up clubber outside Reflex.
With a whole host of ’special’ infected zombies team work is required throughout the entirety of the game as players become blinded, constricted and beaten into a pile not too dissimilar from mashed potato and sick.
Healing may also be bothersome during play; each character only gets one health pack at the start of each level. And each level may or may not contain extra ones. Which means that if you find yourself having to use your own to bandage up those gouged and chewed bits of torso your next low-health alert can only be rectified by a willing participant, ready to sacrifice their only med-pack to keep you running for spare underpants.
And it’s for this reason that the game works best playing with your equally drunk and dateless chums. Sure the AI characters have a knack for picking off those zombies that sneak off to the tree-line to take a piss. And their generosity knows no bounds when giving up their one and only means of healing. But playing with real people brings about that feeling of genuine unity and team play when facing a horde. Even if you are all sat in your darkened rooms miles apart in just your underwear, you lonely lonely gits.
Left4Dead also introduces the ‘AI Director’; an invisible – yet evil and possibly latex-clad – part of the game’s programming that alters zombie positioning, frequency and spawn-locations of special infected as well as the whereabouts of much-needed, yet often elusive, health-packs, ammo and pain pills each time you play.
This means that each play of the game is slightly different to your previous go; elongating game play and giving it a longer life in your disc drive. Remember though that ‘longer game play’ is not equal to (or greater than) ‘infinite game play’. The AI Director gives extended wear to the game but by no means let it delude you into thinking that it’s infinite. No game is infinite.
Going from beginning to end is not always a straightforward method either. Players come across ‘crescendo events’ which break up the forward momentum of the game. In these instances hordes have been alerted to your position and you are pinned to the spot as you wait to progress to the next point (waiting for a lift, setting off alarms etc.)
These sequences are rife with action and blood and limbs and testosterone-fuelled violence (except the woman, she just quims everywhere). And zombies literally attack from all angles leaving little to no place to hide.
Playing with other people, certain elements of tactical manoeuvring may be required: should you throw a pipe bomb? Or perhaps set a couple of gas canisters off, encircling you in fire and providing a temporary ring of protection? Should you shoot in all directions, screaming into your Xbox Live headset like you’re auditioning for Arnie’s part in Predator? Or perhaps you’ll seek sanctity in some dank corner somewhere and leave a wee-wee stain in your wake.
Basically what I’m trying to drive at is what you get with Left4Dead is a first-person-survival-horror-team-play-based-action-shooter that keeps the story and character backgrounds to a minimum. And by doing this the pace and action of the game is never really interrupted. Complex story modes are fine in games that allow time for it (such as in heavyset RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3), but what Valve have got here is a superbly entertaining zombie-fest that pertains to a target audience wanting violence, gore, action, big weapons and – in general – just a fucking fun game to play.