Left 4 Dead Hands-On - First Look at Dead Air

We take an exclusive look at a new movie set amid Valve's zombie apocalypse.

One of the most interesting things about Valve's upcoming zombie pandemic shooter Left 4 Dead is the way the game is structured. Instead of a single story that follows one player from beginning to end, Left 4 Dead is divided into four "movies," which are essentially minicampaigns intended to be played over and over with the aid of four-person co-op and a remarkable AI system that assure no two experiences are the same. Up until this point, Valve has shown only two of the game's movies, the hospital-focused No Mercy and a run through the woods called Blood Harvest, but we recently had the chance to play through a third: Dead Air.

Each character has their own funny quips, like Bill's "I hate vans!"

Part of the reason these campaigns are called movies is their clocking in at about an hour and a bit of plot guiding the action toward an ultimate destination. In the case of Dead Air, your team of survivors needs to make its way to the local airport after seeing hope in a cargo plane flying overhead. Before the action starts, you'll see hints of the movie's climax in the form of a movie poster that adorns the loading screen. The game's four playable characters stand in front of a ravaged airport with a tagline that reads, "Their flight just got delayed. Permanently."

Despite the cheeky tagline, there is hope for your team of survivors if you can withstand the literally thousands of zombies standing between your starting point and the airport. The first chapter begins in a greenhouse with your team overlooking a few shambling undead meandering from plant to plant, oblivious to your presence. But once you get equipped with some weapons and health kits and jump down, the slaughter starts and the "AI Director" immediately begins to review your performance. Over the course of the movie, the AI is constantly working to see how well your team is doing. If you're plowing through the zombies, you'll find your screen filled with dozens more enemies--often popping out of less expected spawn points like ceiling rafters. But if you're not doing so hot, the game will oblige and tone things down a bit.

The key to success in Left 4 Dead is teamwork. Your team of survivors needs to stick close together and keep close tabs on everyone's health and equipment to make sure first aid kits and other items are given to those in the most dire need of them. It's easy to get lost when your team fails to stay close, and doing that is often quite difficult in Dead Air. This movie is unique among the others we've seen in the way it keeps you on your toes by rapidly fluctuating between narrow, cramped corridors and wide-open spaces susceptible to floods of the infected. After making it through the relatively confined first and second chapters (Greenhouse and The Crane, respectively), the third chapter finds you in a construction site with a daunting amount of open space. It's easy to get separated from your teammates here when the zombie horde arrives, so you'll need to find one spot in this field of construction equipment and unfinished buildings and work together to stem the flow of hungry undead.

The fourth chapter is called The Terminal, which is when your team finally arrives at the airport. This chapter is when things start getting really tough. Whether it's crawling through cramped baggage transportation beltways, avoiding metal detectors so they don't sound and trigger waves of zombies, or navigating the maze that is any modern American airport, you're confronted with a new series of challenges that don't exist earlier in the movie.

But all of that's nothing compared to Dead Air's climax. Once you've escaped from the gate, you'll make it out onto a destroyed runway with all manner of airplane wreckage strewn about. The state of the situation is really driven home by a few scripted but thoroughly impressive sequences of destruction happening in the distance. This final chapter is when you'll see the most zombies coming your way, as each movie doesn't really have a boss battle so much as it stages one final assault on your well-being with an unprecedented zombie horde threatening your rescue. In this case, you need to stave off the horde while the aforementioned cargo plane refuels, which proves to be a long and nerve-wracking process. If you're successful, you'll find salvation and see a rolling credit sequence every bit as cheeky as the movie poster, right down to fine print that tells you the number of "zombies killed in the making of this film."

...or Louis' "Every part of me hurts!"

This session with Left 4 Dead was unique in that we had the chance to play a single movie in two very different ways: once in single-player on a PC, and a second time with four people on the Xbox 360. In single-player, your teammates are replaced by AI-controlled bots. Oddly enough, this situation proves to be far more survival-friendly than playing with human teammates. Aside from having a bit of trouble recognizing the dangers of fire and wasting their ammo by shooting zombies near a pipe bomb you've just thrown, the AI teammates are very helpful and good at sticking close by your side. We had a much easier time making it to the end without all that pesky human error getting in the way, but at the same time that sense of human cooperation is what makes Left 4 Dead so much fun.

In terms of platform differences, the PC version clearly looks better, but for that we can thank Valve's roots as a PC developer. Still, the 360 version looks great by the console's own standards and controls very well. Deciding which version to pick up will be tough, whether you want to go with the 360's ease of matchmaking with Xbox Live or the PC's slicker visuals and greater potential for postrelease updates. You can look forward to seeing our review for both games when Left 4 Dead arrives on November 20.

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Discussion

232 comments
tebbenhoff
tebbenhoff

most zombie games fail miserably, but this one succeeds in almost every way...a number one buy for all.

Psycho_Pro
Psycho_Pro

coolest zombie game ever!!!!I hate zombie games but this game is different.

Sodney
Sodney

I hate zombie games but this seems cool

twodtoo
twodtoo

this game really rocks, played demo on both PC and the 360...deciding which one to get is only difficult because all my friends don't have PC's which is the better platform as far as game performance and visuals, I wish on-line play was cross platform, then my choice would be PC hands down.

sw33tjimmy
sw33tjimmy

looks like it's going to be relatively short with high replay value due to the randomization of the levels. Actually kinda nice for some of us who have jobs that don't accommodate spending an entire day playing a game. The 360 demo is phreaky sick. It's like being part of your favorite zombie movie. It's all of 30-40 minutes long but I've played through it 6 times and looking forward to it again. It sounds dumb; killing zombies over and over, but it's got a certain "je ne se quois" that brings me back to the days of Doom in all its mindless, glorious slaughter.

LeDirteater
LeDirteater

I love this game, me and a group of friends have played the demo repeatedly and i'm not usually a fan of zombie games. But having zombies like Hunters and the long tongue ones keep it fresh constantly, like a friend gets dragged away by a long tongue and you all run to smash the tongue off him to save him lol And a few screams when a tank zombie thing starts throwing rocks lol Lots of thrills, and as said before the game is alot better with co-op. Good times!

efoxneo
efoxneo

Played the Demo on PC and 360, I think I am going for the 360 version, it seems to just run smoother then my dated PC, and I can't beat the 50" HD visuals, the game looks sharper on PC, but the 360 version is still great. The Source engine is showing its age either way. This game is a co-op must, playing it with BOT's is just not rewarding, or very fun.

Rheinmetal
Rheinmetal

It looks great, but I don't much like the idea of an FPS anyway. I guess this is the new trend in video games, and especially in XBox 360 titles.

dkpunk
dkpunk

Game looks sick. I'll be picking it up for 360. I can easily run this game but know many more people with a 360. Plus matchmaking > steam-ing pile.

kitty
kitty moderator

Seems like this is gonna be game of year material. I can't wait to get my hands on this game.

tarantyno
tarantyno

wooohoo got the deno yesterday and it was pretty intense and cool! it had 2 levels: downtown and the subway. graphics arent better then half life 2 , but the games high-point is the chaotic gameplay,where you are ALLWAYS allert,because zombies come from all over!

wud03
wud03

Man I can't wait.

yamil1
yamil1

were is the demo?? 6 nov 08??

powerfulone1987
powerfulone1987

Having a PC and actually using it to game are 2 different things. I agree there are probably more people with PC's than with XBOX360s. Think about all the business people and the like. Doesn't mean they play games on it. Now as for which one gets more gaming traffic. I'm going with the XBOX360. So don't be so sure you know what you're talking about SHOX14, because you don't k? :)

Shox14
Shox14

Don't worry Pilch R eD I don't think that many people have much to argue against the fact that the mouse and keyboard are simply a hell of a lot better to play shooters with than a controller. Nor against the fact that a hell of a lot more people have PC's than XBox 360s. btw, THIS GAME IS GONNA BE AWESOME!

Pilch_R_eD
Pilch_R_eD

"Deciding which version to pick up will be tough, whether you want to go with the 360's ease of matchmaking with Xbox Live or the PC's slicker visuals and greater potential for postrelease updates" Steam / Dedicated Servers pawn match making. And theres already a massive group of source modders / map makers ready to make loads of new content for the game. + Mouse & Keyboard PC Wins !!! (Awaiting the onslaught of thumbs down)

Claus_DuBois
Claus_DuBois

Did I misinterpret the comment about 4 movies/campaigns clocking in at an hour each......so making the whole game only 4 hours or so long if your a single-player kinda of gamer?

halo3forever
halo3forever

I cant wait to mow down zombies with my trusty machine gun!

juli710_710
juli710_710

looks so great! The person that wont have a game where you can kill zombies with your mates, is a noob :D LOVE it =D Want now ;D

Chilled2m
Chilled2m

Two players can play on a single X box, it's not 4 player split screen

kisameboyz
kisameboyz

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

kisameboyz
kisameboyz

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

monkeyboy979
monkeyboy979

Can't wait for this one, It'll be like Dawn of the dead but with your mates! The Apocalypse will be fun!!

en4o
en4o

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

funnysplay
funnysplay

When they said "and a second time with 4 people on the 360" I wonder if that meant 4 split screen or online. Because 4 split screen would be freakin awsome!

cehok3
cehok3

the game will beat CS:S and many other multiplayer games....L4D OWNS

havocmerc
havocmerc

That old dude looks pretty tough.

Hikiera
Hikiera

i hope there's alot of replayability. Don't know how much you can get out of it after plaing it for a week even with friends.

bebebebebebe123
bebebebebebe123

Character moving is smoooth, but a bit overwhelming of the zombies waves...

catmeat117
catmeat117

the game looks amazing and might even out do deadrising but the coverart makes you wanna look away. hehe.

Cowman
Cowman

WHEN IS THE DAMN DEMO FOR THIS GAME COMING!?!?! *update* -- NOV. 6th DEMO RELEASING!

Ho_Junki
Ho_Junki

this game look so freakin awesome.

darth_slayer33
darth_slayer33

Yup definately getting this for both PC and 360 as I have friends on both platforms that I want to play this game with.

Papitar
Papitar

Sounds like an awesome game. Could be fun in LAN and online. Not really a singleplayer game though.

berkner_ram77
berkner_ram77

Can't wait to play through these to see how many different ways to kill these suckers.

Eko_Eko_Azarak
Eko_Eko_Azarak

This game looks so awesome. It makes me almost forgive Valve for not having HL2:E3 out yet. ALMOST.

FFake
FFake

CS was created by Turtle Rock, which also creates this game (with Valve's help).

Naok1
Naok1

ACES_of_CRIME what does CS have to do with this? it wasnt even created by valve...it was only published and later on updated by them...

ACES_of_CRIME
ACES_of_CRIME

I haven't been up to date with the games coming out at the moment, too bad I ain't got the time. For some reason this game doesn't look like its for me. I mean I've never palyed Half-Life and CS is a sucker's game. I'm not saying L4D is bad but it just doesn't look like its my thing. I'll just look at some reviews later on and see for myself.

shaun_mcwayne
shaun_mcwayne

4 player zombie co op game, its like they knew what i wanted, im going the black guy, cos he is like ben from night of the living dead. they are coming to get you barbra. still think res evil is gonna surprise everyone by being fantasic, just like 4.

noupa
noupa

looks way too arcadey and fast.

football_legend
football_legend

Sounds like its totally different and more unique than Resident Evil 5.

smghottie
smghottie

pay only 54.99? Steam has it for $44.95 right now, and people who preorder get to play earlier. I'm not getting this for my Xbox. A valve product belongs on my pc...next to half life...and team fortress....

thnksforthekaos
thnksforthekaos

guys, go gamestop and preorder now to pay only 54.99 if you want it cheaper, or wait until black friday this game is gonna be EPIC. possibly GOTY.

majidok
majidok

Valve hasn't disappointed yet , I'm definitely gettig this :D