Survival of the Fittest

User Rating: 9 | Left 4 Dead PC
Well, I recently crammed a Radeon HD 4670 video card into my PC, and what was the very first game I wanted to test drive her with? Damn straight – Left 4 Dead. I read all the reviews; I knew it wasn't going to offer much in the way of a story, but after almost five years of suckling on the teet of DotA, I knew great, quick-fix gameplay when I saw it. Sure enough, L4D blows doors.

First of all, yes, it's an M-rated game, but it's anything but mature. That said, this ain't one for the little tikes (though I know many of you scrubs will insist on playing it behind mommy's back anyway). To you I say, GTFO! The rest of us, this is one helluva a damn good time.

Indeed, there are only four campaigns, with four chapters per. However, you'll still get your money's worth with this game if what you're looking for is low-commitment, balls-to-the-wall excitement.

I'm not going to go into excruciating detail about what's included in the package, since the game's already been out for a while, but I would like to point out the elements that, in my mind, make this such a great game. For starters, almost any match up of players will do. Yes, there's a versus mode, but really, the co-op gameplay is where it's at with this title. Sure, there are players online that take this game a bit too seriously and kick you to make room for their buddies, even if you're doing plenty to carry your weight. In the end, though, even a weak player can add to the entertainment. Why? Let's have a look.

L4D is all about teamwork. In most games, the focus is on you and you alone – everyone else must fend for themselves. In this game, that just ain't the case, and there are two main reasons for that. One, you're rewarded statistically at the end of each chapter, as well as the end of a campaign, by ranking high in your ability to do good for your team – least amount of friendly fire incidents, how many times you healed a fellow survivor, and so on and so forth. Additionally, if you fail to keep each other alive, you're probably not going to get far. The elite zombies, such as Hunters, Smokers and Tanks, will rock you without your partners, and it's all the incentive you need to make sure the guy next to you remains standing.

Of course, even playing this game alone is fun, as the A.I. is top notch. Yes, enemies will occasionally run around a wall even when there's an opening two feet away, but such is the reality of programming. Nothing's perfect…yet. For where we are in this generation, the enemies, as well as your teammates, are nothing short of impressive.

As for the production values, they're equally entertaining, and even though the Source engine is no spring chicken in terms of technology, Valve has made a game that easily stands toe-to-toe with any other current-gen game. Animations look good, the lighting and shadows are awesome (as is the norm for Valve), and the game seems to rely more heavily on your GPU than CPU, which makes it a very accessible game to almost anyone with a midrange card.

The dialogue, music and sound effects are great. Each character has a host of various sayings, most meant to cue each player on their condition or things to look for in the environment. Also, the musical cues are really well implemented into the gameplay; you'll always know when it's time to rally the team to fight off a tank.

The game lists for $40 on Steam, though they run specials from time to time. There's a versus mode, survival, and campaign for up to four players. I dabbled with the versus a bit, and it's good, but not what I came for. The survival mode is great when you just want to see how long you can fend off the horde. But the main attraction, as far as I'm concerned, is the campaign, and it's one of the best, if not the best, co-op experiences I've ever had. The maps may be limited, but the freshness of the A.I. and spawn points make this one heck of an addictive ride. Some games give you a great 10-12 story, but once you're done, that's pretty much it. Left 4 Dead, on the other hand, gives you four, one-hour campaigns (and extras), but it's a game you'll want to come back to again and again. It's perhaps the perfect allegory for the day-to-day grind of life and offers lots of hilarious, holy s*** moments you'll cherish for a lifetime.