Review: Left 4 Dead

Table of Contents

Quick Info

Gore & Brutality Magic Sex Civility Religious Objections
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Additional Notes
This game is also available for Linux!


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Holding out against the horde

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Zombies don't like fire

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This is not going to end well

General Information

Genre:First Person Shooter ESRB Rating:T - Teen (13+)
License:Commercial My Rating:Teenagers (13+)
Played on:Martha
Available from: Steam

General Notes

Left 4 Dead made quote a splash when it first came out, being one of the first big multiplayer zombie shooters on the market. Today, the market is pretty saturated with games like this, making the genre feel a bit over done.

However, this game and its sequel still manage to have a popular presence. Even though the internet isn't being flooded with countless memes from this series anymore, people haven't forgotten it and there are plenty of fans around.

Gameplay Overview

In normal play, you control one of four people trapped in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. The only goal is to simply survive the zombie infestation long enough to move from safe house to safe house.

Unlike a lot of zombie games, Left 4 Dead treats the adventure like a movie. When you start playing, you're shown as movie poster advertising the campaign you've chosen. Importantly, this poster lists the movie's "credits", showing which player will be controlling which survivor -- or listing a survivor "as Himself/Herself" if a member of the team will be AI controlled.

From there, the survivors move through each chapter of the campaign until they reach the Grande Finale where they stand their ground as they wait for rescue or execute an escape plan.

Behind the scenes, there's a special AI character called the Director. In addition to guiding and controlling the zombies, the Director also alters the layouts of the levels to keep the survivors from being too sure of themselves. Although he doesn't always show it, the Director has something of a sense of fair play and tries to keep things around the skill level of the players. This is usually reflected by the amount of zombies you encounter and how often you find supplies. Of course, the Director's idea of fair play is similar to the mindset of a cat with a mouse. If you're amusing to watch, he'll keep you alive just long enough to make you think there's a chance you'll get away.

There are a few other ways to play, but those are strictly multiplayer games.

Survival mode pits four players against a never ending onslaught of crazed zombies. The goal here is simply to survive as long as you can, which won't be very easy. There is scoring, and it's based on how long you last rather than how many zombies you managed to take down with you.

The other multiplayer modes are far more popular. These pit two teams of players against each other. You can either have two groups of survivors attempting to navigate to the safe houses (while sabotaging the other group's efforts) or a team of survivors trying to escape from a group of player controlled zombies. In the latter mode, the teams take turns playing as the infected and the survivors, ensuring that everyone has a turn with the popular characters.


Highly replayable
Everything that happens is at the mercy of the AI Director. Since his choices are almost random, you'll end up taking different paths each time you play through a chapter. Which zombies you encounter, and where you encounter them, is also up to the Director. The survivors also occasionally comment on the current situation, sometimes even having short conversations with each other. There's no way to trigger the conversations deliberately, and when you combine all of these random elements, every trip becomes a unique adventure.

All survivors are equal
When games feature a group of characters, each character usually plays a specific role. This can lead to one character being preferred over another, and any parent knows how that situation ends. In Left 4 Dead, all of the survivors are equally skilled. The only differences between them are cosmetic, though you can usually find some guy that's annoyed about having to play as Zoey, the only female character.

Simple, straight into the action
There's no big bad to fight, no seven magical keys to retrieve from the depths of caverns on opposite ends of the globe, no big questions to solve. Just grab a firearm, first aid kit and run in shooting. There is an overarching story connecting all of the campaigns, but it's never more complex than starting the survivors on the next leg of their never ending journey.

Steam community features
Since this is one of Valve's major titles, it's not surprising that it has achievements. Other Steam features, such as Steam trading cards and workshop support, require the sequel.

Bite size gaming
Most of the campaigns can be played through in a little under an hour. In each case, you can also start a campaign at any of its chapters, so you can stop anytime and start again later. Note that this won't save your items, equipment or current stats, but for the most part, it's not a problem as the safe houses you start at are usually well stocked for their place in the story.

Works are nearly any computer
One of Valve's strong points is the way their software handles on weaker systems. Left 4 Dead can run well on just about anything, so it's a good game for people stuck with hand-me-down computers.


Dwarfed by the sequel
Left 4 Dead 2 has basically left the first game in the dust. Since it has more zombie types, more overall features and workshop support, player have largely migrated over there. This is still a fun single player game, but you'll probably like the sequel better.

Concerns and Issues

Considering the survivors are fighting for their lives against hundreds of mindless homicidal zombies, it's not terribly surprising that they swear from time to time. Many of the areas are also covered in graffiti, and you can often find swear words among other comments.

Just to be clear: God's name is used like every other swear word.

Mild body horror
The regular zombies look like regular people with gray skin and animalistic eyes, but the Special Infected have mutated further. For example, the Tank's head is practically absorbed into his chest muscles, while the Smoker's tongue dangles to his knees and the Boomer is a pustule covered blob of a man. None of these are terribly horrific though; they manage to look more like caricatures than undead monsters.

Some blood and a little gore
Considering all of the zombie killing you do, it can be surprising how little gore there is. Most of the gore you'll encounter is part of the scenery and the players can't interact with it. Some examples include the cow carcasses seen in the ruined farm and the remains of a zombie that had an encounter with a lawnmower. Otherwise, it takes a high caliber weapon to dismember a zombie.

As for blood, some gets sprayed whenever you shoot a zombie, and it can stain nearby walls and floors. The result of this is that areas around a big fight can become bloodstained easily even though the zombie remains disappear after a few moments.

Heroic Sacrifice
At the end of the last campaign, the survivors escape the horde by using a construction elevator to lift them to safety. The portable generator that powers the lift isn't reliable, and cuts out before they are safely out of reach. In order for them to get away, one of the survivors needs to go down and keep the generator running while the other three provide cover fire. This is a one-way trip; with no way to get back on the lift, the survivor that runs the generator is trapped with the zombies and doomed to die. John 15:13, folks.