In Left 4 Dead, a group of four survivors tries to fight their way through the zombie filled cities in an attempt to be rescued. However, while most First Person Shooters would play this situation fairly straight, this game treats the adventure like an action movie. Up to four players take on the role of actors, playing the parts of the four survivors. Any survivor that isn't being played by a real person is controlled by the computer and continues to aid the party normally.
Behind the scenes, there's an invisible character known as the Director. This AI
tries to keep the game interesting, altering the levels in various ways and controlling what zombies you encounter. Although it does have a tendency to push the survivors forward, the Director does try to encourage players by adjusting the game to account for how skilled the they are. Of course, this is sometimes compared with a cat playing with a mouse -- if the Director finds your antics amusing, he'll keep you alive long enough to make you think you have a chance at getting away.
Each campaign of the normal game has the survivors work their way through several chapters. The first chapter always explains why the previous campaign's happy ending was only temporary. For example, the survivors might have driven off into the sunset, only to find their car ran out of gas, stranding them at yet another zombie infested section of town. Likewise, each campaign ends with a Grande Finale, where the survivors execute their daring plans while dealing with countless zombies. After they successfully escape, the credits roll and the game is over.
There are also two other ways to play, though these are strictly multiplayer games. In Survival mode, four players are pitted against an endless number of zombies. The goal here, as you might have guessed, is to survive against the horde as long as you can. After everyone succumbs, scores are tallied based on how long each player stayed alive. Versus Mode is similar to the campaigns, save for the fact that two teams of four are involved. While one team controls the survivors, the other team controls the Special Infected, aiding the Director in stopping the heroes from making it to the next safe house.
Over the years, Left 4 Dead's gameplay has proven to be a winning formula, though it has become eclipsed by its sequel
, which offers more content and additional features. Today, there isn't much reason to get the first game, as the original campaigns have been made available in Left 4 Dead 2
All survivors are equal
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.
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
Bite size gaming
Since this is one of Valve's major titles, it's not surprising that it has plenty of achievements
for you to earn and show off. Many of them are specific to the multiplayer modes, so gather some friends together if you want to try your luck. Other Steam features, such as Steam trading cards
and Steam workshop support, require the sequel
Works are nearly any computer
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.
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 or otherwise outdated computers.
Dwarfed by the sequel
Left 4 Dead 2
has basically left the first game in the dust. Since it has more zombie types, additional features and workshop support, players have largely migrated over there. Left 4 Dead is still a fun single player game, but chances are, you'll probably like the sequel better.
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.
Mild body horror
Just to be clear: God's name is used like every other swear word.
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.
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.