Insert Disk collects Left 4 Dead for the PC.
Today’s retro game review is Left 4 Dead for the PC. This retro gaming classic is a rather appropriate horror game for Halloween. As survivors of the infection you must work together in this co-op team event to survive. Expect hordes of infected, special infected, tanks and witches in this modern horror classic.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I say retro but I’m really stretching that terminology a fair bit today. Never mind though, it does allow us to watch another Halloween episode.
Yes, we’re back in 2008 today to take a look back at a modern horror classic which seems oddly appropriate in the current climate. Yes, it’s time to outrun the infected in Left 4 Dead. I will be specifically looking at the PC edition.
So, what’s it all about? Well, essentially Left 4 Dead is all about good old fashioned team play and cooperation. All set to the horrific backdrop of a world in which an infection has spread throughout the population. What a far-fetched storyline. It’s 2 weeks since the first infection and you find yourself in the company of three other survivors. For obvious reasons there is safety in numbers so cooperation will be the key to survival. There’s, Bill the grizzled veteran. Zoey the young likeable female character. Francis the leather clad tough guy. And Lewis your everyday office worker just caught up in the chaos. Bonus non to his outfit referencing Shaun of the Dead. Each character will play exactly the same so simply choose your favourite. Yes, there’s no levelling up, no perk system. It’s simple out of the box fun with this one. This is in contrast with the often compared Killing Zone game. Incidentally you can see my review of that game by using the on screen link.
The main cast provide a nice balance of character and will share many lines of dialogue through out the game. It works very well in my opinion. After some establishing shots it’s time to grab a weapon, ammo and health pack in order to set out to the next safe house. The controls are reasonably simple in design to aid the flow of the game play. You’ll have one main gun at a time, up to two pistols and an additional slot for pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Of course there’s also the health pack slot and a spare for pain pills.
Your route isn’t exactly on rails but it will be reasonably easy to navigate to the next safe house. There are areas which are considered off route though which may or may not be useful for picking up extra supplies. I say may because the placement of objects is somewhat randomised in game. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and find a pipe bomb, other times nothing. However, there are also non-randomised pickup areas which will contain ammo and additional weaponry. And you’ll be needing that weaponry of course. Everything from standard Uzis to automatic shotguns. There is a reasonably limited selection but what’s here is very satisfying. Just what you need for taking down the horde. The enemies come in several forms. Firstly are the common infected. These are the game’s main fodder. They go down easily and are really only of any danger in large numbers. Generally you should be quite comfortable in taking small groups of these out on your own.
However, the game’s director mechanic will occasionally trigger a horde event. When this happens, listen out for the music change, batten down the hatches and expect to have to ride out a coordinated attack. For these events it’s always best to remain in a tight coordinated group yourself in order to not become overwhelmed. This is also where you’ll make best use of your stash of pipe bombs. Should the situation get a little overcrowded with infected a pipe bomb can be invaluable. The beeping of the bomb will attract the horde and when times up. Well, there’s just a vapour cloud of the infected left. Other than the main infected you’ll also encounter Smokers. These gassy beings will extend their long tongue to immobilise you. At this point only a team member can release you by taking out the smoker. So, stick close if you want to survive, particularly if you play on the harder difficulty settings. Next up are Boomers. This tubby fellow will spew a horde attracting vomit on you so you should take him down quickly. However, do so at a distance so that the bile does not explode over yourself or your companions. Then there are the Hunters. These do exactly what you what you would expect. They creep up on the player and pin them to the ground. Take these out quickly to save vital life. Perhaps the most challenging of the main special infected is the Tank. This hulking mass will chase you with no mercy and pound you in to the ground. From a distance they can also throw rubble. These are best tackled as a team. Simply keep your distance and fire all you have at them. Burning them is also a viable option. A well placed Molotov can lead to some great results. Last but certainly not least are the witches. The director has a habit of placing these in your path at strategic points. Go to close to her and she will become irritated and you really don’t want that as she will inflict some pretty severe damage. The most efficient way to dispatch a witch is through a technique called croneing. For this you’ll need a shot gun. Simply sneak up behind her without startling her and fire in to the back of the head. It’s a one shot kill. Great when it works but can lead to all sorts of problems if you don’t get it right. Of course if you play with the computer team they don’t seem to realise this and provoke her all the same.
Yes, Left 4 Dead is very much best played as a human team with speech enabled. This enables a much greater sense of coordination. The computer players aren’t terrible by any means but the inability to reliably guide them does lead to you feeling very much isolated even when you do appear to be working together. It also scuppers any chance of rushing the levels which is a common tactic in the vs mode. The game invites you to either play a campaign, Vs or survival. The campaign is very much the meat of the game. Venturing through multi stage episode to the extraction point. This is where I found myself investing most of my time due to the design quality of the levels. You never know quite what will happen during the campaign.
Vs mode will see you take turns between playing as the survivors and the infected. It’s a decent team battle scenario. You’ll also see a lot of online rage quitters here if they feel the team is loosing. That’s if you can even find enough people online to even get a game going these days. Vs mode really captures the spirit of Left 4 Dead in my opinion. A four on four grudge match with either a group of friends or strangers. There’s nothing more satisfying than stalking your victim and separating them from the safety of the group. It never gets old. Vs mode will no doubt have you coming back for more time and time again. Survival is a smaller condensed game mode in which you simply have to keep the clock running for as long as possible by holding out for as long as you can. There are sadly a few bugs in the game. I managed to camp out for 80 minutes on the roof of Mercy Hospital. If you can get the balance right of where to hide and know the spawn points of the infected you really can hold out a long time. Sometimes it goes wrong though and you’ll be bounced off the building to a hugely comic effect. Not my finest moment.
There are also a few noticeable issues with clipping and some strange repositioning affects when players get close to each other. All in all though these are very minor issues. In terms of stages there’s a very decent offering here. Mercy Hospital is perhaps the go to location for most but also prepare to venture out in to the woods and even the airport. Add in to this custom stages and the game really does have a lot of scope.
There’s some good replay value in here due to the randomisation of the horde and special infected placements and the story driven nature of the game seems to keep the game fresh. Even if you have played it for many hours. Each episode will end in a similar way. A survival showdown. On these stages you’ll typically be hauled up in an old house or even the roof of the hospital. Typically you’ll get prepared and summon help via the radio. From there you’ll have to run down the clock as the game throws more and more infected at you. On the harder difficulty setting this can get very tense and you’ll need to cooperate to survive. Overall it’s an excellent experience. Now, at the top of the episode I mentioned that Left 4 Dead was only just about retro in my opinion. Personally a 2008 is still modern at this time in my eyes, particularly compared to the library I usually review.
Left 4 Dead is very much associated with Valve and Steam. It was one of the first games I really associated as a digital download. By 2008 Internet speeds were fairly decent and you could easily purchase a pack of 4 codes for you and your friends. It just makes sense. Unless you’re a game collector like myself and must have the physical product. It’s only a standard DVD case but right to the end I’ll champion physical media. I even have the T-Shirt to wear during the Halloween season.
So, is it any good? In short, yes. There’s still something very satisfying about Left 4 Dead. The cooperation, the knowingly B-Movie feel and aesthetic. It all just works. One of the key strengths in my opinion is the sense of chaos that can ensue. At times you feel very much like you’re playing a regular first person shooter. At other times the levels of chaos of infected running about and things on fire is just chaos. It’s great fun. There’s also no issues in running this one in full 1080 x1920 resolution so knock yourself out by maxing out those settings on a modern graphics card.
Personally, what works well is the replay value. Online players instantly add that mix of cooperative play and variety. The game itself does a fair job at keeping the main game play fresh. Sometimes you’ll simply walk through a level. At other times your stupid team mates will disturb the witch, followed by getting attacked by the horde and then a Smoker will turn up. It’s all good fun though and still worth playing today.
If you decide to brave the harder difficulty setting expect to get a bit of a mauling at times. Perhaps 1, 2 or even 3 tanks plus a horde at a time. In these cases it’s always best to play with other human players. Left 4 Dead is still a mainstay on the Steam platform and is no doubt in the price range of most gamers. It really captures the spirit of the horror B-Movie and never gets too serious about itself which makes it a great multiplayer experience. If you enjoy games of high adrenaline with some tight situations to fight your way out of and also have a love of team play then Left 4 Dead will be right up your street.
There is of course Left 4 Dead 2 to cover next time. It’s also a winner, though in my opinion although has a slightly different feel to the first entry in the series. So, Left 4 Dead, it’s fun and it’s affordable. There’s infected running about and plenty of frantic team action. In short, I can still highly recommend Left 4 Dead for a Halloween get together with your friends. Just don’t startle the witch.
Until next time, happy gaming and happy hauntings.