Left 4 Dead Review

Valve - Left 4 Dead


Genre: Action/Co-operative Shooter
Cooperative Play: Yes
Demo Available: No
Rating: 4.3 chickens
Product Official Site: http://www.l4d.com
Publisher: Valve
Platforms: PC, XBox 360

The Good:

Left 4 Dead offers a solid co-operative play experience that rewards teamwork and forces players to help each other. It also happens to play well on systems that are well below the listed requirements.

The Bad:

The product is delivered and managed through Steam, which means (among other things) now that it is released, there is no longer an officially sanctioned means to download the demo. Some of the challenge the game provides is nothing more than contrived stampes of fashion-challenged greyscale foes. In a few places, foes seem to materialize out of (literally) nowhere, in rooms you have already cleared.


Two weeks ago, a plague broke out in the city. Now your home town is infested with zombies. You've found three other people who don't seem to be infected yet, and you have banded together with a common purpose: get out alive.

This new game from Valve is designed exclusively for co-operative play, using some new engine and AI technology that tunes the experience for the skill level of the team. At each step, it evaluates how the team is doing and either kicks the difficulty up a notch to knock the chip off of your shoulder, or tones it down to give you a chance to reach the next waypoint. The spawn points of everything from foes to supplies seems to be somewhat random, so while the maps are the same, the escape is subtly different every time.


Game Play:

This appears to be a solid game that promises and delivers an engaging team play experience. It also provides a "vs." mode, where players can join the opposing team. As stated previously, the difficulty at all levels is tailored to the ability of the team, and the spawn points are random. This is a team game, mavericks need not apply. Further, the game provides a feature that I have seen before but seems rare: it permits players to call a vote and remove griefers from the team. My only real complaint is that it's only 4-way COOP. Aesthetically, I have noticed that the undead only dress in greyscale, which I feel distracts a little from the realism. However, never having endured an actual zombie insurgence, I can't say for certain how quickly the dye in victims' clothes would fade after joining the quest for tasty brains.


The requirements are a bit hefty, but the game is quite forgiving. I tested the game on a system that is well below the recommended minimum and the experience was fully enjoyable.
  • 1.53 GHz Athlon XP
  • 1GB DDR333
  • Radeon 9600SE / 128MB
  • SBLive! s400

    I tested the game in the following 32-bit modes on my 1280x1024 LCD:

    1280x1024full screennoticeably low frame rate, interferes with reaction time
    1024x768full screenno dropped frames, quite playable
    1024x768windowed(perfect, effectively native res on any screen
    640x480full screennot pretty, but plays fine

    In all modes, I get occasional sound-glitches where the audio frames stutter 6 or 7 times over 2-3 seconds, but I have had that in every Valve game I have ever played, including Original Half-Life.

    Hints and Tips: The zombie hordes are a bit strange and feel contrived, but I've found by looking around there are places to hole up and wait for them or otherwise bottleneck them before proceeding, often finding extra items along the way. Stealth and careful loadout selection, as well as judicious use of special ordinance seem to go a long way toward increasing one's chances of survival.

    Regarding the demo situation, I downloaded the demo directly through Steam on the 7th, and managed to play it through once at 640x480. The next day, I wanted to try to play it at higher res before committing the cash to the purchase, but by then the "demo" disappeared from steam and became the "purchase" link for several of my friends, and Steam no longer offered to launch the demo for me. I have since found that you can circumvent this rather serious limitation by logging into Steam, then hunting around in C:\Program Files for "left4dead.exe" and double-clicking it. This will help those who previously downloaded the demo, but didn't get a chance to play. If you didn't download the demo before the 18th, there appears to be no way at this time to demo the game's new technology or test it with your hardware before purchase.


    This is a really solid experience with only a few areas that could have used a little more polish:
    • Realism is strong through immersion, but could be improved by eliminating the need for the hordes as a key plot device, and also by not spawning new foes on top the players in secured rooms.
    • The delivery experience greatly suffers from the lack of a continually available demo.
    • The visual experience would be improved by varying the color/texture of the zombie's clothes beyond mere greyscale.

    I deducted 1/3 chicken for the first two points, admitting to myself that the last point is probably a matter of texture resources which, if solved, would leave me unable to play this game on my aging rig, for a final score of 4 and 1/3 (4.3) chickens.


    I've not only decided to buy the game, I'll strongly consider upgrading my system sometime in the next few months to play it in all its glory, and have convinced 2 other people to do the same. This game looks like good, solid fun.