Left 4 (Almost) Dead

So, Left 4 Dead is pretty cool.  It is, for sure, the best zombie survivor game I’ve ever played.  And I certainly enjoy it in co-op.  But I can’t help but feel a little let down, because honestly, there are so many little things they’ve done which either ruin the experience, or at the least, pull you out of the game.  

First though, things I like.  The pacing of the game is, for the most part, fantastic.  It doesn’t suffer turtlers, and it doesn’t mind killing people who rush headlong in to the fray.  Except… death doesn’t really mean death really in L4D.  Which is a good thing.  The system is ridiculously forgiving and allows for many frantic situations where you are trying to save someone when everything is going to shit around you.  I don’t know how many times we’ve only just made it in to the next safe house.  (It’s worth noting that so far I’ve only played on Advanced mode, based on input from friends.  And frankly, on advanced sometimes it feels a little too easy.)

The knockdown mechanic, instead of death, is a fantastic method of keeping the player in the game.  And there’s nothing more awesome than being knocked down and being able to continue blowing zombie heads in to paste.  I’ve had moments where I was knocked down, but I still managed to save people nearby from special zombies.

They also do a lot of things to help create tension.  You can’t just use a healthpack.  You have to apply a health pack, and it takes time.  And it can be interrupted.  You almost never have enough ammo to reach the next ammo pile.  There are always more zombies.  Using a flashlight draws so much attention that it’s often better to skip it if you aren’t in pitch black.  

The game is good at mixing things up.  Things rarely happen exactly the same, and you can’t really prepare too much for what will happen, or expect things to go the same way twice.  Which is really great when you are playing on a high difficulty, as it keeps the game fresh. 

Which is sorely needed, because it is a very limited and very repetitive game.  Not to say it’s not still fun… but after you’ve played for a half hour, you’ve seen everything.  There’s the odd new event, and the scenery changes, but really, after a half hour, you can safely say you’ve experienced the game.  I’ve put five hours in it, and seen two of the campaigns through to the end, and I feel like if I stopped playing today, I wouldn’t miss much more. 

The things I don’t like about the game, however, are things that I hope are either tweaked through modding, if possible, or added in later patches.  For one, there needs to be a game mode which turns off music for all players.  Maybe not all the music, but certainly the event music, which lets you know really early what’s about to happen, so that the game never really catches you off guard.  Sure, it happens once in a while… but that becomes really rare once you recognize what each piece of music means.  

Second, there needs to be a mode which turns off monster outlines.  And you know, maybe even player outlines if they are within your line of sight.  Sometimes it just feels so gamey with these bright outlines letting you know exactly what’s going on.  The game supports voice, so why not use it?  I want to play with friends and I want to have to communicate with them, and understand what’s going on.  But the outlines are just a method of handholding which is all too common in games nowadays.

Third, there needs to be a co-op versus mode, where if you pick survivor, you are always a survivor, and it works the same as normal co-op, completely transparent.  It doesn’t let you know if the other zombies are controlled by players or not.  And then random people can jump in, control infected, and surprise you.  But it’s hard to be surprised when you know there’s a player controlling the enemy.

Oh, and one thing, which I think is a bug fix as much as anything else.  I want to be able to see the outlines from everyone else’s flashlight.  That would be ridiculously more immersive and nothing would be more awesome than jumping at your own shadow in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. 

I enjoy the game, and I hope it gets some tweaks, because it has potential to be way better than it actually is.  However, it will suffice as a pretty damn fun version of a zombie apocalypse, even if not a very real one.