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300 Word Review – Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a game about love.

Perhaps ‘love’ is a strong word, but playing Left 4 Dead on a high level with a team of other players requires all the traits of a healthy relationship: trust, communication, and occasionally self-sacrifice.

While they’re always carrying heavy firepower and an emergency health pack, players are consistently outnumbered and often exposed on several sides. Beyond that they have more than zombies to worry about, there are several ‘Boss Infected’ that each have the ability to completely incapacitate a player.

In short, you can’t make it on your own; you have to rely on your friends.

Altruism is not the opposite of self-interest, of course. It’s easy to do the math and figure out that one player down and out means 25% less force that can be brought to bear on the undead hordes, as well as one less person to carry important things like healing pills and pipe bombs.

However, many of Left 4 Dead‘s best moments rely on more complicated emotions. Such as when a player fires on a group of zombies attacking a friend before turning to defend himself, or when a group hunkers down to help a wounded ally make those last few steps. These are moments that don’t have much to do with a cost/benefit analysis of the situation.

Of course, the same scenarios that present opportunities for heroism also create stages for cowardice. Games can be lost when someone refuses to heal another player, or when they dodge behind another player while still firing wildly.

It might not seem obvious at first, but this game about the zombie apocalypse has a lot of heart. Even without long cut-scenes, text blocks, or dying NPCs, Left 4 Dead manages to be the most meaningful game of the year.

6 Comments

  1. Frank wrote:

    <3

    Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 10:12 pm | Permalink
  2. Tom wrote:

    I’ve just stumbled upon your blog, and I like it a lot, but I especially like these 300 word reviews. Your post reminds why I should get back into L4D (especially with the update), but also how that game can really crush my soul when assholes play. It takes all the fun out of something *really* fun, which somehow makes it worse.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 4:09 am | Permalink
  3. Charles J Pratt wrote:

    Hey Tom, glad you like the site!

    L4D remains one of favorite games from last year, along with Shiren the Wanderer.

    It reminds me of how much we lose in single player games. In a lot of ways we give up a lot of genuine emotion, both negative and positive.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  4. I dunno. I’m unconvinced that Left 4 Dead pushes the “rely on your team” concept any more than a normal team deathmatch game. Perhaps you simply felt it more due to the “cooperative” focus of the game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean any more immersion in the virtual world or its extremely thin characterization than, say, Call of Duty 4′s multiplayer. On the other hand, I felt a great deal more kinship with my AI team in Battlefield: Bad Company than I ever did a group of randoms in Left 4 Dead’s online co-op. Don’t get me wrong; Left 4 Dead is a very good (albeit overrated given the amount of content there) game. I simply think you’re lionizing one aspect of the game that is shared in one form or another with many, many other online titles.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  5. Charles J Pratt wrote:

    First I’d have to say that you’re right, I think that team deathmatch games are also meaningful, as are free-for-all games. In fact, I’d say any game where you’re playing with other human beings is pretty meaningful.

    Where I think we part is that you seem to be associating ‘meaningful’ with “immersion in the virtual world”. This is not the sense with which I’m using the word. I’m using meaningful in the sense that L4D catalyzes real interactions with real people that matter to me, if only for a brief period during the game.

    This is really the secret point I was trying to make in the post.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink
  6. @Matthew & Charles;

    The big difference I picked up, design-wise, about L4D over other team-based shooters is the number of redundant audio and visual cues the game throws at you to constantly remind you to think of others. There’s the backlit colored halos around other characters (blue if they’re safe and obstructed, orange if they are pounced, strangled, or biled, and red if they are incapped), the health bars at the bottom with their current inventory stock just above, the fact that the avatars visibly limp if hurt.

    Then there’s the audio: the characteristic noises each type of Infected makes to tell the players how to organize, the chatter about ammo and medical supplies that no doubt are completely redundant if the players have their mics on, the comments about open spaces and hearing Infected that the avatars emit, the 3 crescendos (horde, tank, and witch) of the soundtrack, the shouts when friendly fire occurs.

    After playing a few times, these redundant cues actually inhibit the immersion one might initially feel playing the game. Which isn’t a bad thing: the players have learned their lessons of mutual reliance and can now uphold the group mentality on their own. I wrote about these cues from the point of view of the game as a still shot, a movie, and then a game… but they were for class and they’re almost a year old now, so I’m not going to link them due to being rather ashamed of the writing quality :P

    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

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