This Week I Have Been Mostly Playing...
Left4Dead. I know I might be a little late to the party but what a great game this is! Left4Dead has many excellent features. The characters are appealing and both the digital designers and voice actors have done a great job. The locations are atmospheric and allow the creators to do things that are hard to accomplish in zombie films / television programmes: zombified city sections, night-time shooting etc. Its levels have a cinematic feel, which in turn are broken up into sections – again representing almost a screenplay-style structure. This is great for a gamer like me that likes to dip in and out, rather than playing for hours and hour on end.
The zombies are fantastically realised. The way they wander and then rabidly run down on you in terrifying hordes. When they’re not doing this, the sound effects and background music lends the whole game an appropriate creepiness. The zombies in this game aren’t just gross - which they are - they’re also scary. This is an aspect neglected in a lot of other games and films dealing with the same subject matter. The game AI has a great deal to do with this, so even when you are re-playing levels, zombies, mobs and creatures are waiting for you in different locations /come at you in different configurations. This lends the game a real jumpiness: another excellent feature.
The crowning achievement of Left4Dead, however, is the way you interact with the other characters / players. On single player there is a good deal of strategy. You have to work with your digital counterparts in order to get through the nightmare of individual levels. Again, the AI is very good at keeping the characters fresh in terms of dialogue and action on repeat outings. Left4Dead is at its best when played over the internet with other players. It is only then that the genius of the game’s design really shines through. You literally are then four strangers thrown together in a crisis and quickly learn to trust/distrust/rely upon one another. The designers have worked a key zombie genre trope into the game play. In zombie films there are always those characters that betray the group and those that form swift reciprocal friendships in lethal situations. If you also use headphones then you get to hear the shocked exclamations and expletives of other players, as they get pounced upon by the undead. You might also get a ‘Thanks for coming back for me’, when you hold your nerve and return to save a beleaguered player, swamped in a flesh-hungry zombie mob. All in all, a fantastic game!