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I don’t like horror flicks. Mostly because they’re all blood-and-gore death fests these days rather then the old style psychological thrillers of yore, but also because I’m a wimp. I can’t sit through anything with blood on TV or in a movie without feeling nauseous. Thus, I find it odd that two of my favorite games in the last year (Fallout 3 and this one) are very, very violent titles. I’ve always been a first-person shooter nut, ever since I first saw Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny on my uncle’s PC as a kid. The Unreal Tournament series is one of my favorites, and I love Half-Life. These games, however, rarely showed realistic violence.  I can’t play FarCry 2 because of the more realistic portrayal of gunplay and the like. What I’m getting at is that while Left 4 Dead is indeed very gory, it’s so much more as well, and transcends it’s bloody roots to be an outstanding title.

As one of four survivors, you and your three allies have to flee zombie hordes for whatever safety you can find. Set up like bad horror films (complete with movie poster and end credits), there are four ‘movies’ with five ‘sets’ each. This may sound like a letdown, but it’s fun to play over and over because the game’s weapons, health and baddies are randomly spread about the map each game, making for a new experience each time you play. All four survivors play exactly the same, so it’s merely an aesthetic choice who you play as.

This game is designed to be played with three other human beings, but if you must (or want to) do without, the AI does a passable job. While they don’t show the frayed nerves that real flesh-and-blood people can exhibit (which is part of the fun, actually), they can hold their own in a firefight. Weapons are meager in number; two types of shotguns, a sub-machine gun, an assault rifle and a sniper rifle, plus every player has a handgun with unlimited ammo. My favorite is the automatic shotgun. Once I get that, I’m ready to mow down waves of zombies.

Speaking of the zombies, they are in no short supply, and these aren’t the slow, shuffling type. They’re on you in a heartbeat so you’d better be ready to put them down as soon as you see them. You’ll also come across a few mini-boss zombies, like the Smoker that uses it’s long tongue to snare victims, Hunters that leap and dart across the screen like giant Half Life head crabs, and the Boomer, who vomits on the survivors, drawing hordes of zombies to the scent. The most dangerous two are the Witch and the Tank. The Tank is just what it sounds like; it’s a huge, highly destructive beast that soaks up a ton of damage before succumbing, while the Witch is best avoided.  If left alone, the Witch is harmless. Startle her, though, and she’ll kill you with a single swipe.

Aesthetically, this game continues Valve’s demonstration of their knowledge of how people think. There are rarely big signs or arrows pointing where to go. Instead, because most of the game is ‘Doom 3’-dark and your flashlights are an inadequate light source, you tend to follow brightly lit areas. This, it turns out, was Valves plan, as these well-lit areas will guide you through most of the game. Bravo, Valve!

The game’s graphics are pretty darn good, and really set the mood. The interplay of light and dark make for a harrowing experience. Technically, the current iteration of the Source engine is slowly starting to show it’s age, but you’d never know it here. Sound-wise, the characters automatically speak to point out weapons, ammo, health packs and special zombies. They do this with very solid voice acting; there’s really no bad or distracting performance here.

I don’t know what else to say. This game is a riot. I’m looking to check this out on Xbox 360 as well, to see how it works on that platform, but if the PC build is any indication, this is a another show-stopping franchise for Valve. Alphasim out.

     

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