26 Nov 2008

Left 4 Dead Demo Impressions

Tough luck. Demo period's over. I don't really understand why Valve decided to release a demo only for a limited time period. It went up on Steam 7 days before the game's release and then went down on launch day. Perhaps they should have called it a beta test instead?

Anyway, click on to read about my 2 hour-long test period with this "demo".

Left4Dead is a zombie survival-horror FPS developed by Turtle Rock Studios using the Source engine. Half way through development, Valve bought Turtle Rock and eventually released the game on the PC and Xbox360.

In the game, you control one of four survivors to travel from point A to point B in 4 different scenarios (made to look like you're playing through 4 different "movies", complete with cheesy movie poster and titles) while trying to stay alive as hundreds of zombies attempt to devour you.

In single player mode, you control one survivor while the other 3 are AI-controlled bots. In Co-op mode, up to 3 other friends can join you in the zombie mayhem. Verses mode allows up to 8 players, with 4 players as survivors and the other 4 as zombie bosses.

I won't go into detail about the characters and enemy types. The survivors each have unique personalities and the enemies are varied enough to keep you on your toes.

For my first play through of this roughly 30 minutes-long demo, I chose Louis and carried a assault rifle (you can choose any gun. I'm not sure if the characters affect your proficiency in certain weapons). You start off on the roof of an abandoned (by humans, but not zombies) building, slowly making your way down, keeping your flashlight low so that you don't attract too much attention from the zombie inhabitants. The enclosed space makes every corner a dangerous one as you wouldn't know if something would pounce at you just round that bend. The first encounters with the zombies would probably have you thinking that they are not very aware of your presence and "wow, this isn't exactly very scary". No, this game won't have zombies suddenly popping up and making you jump a la Doom 3, nor would it have the scare factor of Fatal Frame. However, it is very intense. When your very first Boomer zombie vomits or explodes on you, tons of nearby zombies would charge towards you while your screen turns green and blurry. The resultant mayhem more or less sums up what Left4Dead is about; tons of zombies rushing towards a group of survivors who have to stick together and cover each other. These firefights are intense and hugely satisfying.

On my second and third play through, I played online co-op with a bunch of strangers. Now here is where Left4Dead shines. Although the stages are still the same, enemy and extra equipment placements are different. This is due to the "AI director" that dictates whether you need a harder challenge, or a short breather. Basically, enemy placements at the beginning are largely random. As you play, the AI director would spawn more enemies if it thinks you are doing too well, or health packs and ammo if it sees you suffering. Stay in one place for too long and chances are some zombies will stray towards you location, forcing you to move around and constantly fight. In one instance, we were tightly defending a spot and doing quite well too. The AI director spawned a Smoker to pull me away from the group, forcing the survivors to abandon their positions to rescue me. One bad thing about the online mode is the stuttering lags at the start of each level. For about a minute or so, my game would stutter on and off, making it nearly impossible to do anything. This could be just a problem with the demo or my connection though.

Overall, the demo gave me a good feel of how its gameplay is like. A little scary, very intense, always different. However, the lack of maps and short campaign time (about 5 hours to complete everything) deters me from buying it on day one. Just how many times can I play the same scenarios over and over again before I get bored? Hopefully the mod and map-making communities, and Valve, are hard at work to keep this game from being boring. When that happens, you can be sure to see my pumping my shotgun into the zombie hordes.

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