November 13, 2008

Left 4 Dead Demo Underwhelming

Andrew Weymes Says: It seems no matter which website you go to, they all shower praise on the latest game by Valve entitled Left 4 Dead. As a zombie—and video game enthusiast—I assumed this would become one of my favorite games. It sounded like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, I came away from the demo very underwhelmed. Sub par graphics and average gun play killed my enthusiasm pretty quickly. I did find the gun play enjoyable in Left 4 Dead, but I really wasn't overwhelmed by how good each gun felt. They felt appropriate. The guns sounded average. Nothing praise worthy, but nothing to whine about, either. I don't want to offend anyone, but if you're going to tell me that this game has amazing texturing, lighting effects, environments, character models, and animations then you are probably one of those people that think Turok is a great looking game. The environments themselves looked appropriately drab but they weren't very inspired or pleasing to the eyes. As for looking like a zombie, I better not have messy hair, or a little ketchup on my chin if I'm living in the Left 4 Dead universe, or I might be confused as one of the undead. Yes, it's impressive that Valve managed to cram a massive horde of the undead onto the screen without a dip in frame rate, but I would have preferred 20 less zombies for the sake of the zombies actually looking like zombies—and not very angry people without napkins.

I noticed a couple of graphical glitches as well. I didn't think that in 2008 I would see enemy body parts coming through doors and walls, and various other objects, but I did. The draw distance was a bit of a joke as well. I couldn’t see the other end of a hallway at one point, which was kind of a "silent hill fog" effect that unveils the rest of the hallway as you walk further. I also don't like how you are able to walk through, and in to, each other’s character models. I know this had to be done to accommodate smooth multiplayer, but this is why a solid single player campaign would have been nice so that I don't have to be reminded all the time that I'm "just playing a game." Things like that have always pulled me out of the atmosphere that a game tries to create.

From the moment I heard about this game, I was hoping it would have above average graphics, and an enjoyable single player campaign. The single player campaign is nothing more than the multiplayer levels with AI bots to assist you instead of real people. The AI is good, and doesn't run into the wall or get lost behind you, but I was hoping for more than AI bots. I was hoping for something similar to Gears of War, Rainbow Six Vegas, or Resistance where there is an epic single player experience as well as some excellent multiplayer. I enjoy a cinematic experience when I play through a campaign, or story mode of a game, and for gamers similar to myself, I don't think Left 4 Dead is going to be very impressive.

That pretty much covers what I didn't like about the Left 4 Dead demo.

As the graphics are only passable, it makes sense that the main emphasis is obviously on multiplayer. I did enjoy the "AI director" that I have heard so much about. Basically, the AI director places enemies in different locations each time you play through a level, so each level has a huge amount of replay ability. This feature is excellent for a multiplayer game, because no matter what difficulty setting you are on, knowing where the enemies are going to be is always an advantage. An advantage that Left 4 Dead doesn't give you. The focus on teamwork is probably very appealing to a lot of people as well. I'm more of an independent gamer, so having to rely on other people to watch my back is a little bothersome. I find the teamwork aspect of the game to be its greatest strength, though. Some enemies will hold your character down and claw them up, and the only way to get them off of you is for another team member to shoot them. In most multiplayer games, letting your team members die is frequent, but in Left 4 Dead, you want to ensure the survival of everyone, because some of the monsters such as the witch—and the tank—are very hard to take down. I can see this game being very fun with a few friends over Xbox Live.

Despite the plain graphics, the sheer number of undead that you will encounter is intimidating at times. Watching 50 zombies flood the screen, and mowing 10 of them down within a few seconds with a shotgun is definitely rewarding. I didn't really care much for the "special" zombies such as the smoker, or witch. I'm a zombie purist, and I had the most fun just gunning down the horde. I'm sure this will be the best part of the game for most people. Another positive thing about Left 4 Dead is the death animations. Every member of the horde that you kill falls in a different way. There is no predetermined death animation, which is nice. I think of games like Turok where you stab a raptor for the 100th time and it gets dull to watch.

Overall, I think the demo for Left 4 Dead was passable. It wasn't what I was hoping for. I knew there was a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, but I was hoping for a decent single player experience that it does not have. Zombies are supposed to be ugly, but in this game the ugliness is mainly due to the lack of detail. Poor graphics really make it hard for me to immerse myself in a video game. I see this game as a gem for the budget gamer. For people that don't buy or rent a lot of games, and absolutely love multiplayer, Left 4 Dead is gold. The AI director and decent amount of levels gives this game near infinite replay ability. Personally, I like multiplayer, but I don't see myself playing for more than 40 hours if that, so to me Left 4 Dead just isn't that great. When I play a game, I'm hoping that it rivals a good film in the same genre such as the Silent Hill Series, Resident Evil, and even the Condemned series. If all you're interested in is killing decent looking zombies with people over Xbox Live rather than a good story and atmosphere, Left 4 Dead is probably the game for you.