Reviews: The zombie apocalypse is here, and it is good
If there's a contender for the WWII shooter's standing as ?most used game setting,? it's got to be the Zombie Apocalypse. House of the Dead, Resident Evil, Dead Rising and on and on?wave after wave of mindless targets make ideal fodder for virtual warriors. And in a not-so-surprising cross-genre twist, the latest WWII shooter, Call of Duty: World at War includes a zombie survival game in its online multiplayer package. Yet even with this overwhelming swarm of zombie action, Valve's new shooter Left 4 Dead claws its way to the top.
The Left 4 Dead story can be boiled down to just a few words: four survivors fight their way through a zombie-inundated landscape in hopes of finding rescue. That's it, really. Each survivor has a distinct character, ripped straight out of horror-movie clich? land. Bill is the grizzled Vietnam War vet still wearing his fatigues and service beret. Francis is the tattooed biker and Louis is the office worker type, straight out of the cubicle and still wearing a red-striped tie. Zoey has a lot in common with another Valve creation, Alyx Vance. She's the only girl in sight, she's young and cute, she wears a hoodie, and she kicks plenty of ass. They're Hollywood stereotypes, but it doesn't much matter, since each one drops little jokes in his or her own unique way. Crusty old Bill makes jokes about the Great Zombie Outbreak of '57 while Francis complains about everything in sight. Apparently he hates stairs, vans, and elevators, for some reason.
Every survivor character plays the same, though, since this stripped-down shooter does away with the character classes that appear in lots of today's shooters. There are no air strikes, no rank systems, and none of the hundred other little things that just about every FPS has added lately in an attempt to make itself stand out from the crowd. What's left is simple, solid, and exciting. There are just a few weapons, including an automatic ?combat? shotgun that's exceedingly satisfying as you use it to mow through wave after wave of common zombies. It'll shoot through two or three at a time, but it's slow to load, less effective at long distances, and prone to cause friendly fire if you aren't careful. If that one's not your speed, then grab the assault rifle for more controlled fire and quicker loads.
There are only about six firearms to choose from, but each has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and a well-organized team will balance its loadout with something from each category. On top of that, each player can carry one thrown weapon, either a Molotov cocktail or a pipe bomb. The Molotovs are great for laying down a wall of fire to keep the zombie horde at bay?just make sure you don't do it so close that they can run through your trap and wrap you up in a flaming zombie hug. Other survivors swear by the pipe bombs. Sound draws the zombies in droves, and the pipe bombs have a beeper attached that will attract any in earshot before it explodes.
I keep mentioning the ?horde? and waves of zombies, and there's something you should know if you haven't guessed already: Left 4 Dead throws hundreds and hundreds of zombies at you over the course of an hour's play. Move quietly into an area and you'll see them wandering about aimlessly, leaning against walls, and even fighting each other. But as soon as you make a noise, they'll charge en masse, quickly surrounding you and your teammates. Their numbers mean that it's tough to load fast enough to put them down?you'll have to use a melee attack to shove them back and put them down. Or, if someone has a pipe bomb, you can draw them away and watch them scramble over one another to get at the deadly beeping device. The thing about the horde is that it's never the same twice. There are only four scenarios in Left 4 Dead (one of its few weaknesses), so you'll play the same levels over and over, but the zombies come at you differently each time. One time they'll come at you through that alley, and another they'll pour in through a doorway you thought was clear. Or if you're unlucky enough to trip a car alarm, you'll curse its incessant whine as they swarm you from all directions. The guns are simple, the characters are plain, but the action is nothing if not hectic. Every turn of a corner can turn into an adrenaline-pumping last stand against the charging horde.