Left 4 Profit


While there is no doubt that Left 4 Dead has certainly done well in sales and has received a positive thumbs up from the majority of the gaming world, we all know too well that it certainly does not mean the game is, in any way, good. For me, I lay it down as a maxim that a game without a demo is a game that is trying to hide something from the potential buyer. In today’s video game market, we are usually left with reviews and previews as the means to try and make an educated decision on whether or not a game will be to your liking or worth the price tag it’s toting. Left 4 Dead, unfortunately, falls short.

Campaign/Story :::: 3/10

Like most Valve games (or ones in which Valve buys the company developing the game), the background to a story or a plot is usually non-existent or it’s fed to you in short clips or random writing on the wall or newspaper liter on the street. Valve makes no exception for Left 4 Dead; what you see is what you get. Four survivors, magically immune to a rabies virus that mutates people, try to make their escape from quarantined areas. In true human survival fashion, these survivors are not prone to logical decisions, making the same mistake three times further in other campaigns. There is no plot-given reason why or how these four people found each other or why they go to the places they do, but it becomes apparent that Valve was hoping no one would notice.

For instance, in the first campaign, if you make your way through, you are rescued by a helicopter. Obviously this is no random fly boy making his rescues on his own; he leads the survivors to safety. However, the second campaign then has our survivors in the remote outskirts of a city on a “rumor.” Here’s where the plausibility plummets. Helicopters can’t fly over cities now? This is perhaps further instated with how idiotic these survivors seem to be with the variety of vehicles that they end up getting on, which range from a boat, a US cargo plane, and, lastly, a US APC (again, if you can make it). They essentially place their selves in danger on purpose for no actual reason; they’re not trying to find a cure, they’re not trying to find survivors, and they’re not running to a military bunker to set off ICBMs. They’re just dumb.

Again, you gather most of the story from a beginning cinematic with the words, “Two weeks after first infection,” which at least tells us the setting of the game is two weeks after all hell broke loose, but apart from any info outside of that is scrawled on the walls in safe rooms, putting the date of the game around late October or early November of 2009. Keep in mind that there is no mention that this virus is a mutated rabies virus; that backup of the story you actually need to find in interviews around the web. And that is essentially how bad the story is within the game; you actually need to go searching for third-party sources to figure out the story. This, of course, brings in the real kicker, which is that you’re not actually fighting zombies at all; you’re just fighting rabid people and the occasional mutated freaks. It doesn’t get more complicated than that as you go from point A to point B blowing apart people’s heads and limbs. Of course, here comes the real question of it all; if they’re still human, how exactly are they surviving by just standing around on the streets? The game, of course, never tries to explore the non-existent depths of the plot. You just gotta shoot em’ in the head and it never gets any more complicated than that.

Graphics/Sound :::: 8/10

One thing that has always bothered me about Valve’s “side projects” is that they frequently reuse Half-Life 2 sounds. In this case it would seem that they’ve reused Counter-Strike weapon sounds for the most part, while other generic sounds (like smacking or hitting a metal surface) obviously are excusable to an extent. The only problem is that these sounds are quite distinct, so when you hear them you are reminded of a totally different game. However, most of these sounds are muffled by the sounds of zombie mutant hoards that come bomb-rushing you. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment in the department of sound are the voice actors. While they too might come from another game as well, they fit the characters extremely well, while their dynamics to spotting special infected to “hearing” them add a nice boost when playing single player, making it feel like you’re not actually playing alone at all. Random chatter in moments of rest can prove to be informative to the story or funny in some instances as well.

As for the graphics, Valve is at least sold on the idea that newer is not always better, which is a breath of fresh air in the market where games like Crysis are flaunting amazing graphics. The only problem there is that, for people with PCs, you’re going to be losing customers, or you’re going to have people playing on lower settings, which then influences their experience with low-quality graphics. Valve was able to pull off a beautifully-looking environment that was able to be played on all sorts of computers. Even the designs for the special infected were unique in each of their respects. The Hunter looks like the Unibomber or a child sex predator, or perhaps a combination of both, and that certainly plays out for his role, while the other infected types play to typical stereotypes (fat people explode and puke and smokers are tall and smell bad).

Multiplayer/Gameplay :::: 6/10

Perhaps the most iredeemable quality of Left 4 Dead is the nitty-gritty of it all. While the concept of a typical zombie psuedo-zombie game is that you have your survivors and your zombies, the unique idea of having “special” kinds of zombies is a great idea. The only problem is that it’s already been done. For free, I might add. And better. With more maps. And a better concept of objectives.

But, ah, I know what you’re saying. Zombie Master didn’t let us play as zombies! Well, you’re quite right; it certainly didn’t. It did something completely unique, but I suppose it doesn’t get points in that aspect. Still though, the concept of playing as a zombie? It’s also been done too. For free, I might add. And better. With more maps. And a better concept of objectives. Keep this in mind when you look at that $50 price tag for a Source mod that doesn’t even have a quarter of the content found in either of those free Source mods.

For what it is worth, however, the idea of the game is executed well-enough. You’ll have fun blasting your way through tons of mutated people while pretending they are zombies. Your characters are, after all, nigh-invincible (and there’s health packs and ammo galore, so you’re likely to never run out of ammo unless you purposely waste it). In Versus mode you are able, however, to play on the zombie team as one of the four unique infected (and the occasional Tank when the AI Director permits it). The only problem is that you don’t get to choose which special infected you want to play as, so if you’re a first time player, get ready to die. A lot.

This becomes increasingly frustrating with a 20 second spawn, because your zombie is more fragile than a China tea set in the middle of an earthquake. You will spend the vast majority of your time watching the survivors run around killing things while your 20 seconds count down until you spawn again. This is further backed by one zombie type that dies if you sneeze on it. And it’s not like there’s a tutorial some place for where you can practice or something like that. Nope, just start playing. After a day or two, however, you will get the hang of it, and you’ll then find out that it doesn’t get any more difficult or easier after that. You wait for the opportunity to take your shot and you make it.

When I say it’s easy for the survivors, I truly mean it. There are some maps where “closet camping” goes on, where the players are, essentially, indestructible. Much groaning will go about on the infected side, where you pretty much know that you won’t be doing any damage at all. In other aspects, melee is the bane of all infected. Why bother shooting the Smoker that is pulling your buddy when you can just melee him free (that is, if the first two seconds your buddy is being pulled he doesn’t kill the Smoker himself). That Hunter about to pounce? Melee him and then kill him. That Boomer trying to suicide run? Melee him and incapicate him for 50 years and then melee him again for griefing measure. Then shoot. If you know the tricks to the trade then you’ll rarely be bogged down by the infected. Add to the fact that the auto shotgun is basically God’s fist and you have a recipe for being unstoppable.

Perhaps the biggest culprit to killing the fun is the AI Director itself, however. As we all know AI is dumb and I mean completely dumb. No, we haven’t designed a HAL or a Cortana, so I’m not sure why developers are still making magic gods in the sky that say what’s going to happen or throw “challenges” at players when they’re going to have frequent moments of idiocy. For instance, there is a special zombie type known as the Tank which spawns when ever the AI Director feels like it. This zombie type is brutal and can take down players in three to four hits. Couple that it has a lot of health and you basically have your miniboss archetype for the game. Sometimes the thing will never spawn; sometimes it will spawn at the beginning of the game. Sometimes it spawns at points where the characters have already passed a point of no return, rendering the call of a Tank completely useless (not to mention wasting the rare time it might pop up). It too is also a random choice of who to pick. You have that veteran player on your side? Too bad, the game chose the total noob to be the Tank.

This proves to be the crux of the game altogether. You could have skillful players playing as the infected, but if the AI Director wants to have a Forrest Gump moment, there’s nothing you can do about it, and with good teamwork on the survivor side, you’re looking at probably not winning much at all. Some levels you can even just run through completely from Point A to Point B, and there are especially a few levels where the last 50% of it is just one big run. Add to the fact that the Big Bad doesn’t always spawn or that there isn’t a Witch in the way (a Witch is basically an alarm waiting to down a character if disturbed), and some games can be a breeze. On other levels, however, the infected side can cause a shutout right from the beginning, thus making 20 second respawns or random special infected choosing in the name of “balance” defunct.

Play Time/Replayability :::: 6/10

Here is the bane with multiplayer games. You know that the game is focused around multiplayer. I mean, that’s obvious. Oh, sure, there’s a single player with four campaigns, but how many times can you do that before you’re bored out of your eye sockets? There’s always co-op as well, but that’s essentially single player but with real people, so what was once easy is now 50 times easier. Versus is perhaps the biggest game mode of them all, just on the fact that it’s the one that lets you play as the infected, but with there only being two maps to play, where one map is hardly ever played because it’s so unbalanced, and you’ll probably get bored after a week or two. I mean, each round consists of one team playing the good guys and then switching that around and then proceeding to the next level, and there’s 5 levels. Each level takes about 20 minutes to play, so you’re looking at an hour and twenty minutes per session. Eventually it will take its toll. When you come back to it later you’ll find nothing has changed; still the same levels and still the same game.

Final Recommendation

You want a traditional zombie game? Get Zombie Master or Zombie Panic. They’re free, have tons of more content than Left 4 Dead, and they’re polished. Did I mention polished? There’s a kicker. An A-Game company like Valve doesn’t even compare to the modding community (sound familiar?). Valve even knows it because they’re going to have to release DLC for added content (and for Xbox 360 players, they’re probably going to have to pay for it too). This becomes outrageous simply because of the price tag that is attached to Left 4 Dead. $50 for an incomplete Source mod is about as big of a rip off as you can get, sans the whole, “lol $50 not muuch lol.” When compared to a full market value price to other games in that price range, Left 4 Dead certainly falls short in its weight in worth.


Originally written: December 2008


About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

4 Responses to Left 4 Profit

  1. Michael B. says:

    Dude, you chose the wrong time to get Left 4 Dead. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t get a game until the price starts going down. I feel your pain about versus, but if u had waited, there would have been 4 maps for versus as well. and the tank choice being random makes it fair. everyone has a chance to be the bad boy for a change. Also, with the story, this game is based on what would happen in a REAL apocalypse. u expect 4 random people on the street amidst total hell who just happened into each other to have a perfect plan? the AI director was designed to be random and spontanious. Also, the magic of the director is that it can measure a players stress rate and decide to either take advantage of it, or help them out. Well, at any rate, Valve will hear these complaints, and they fixed every one of ur complaints in Left 4 Dead 2.

    • Agamemnon says:

      Actually I bought the game when it was marked down $20, paying ultimately $30 for the product, which was also the only reason why I bothered to buy the game. Sorry, but no, a game with only four multiplayer maps and zero story does not sell me on either price tag. L4D is a Source Mod at best. And no, they have not fixed every one of my complaints in L4D2. The “stress detection” is nothing more than a script that measures the fluidity of a player’s controls and measures when the mouse is spinning too hard or if they are pressing too many buttons, thus spawning a panic event. You can circumvent this mechanic by simply running and gunning through the entire level and finishing in time while the survivors take advantage of the infected’s respawning timers.

      In fact I would have probably been impressed with L4D if Valve kept their promise and then didn’t decide to take all the DLC for L4D and then decided to make a “sequel” out of it and slapped another $50 price tag on it. At that point any defense for Valve is out the window. Once promised numerous updates for maps, weapons, SI, and even characters, L4D is rendered abandonware a year after it’s out. L4D2 will suffer the same fate later this year when Valve releases L4D2 DLC as L4D3. I’m sure people will be just as receptive to eat up nothingness then as they were for L4D2 too.

      • Michael B. says:

        They are still coming out with dlc for Left 4 Dead. Another one is supposed to come out after The Passing dlc for Left 4 Dead 2. It describes how the original survivors got to Georgia. By the way, Left 4 Dead 2 is probably 20 times as fun as left 4 dead. it expands on everything that left 4 dead accomplished. including the story. plus, its a whole different story. new survivors, new story, melee weapons, new guns, advancements in effects, and new infected comprise a much bigger change in script than a dlc could handle.

        • Agamemnon says:

          Time and time again I have refuted the terrible list argument. There is still no story in L4D or L4D2 other than “run to the end of the map and survive.” A story is something you digest through a slew of pages covered in words and dialogue; it’s called depth, and L4D is in the shallow end. Often it will be argued, “Oh, but the comments on the walls! They tell the story!” No, they add to the atmosphere and environment, just as a writer would do when describing a scene in which some items were laying on the ground and a pool of blood lay beside them. The writer is describing the environment. When you throw four new faceless people in the mix of things where there’s still no story and just a different setting, it doesn’t make it a sequel. If this were the case then I suppose Bejeweled 2 is also a “sequel” in your eyes.

          Everything else is not new. This is the Source engine. What placeholder melee weapon did you think they used for alpha testing? I’ll give you a hint; it’s the notable weapon of their company’s hit title. Throwing a model, new animations, and some pulled sounds that they’ve reused from previous games is not “new” nor does it scream effort. How exactly can you possibly call laser sights or fire ammo “new features” when they have been hard coded in the Source engine even before L4D1 came out? What, you think modders for L4D1 had to work “strenuously” to add those effects that were already built into the engine? It was a simple as ticking off a box in a variables dialogue. Any amateur in LUA could’ve done the same, and believe you me, there’s tons of them at Facepunch.

          About the only thing “new” in L4D2 are the three new SI. That’s it. And imagine that, on top of weapons, maps, and characters, new SI were also promised for L4D1 DLC. And funny that that’s exactly all the stuff you get with L4D2. No, sorry, it’s pretty clear that L4D2 was originally meant to be L4D1 DLC. To even say now that L4D1 is receiving support is beyond insanity (especially when the supposed new DLC L4D1 players are getting was originally slated to be released in early March–we’re almost in May now with no release date in sight). If anything Valve is probably busy developing L4D3 as we speak. I’m just curious though. Will you still be there to line up this October to buy it?

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