Greatest Game of 2008: Left 4 Dead
Left4Dead saved gaming. For me.
Sure, I had the original Xbox but that system had long been boxed up in my parent’s basement. I was coming off of a 3 year stint sans pants (and videogames), when I decided to buy the Xbox 360. It was the advent of the console based social gaming experience. With Xbox Live you could fire up the Xbox 360 and within seconds be live chatting with friends… and the network was hot. Xbox Live was the place to be in 2008. Some may say New York, Austin or San Francisco… I’d say Xbox Live. I had heard all the chatter about everyone hopping on the Xbox after work to slog through a game or two and I was sold. Truth be told, I purchased the Xbox 360 so I could have nightly conference calls with my friends. I know. Loser. But nothing works like the chat on Xbox. It shouldn’t be that hard, but somehow no one else got it right.
Shortly thereafter the zombies of Left4Dead were unleashed on the world… and we blew them to bits. The amount of game play we got out of this game is pretty staggering. Probably 3-4 nights a week for 8 months. That was the beauty of the game. With a strong battery of players, we could get a solid game almost every night of the week. Because you could easily jump in and out of a game, it allowed people in different time zones to participate. Co-op or versus, there was always a great game to be had with up to 8 players. It was essentially a substitute for hanging out at a bar. Left4Dead was our only choice since some of our stupid friends had to stupidly move out of state like stupid idiots. Was it Left4Drink or Drink4Dead? I can’t remember.
The game centers around the survival of 4 heroes faced with a zombie apocalypse. Kill and you live. Primarily a co-op game, 4 players could run through an Act in about an hour, with a total of 4 distinct Acts in the game. The story was supposed to be like you were playing through individual “Movies” which was a novel idea, but at the end of the day it is basically just 4 different maps where you’re pretty much on rails. Ride the rails and blow away wave after wave of zombies. It’s a simple idea, but it was really well executed. The 4 Acts each had a coordinated theme and were nuanced enough to give them a different feel. The co-op play-throughs were exceptional, as you were incentivized to work together, which is pretty rare. A coordinated attack would easily repel the zombie waves while a lack of organization would result in failure.
The next step was the Versus mode. 4 on 4. Humans versus Special Infected. What a great idea. The most memorable thing about Left4Dead are the playable bad guys which are remarkably unique. Boomer, Hunter, Smoker and Tank. Each special zombie was worth about 20 common infected zombies and allowed for a coordinated attack amongst the dead. It doesn’t get too much better than Puking on the Humans with Boomer (Marc Summers). Versus mode really extended the life of the game by allowing players to learn the new characters and how they best fit together. Even better, the game forced each team to alternate between humans and infected, which really helped balance things out. Everyone really wanted to be the Infected, so it just had to be done.
At the end of the day, Left 4 Dead is merely a great First Person Shooter with a zombie theme. It’s fast, creative and memorable. Did I mention fast? It brought some really original ideas, a very polished feel and, of course, the unforgettable sound effects. The unfortunate reality is that henceforth, no one will be able to appreciate the game for what it was: the best multi-player game of its era. Now the multi-player channels are dead. You can’t get a game without bringing all of the players. Good luck with that.