Left 4 Dead, Valve’s upcoming zombie shooter, is a pretty familiar concept by now. The inevitable Zombie Apocalypse has finally happened, leaving you with a handful of weapons and a whole lot of slow-moving tanks with a taste for brains. Where Left 4 Dead differs it that you aren’t alone; others have managed to survive the biological outbreak and will battle alongside you.
Rather than giving online players a set of generic soldiers to play as online, there are four characters with distinct personalities. Louis is a shop owner; Zoey is your typical American teen; Bill is a grizzled Vietnam vet; and Frank is a biker. The crew has undergone a few changes since last year’s E3, mostly so they’ll stand out a little better when seen against the game’s dark, zombie-filled corridors. Francis is younger, Louis has changed his clothes and Zoey looks a little older. While most games would saddle the group with special abilities, making one the “healer” while another takes the role of “tank”, all of the characters in Left 4 Dead can use every weapon and skill in the game. Taking a more average approach should also help players connect with their characters a little better; they’re not highly-trained soldiers or government agents, they’re normal people who are trying to survive a situation that we all know is going to happen one day.
You and your online crew will have a wide assortment of weapons to use, including pistols, machine guns and shotguns. You’ll also be able to use secondary items, like pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. The types of zombies you come across will be just as diverse as your arsenal. The healthy zombie population is joined by a couple of lucky souls who were able to mutate beyond the standard issue model. Tank zombies are hulking monstrosities that can pick up cars and hurl them at your party, while Boomers explode when killed. Hunters are skilled climbers who can leap around areas, while Smokers play the Gene Simmons role and can grab players with their long tongues. The last type, Witches, are the more dangerous of the different mutations and can kill you in one hit.
And die you will. As long as all of your party members aren’t killed, an interesting respawn mechanic exists where the survivors find another survivor, and will allow you to jump back into the game. Another cool mechanic is the always watching A.I., which acts as sort of a “Dungeon Master” and will tailor the experience around your party’s status. If the group is on its last leg, it might pull back the number and types of zombies it throws at you, while a party at full strength can expect the A.I. to kick things up a notch. This isn’t to say that the experience will be perfectly balanced, since the scales will always be tipped against you. Instead, expect to always face tense situations that require teamwork to escape.
Let’s face it, the zombie apocalypse is going to happen, making Left 4 Dead one of the year's more important 360 and PC releases. Look for it on store shelves November 7.