Rear Review: Left 4 Dead

by Meghan Watt

left4dead-back

The back of videogame boxes tell us a lot about how mesmerizing its story is, or that the explosive action is the greatest thing since Jesus lit that tree on fire with his kick-ass guitar solo. How do these back-of-the-box promises hold up? The Rear Review lets you know how the high promises hold up.

*****

Before Valve launched its $10 million ad campaign for Left 4 Dead, I had the chance to mow down zombies to my heart’s delight alongside the OXM staff. Thus, I knew nothing about the game going into it except for a) there were zombies and b) there seemed to be a number “4” in the title.

Turns out you don’t really need to know more than that: four survivors struggling to fight through hordes of zombies. No story, no minigames, no kicks or tricks involved. And yet, with such a simple concept, this game offers the most fun you’re bound to have in a long time. The top of the rear cover definitely illustrates this to a “T”, but the text in the middle is just mind-boggling. God knows they had enough cash in the marketing department. So what happened?

Take a look at the back of the box without reading the tiny white text in the middle. Everything about this screams “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE, WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”, right? There’s blood splattered everywhere, there are three screenshots of terrifying living death, and those survivors at the top are clearly doomed. And you know what? That’s exactly how the game feels. Well done, Valve.

Winner of many awards, including Best of E3 from Game Informer and more…

Have you ever glanced at a game, thinking that it’s not really your type, but then changed your mind at the sight of “winner of many awards”? The Game Critics Awards presented Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat with two Best of E3 awards. Are you now inclined to run to GameStop for a pair of bongos?

Single player, co-op and multiplayer modes are powered by the “AI Director” which changes the zombies, effects, and more to create a different experience every time you play.

First of all, playing solo is hardly an option. The name of the game is Left 4 Dead, not Left 1 Dead along with 3 computer-controlled survivors so that you don’t feel so lonely. Secondly, these modes are powered by the hardware, maybe even electricity, so what is this “AI Director” of which it speaks? From what I can gather, it’s a higher being that changes the zombies… into what, elephants? Changes the effects… into cool lightsaber swishy sounds?

The Left 4 Dead official site reads the following: “The Director tailors the frequency and ferocity of the zombie attacks to your performance, adjusting pacing, special effects and audio on the fly.” Now that sounds pretty sweet. Furthermore, it’s 100% true. Unlike Fable II boasting a different experience each time you play, this little blurb tells it like it is. It’s even on the modest side. As you traverse through the subway station or the eerie fog-laden cornfield, you may be able to say “Oh, this is where that big hulk of a zombie killed us last time,” but Lord knows he won’t make the same move twice. And beware of doing too well. The AI Director will compensate.

Features 100s of zombies, 20 new maps, 10 new weapons and four sprawling “Movie Campaigns.” Plus Versus Mode – play as the Boss Infected!

As Mitch put it, this is “a big WTF.” Ten new weapons as opposed to what? Ten weapons that didn’t exist in the Steam version of this game? Ten weapons that never existed at all? The weapons aren’t much of a brag point for this game anyhow. You’ve got your shotgun, pistols, assault rifle, sniper rifle, molotov cocktails, etc. Nothing we haven’t seen before. So what’s “new” mean?

As for the “Boss Infected,” Valve is referring to the five types of zombies you can play when you fight against the survivors. Foiling your friends’ attempts to get to the end of the level with disposable hordes of zombies is absolutely beyond words. But that doesn’t mean Valve shouldn’t have at least tried. What are we supposed to do with a vague term like “Boss Infected”?

*****

Verdict: The back of Left 4 Dead neither oversells or undersells this game. I’m not sure it even sells it. Knowing nothing about the game, what could you possibly gather from the back of the box other than it involves four survivors and lots of zombies? Are there different types of zombies? Is there an end goal or are you just trying to survive for a specified amount of time?

Thankfully, handing over a copy of Left 4 Dead and then saying, “You shoot zombies,” is probably good enough for most gamers. Valve didn’t really need a bunch of mumbo-jumbo on the back cover. But as long as they made the effort to write a few words under the pretty graphic, they might as well have made those words make sense.

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