Knock 'em dead

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Like vampires in cinema, zombies have a rich history in video gaming. Who hasn't played at least one game in which plucky survivors struggle to escape their own impending demise at the hands of the undead?

Left 4 Dead takes the zombie-survivor setting and turns it all the way up to 11. In fact, it's a good bet Valve will unseat reigning survival-horror king Resident Evil with this latest title.

Players take on one of four roles as potential survivors of a city-wide zombie infestation - a gun-toting Vietnam vet, an uptight office worker, a waitress and a shotgun-wielding, tattooed biker. While similar games can feel claustrophobic and frightening, Left 4 Dead switches naturally from enclosed apartments and subway tunnels to open streets filled with zombies.

Left 4 Dead plays like a first-person shooter, but there's one key difference setting the game apart from earlier gorefests - it's cooperative. The four characters must work together to survive in this city surrendered to the ravenous undead. Whether they're controlled by real people or the game's artificial intelligence, rest assured, this feat is a monumental challenge.

And there's one more interesting twist. The game actually measures player performance and makes changes accordingly, ensuring no two game experiences will ever be exactly the same. Gameplay is tailored to the player's skills and altered to increase dramatic effect. If the team is having too easy a time, the game will adjust, restricting weapons or healing items along with changing the locations and quantities of foes.

L4D supports drop-in and drop-out gameplay, so if a teammate has to leave, the computer will take over running their character and alter the scenario accordingly.

Two versions are available, and while the Xbox 360 one will likely be the easiest version for most to play, the game shines on the PC thanks to the integration of Valve's Steam Community platform.

Inviting friends into your game is simple, though take care if you're not a fan of profanity from other players. Left 4 Dead could make a pastor cuss like a sailor in the frenzy and challenge of surviving to make it to the next safe room. Frankly, it's deserving of its Mature rating thanks to the language and the violent, graphic nature of the monsters.

Zombie and horror fans won't want to pass this one up, but be warned - it's best played with friends and in a well-lit room.

"Left 4 Dead"

System: Windows PC, Xbox 360

Players: 1 (up to 4 cooperatively)

Price: $60

Rated: M for Mature

Who Should Buy it? Wannabe Survivors

GameOn! Grade: A+