Horror movies through history owe a debt of gratitude to the existence of zombies, body-possessed parasites and their undead ilk. “Night of the Living Dead,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” are classics that prove there’s only little worse than being attacked by something that wipes out a majority of the population in your town (or spaceship or planet)…except something that wipes out a majority of the population in your town (or spaceship or planet) and turns them into mindless, relentless killers.
Of course, what’s good as a premise for films is also fine as a plotline for their more recent video-game cousins. Heck, there have even been some that started as video games and crossed over to become movies—maybe even franchises, such as Resident Evil. And that’s at the heart of Valve’s Left 4 Dead, a title that’s mostly a shooter at its core, but one that rides on the rails of the survival/horror train.
The concept here is pretty simple: There are four “survivors,” a few different weapons and a seemingly endless stream of zombies to use as target practice. There are four campaigns, each of which is broken down into five chapters. In turn, each chapter involves getting your survivor party from a starting point to a safe house, with the conclusion of each final chapter requiring you to signal for a rescue crew to come and get your party. Easy enough, right?
Well, at first it seems simple, because they’re mindless zombies after all, all of whom lope along as if in a stupor and most can be taken down by a single loosely aimed shot. However, it gets more interesting when something enrages them, such as you looking at one of them without firing or if you happen to trigger a car alarm. Each chapter has one spot where you need to activate some mechanism that’ll help your party get toward the safe house—but that activation also sparks an thundering zombie stampede almost as bad as a mall opening on Black Friday. (As if that weren’t bad enough, calling for a rescue brings that kind of attention for ten minutes…from zombies, not bargain shoppers, just so you’re clear.)
During each chapter run, you’ll also encounter a few “special infected” creatures, which are a bit more challenging to dispatch and more threatening to you. The first three (Boomer, Hunter and Smoker) are characteristic, because you can hear them as you get closer to them, but each has a special attack as well. For instance, the Boomer will hurl bile on you, which hinders your vision and attracts a horde attack. The Smoker is funny, because shooting him results in a greenish cloud that causes your whole party to get a temporary cough—though it becomes less entertaining if he delivers his trademark tongue lashing before you take him out.
The other two “specials” in Left 4 Dead are the Witch and the Tank. The former is a whimpering waif of emo curled up on the floor who really just wants to be left alone, though the whiz of bullets, the flicker of flashlight (it seems that OSHA rules maintain that zombie workplaces should be poorly lit) or even a wandering survivor getting too close will send her into an offensive frenzy on whoever irritated her first. The tank is the opposite in that it’s a hulking beast with its phasers already set to Frenzy, and it takes quite a lot of lead, flame or explosion to turn it off.