Lately I've been playing a lot of L4D2, the sequel to Left 4 Dead. I was never able to acquire L4D, so I was of course happy to find part two on sale :-D.
At first glance it is a fairly typical game: the objective is to reach the levels end (safe house or final evac point) alive, while killing anything that gets in your way. Then again that pretty much describes most games on the planet, doesn't it? Even most of the original Rainbow Six was that way really, until the patches came. For joe smuck, L4D2 is certainly enjoyable enough from the perspective that you have like a good 150-600 zombies per map, the average is closer to 300 I would say.
What I have found, is an incredibly well designed game!
Left 4 Dead works off the premise that a rabies like virus has plunged the world into a zombie apocalypse. Unlike the more graphic depictions in the original Night of the Living Dead, or the flesh-eating norm in most zombie flicks: L4Ds infected "Zombies" just beat the loving crap out of people, no eating. The weak of stomach will be happy that there is nothing remotely resembling the whole truck/gas station thing from NotLD. Gore mongers ofc being made happy by what happens to the zombies ;).
Four "Survivors" are thrown together in the plot, and multiplayer tends to recreate this feeling through a lobby oriented way of hosting games, as well as a "Quick match" function. Gladly, they avoid the brain damage behind SWAT 3s massive lags. Rather than being strictly round based, killed survivors may respawn in a "Closet" somewhere and are stuck in spectator mode until "Rescued" by living survivors. Even going this far, they work to help bring that survival-horror flick mood to things. You just never know who your going to meet during a zombie apocalypse ;).
At it's heart, Left 4 Dead is a game for people with a different "Taste". It's not going to satisfy simulation fans and it isn't just another DooM clone in a CoDs skin either. The game play and design tends to attract a different crowd, enough so that I have been impressed by some of the teamwork you can get going with a random crowd of survivors. We can only hope the same happens if there ever is such a zombie take over \o/.
The control layout at first glance, just breaths of a console games influence (it's also on the XBox 8=). In actual practice though, it works flawlessly: it is simple, consistent, and almost intuitive. I say almost intuitive because it's more consistent than most preceding games on the PC lol. At its core, you simply shoot everything as normal or shove things around using what's equipped. When medical items are in hand, holding fire uses it on yourself, where as holding shove uses (or give) it on(/to) the team mate you're looking at or shoves. More normally that would've been an action/use-button kind of thing. Once you get used to the item model, you've mastered the only "Thinking" required. There's also few controls, which makes my old-side happy, since I grew up where six buttons and a D-pad was a lot of keys. Whoever worked through how to play test this thing, must really have earned their pay cheque IMHO.
Since each level is riddled with a ton of common infected, having four guns firing is a great help. With a little applied thinking and the fact that you are so much stronger than a single infected (zombie), team mates are not needed so much as they come in handy. Namely with that much bullets and limbs flying everywhere, someone is going to protect you or draw off attention from you, sooner or later ;). A basic application of tactics can also be useful, but needs to be adapted to fighting swarms of melee-oriented targets rather than an armed attacker.
Most game modes are little evolved past single player, so there is no real reason not to play in Campaign (co-op) or Versus mode. The difference between co-op and versus mode, is that one team controls the "Special" infected and their spawn points (under tight control). In the strictly co-operative mode, everyone is a survivor, and bots fill in for missing or idle players. Having players as the special infected in versus mode, generally results in a more challenging game than co-op, if not quite as plausible as the one driven solely by the "A.I. Director". You can't spawn to close to the survivors, or to fast, but the positioning can still be a bit much at times. Such as a bathroom that's already been swept clear.
Something that really makes the game, is the special infected: most posse an attack that once successful, is effectively a death sentence unless another player saves your bacon. The rest are mealy a recipe for mopping the floor with everyone. It's been done to such an exquisite balance that loose cannons are still found, but you will almost always find *team* games! No one can survive alone indefinitely, and statistics tend to add up when a campaign takes nearly an hour (or more depending on pace). The shortest game I've actually had, was about 35 minutes for one campaign, but we blew through it like four lighting bolts, hehe.
I've never seen a game that so well balances individual skills along side the need to work together, let along one that feels like your knee deep in zombies gone wild.
The game can be rather gruelling at times from the horde, but it's rather enjoyable. Where as most games have fairly limited replay value, L4Ds use of a "Director" to drive the gameplay takes things to the next level. At the very least, randomising the location of items and enemies is a pretty damn simple thing to do in terms of game design, if so often ignored. In L4D however, it goes as far as giving the A.I. Director control over enemy spawning, item placement, and can be unforgiving at times. In the end the game play is always slightly different, and tends to flow with how well you're doing. One of the most impressive moments (from my developers perspective) was playing through The Parish campaign, and noticing on the previous attempt: we found a weapons cache in a store room, second attempt it was totally barricaded off - because we were doing well that time around.
I wish every game could take advantage of such technology. It would make things so much nicer, and sure as hell beats Raven Shield. The closet I've seen to L4D, is SWAT 3s best maps, but L4D takes it to many more levels of gameplay.
My only gripe with the game has been it's fairly short: about 6 campaigns (Dead Centre, The Passing, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, Hard Rain, and The Parish), ranging perhaps 3-5 levels each. Realistically you could clear the entire game (online) in 3-4 hours time with a solid team, and a rapid pace of attack, sans failures of course. That and the game crashes if I set the shader setting to a higher quality setting than my graphics card apparently supports >_>