E is for Everyone: Left 4 Dead

Why should you play “Left 4 Dead” (2008) and its sequel, “Left 4 Dead 2” (2009)? Because they were engineered to be the perfect replayable shared narrative experience for up to four players. And before you scoff and say, “Fury, isn’t ‘Left 4 Dead’ a zombie game? Aren’t those mindless and really banal at this point?” I need to pre-emptively state how misinformed you are, reader friend. Let’s talk about it.

“Left 4 Dead” is essentially a game for four players (or fewer, since you can play with friendly bots, or more, in the mode where additional friends can play as the Special Infected) in which you must fight your way through the zombie-ridden husk of society. In addition to its reputation for possessing an incredibly advanced blood/gore system and remarkable AI, it has a rich story in a fascinating, ruthless world supplemented by a comic and thousands of excellently written voice lines. Simply put, you play carriers of the disease who don’t display any symptoms but infect normal people just by being around them. You’re a pariah everywhere.

Like most Valve games, “Left 4 Dead” started out as a mod of something else. In this case, it was a “Counter Strike” (2000) mod in which waves upon waves of knife-wielding terrorists would attempt to overwhelm a team of four. Valve thought, “This would work really well if these were zombies.” At the time, Valve was also working on an AI for “Half-Life 2” (2004) that would distribute resources like items and weapons based on the player’s performance. Valve decided to use this system in its new game, but it added another reactive element: enemies. In “Left 4 Dead,” the AI called the AI Director spawns enemies based on the rise and fall of tension to make a compelling experience that isn’t just hack and slash all the time.

Independently of the AI Director, which is server-side so as to create an environment shared by all four players, there’s the Music Director, a client-side AI, which plays brilliant music themed by each level that is unique to what you are experiencing individually as a player. For example, if you’re pinned by a Hunter, one of the Special Infected, you hear the Hunter’s attack theme music, but others don’t.

Additionally, it would be unfair not to mention that even for folks who don’t play FPSs or don’t like zombie media, this game is also just so, so fun.

There’s a reason why “Left 4 Dead” is still relevant almost 10 years later. I highly recommend you snag yourself a copy if you don’t have one already and give it a chance. Besides, even if you’re not good with blood, modding is encouraged by Valve and built right into the game! I have a vomiting phobia, so I have a mod installed that replaces all of the zombies who puke on you with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! What more could you want from a game?

“Left 4 Dead 2” comes with all “Left 4 Dead” campaigns built in. It is available for purchase for $19.99 and frequently on sale for $4.99 on Steam. Available platforms are Windows OS X, Linux and Xbox 360.