Left 4 Dead demo review

Last night I downloaded the Left 4 Dead demo off of XBox Live. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. I tried playing it solo, since realistically that’s how I’d be playing it if I bought the game. Scheduling 4 friends to get together to play a game online is pretty much impossible at this stage of my life. Too many wife/kid/girlfriend issues in my social circles.

As a single player game, Left 4 Dead looks great, really sets a great tone and… gets boring really fast. The first ten minutes is amazing as hordes of zombies come charging at you and your 3 NPC friends and you mow them down. The zombies are like aggressive cockroaches, as they come flooding out of a sewer opening or the doorway of a darkened warehouse.

The AI is great. They’ll get you out of trouble and even offer you extra gear (without you asking for it). They’ll call out items laying around and special zombies incoming. They’re skilled too. On my first scorecard I, ahem, ranked last in everything but damage taken, where I came in first. At the same time, they don’t make the game feel easy. You really do need four capable fighters to survive.

On the other hand, you spend a lot of time in dark buildings. Really dark. Bottom of a cave dark. Your flashlight will light up an area about the size of a basketball. There’s no reflective light in the rooms, no ambient light from the flashlights of the other 3 members of your team. Suddenly your XBox Experience is like looking through a pinhole. Yes, it adds to the tension but it quickly becomes really tedious not being able to see. You can get lost in a small bathroom; that’s how small the beam is.

Outside is more fun but I soon started getting the Hellgate: London effect. Block after block of ruined buildings got monotonous really fast. Swarm after swarm of zombies, ditto. Granted the demo is only one level, but it just didn’t hold my interest for very long. And while the idea of getting attacked from all sides constantly is interesting, in practice it felt a bit like a chore, having to constantly turn around and look behind, look up, look down, look to each side (the shoulder buttons do insta-turn you, to be fair). I can see how this could be really compelling for some gamers, but for me it just felt like a lot of work.

I’m guessing multiplayer with friends would be a *lot* more fun, so if that’s how you plan to play it, definitely check out the demo. But I can’t see spending $60 to play this game single player (and to be fair I don’t think Valve has ever pitched as a single player game).

Aaron at Anyway Games had a much different and more positive reaction to the demo. Check out what he has to say: Left 4 Dead Demo