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Appletell reviews Left 4 Dead: Game of the Year Edition for OS X

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Category: First-person shooter
Developer: Valve
System Requirements: Intel-based Mac, Mac OS X v10.6.4 (Snow Leopard Graphics Update required), 2GHz processor, ATI Radeon 2400 or higher / NVIDIA 8600M or higher
Review Computer: 2.2GHz 13″ Macbook Pro, 2GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM and iMac 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM
Network Feature: Yes
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Price: $19.99
Availability: Out now

It was silly of Valve to release Left for Dead after its sequel, because if you’ve played any modern video game, you know that the follow up is “the original game, with more of what you liked the first time.” The two games share the same premise, of course; a mismatched group of four survivors trying to make their way through a zombie apocalypse, running and gunning through different terrains, all while trying to find the mythical “safe zone” free of infection.

left 4 dead subway shootout

Left 4 Dead is a team-focused “cooperative shooter.” The four humans must stick together, watching each other’s back and sharing resources, if they are to make it to the end of the level. Thankfully, unlike most “surivival horror” games, ammo is not limited, and players are able to enjoy almost wall-to-wall mayhem as they fight their way through hospitals, city streets, farms, abandoned train yards, and other windy, spooky maps in search of a safe room where they can heal between levels. Wander off, and you’re dead. Get captured by one of the Special Infected, and you’re pinned until another player rescues you. Die, and you respawn in a resurrection closet that someone else has to let you out of.

left 4 dad zombie soldier

All the characters have the same abilities, and they all have the same goal. There’s no prize for killing the most zombies (other than bragging rights and, you know, living), which helps the game focus on comeraderie. It’s possible to play Left 4 Dead solo, or with less than 4 humans (the computer takes over the AI): but there’s always the 4 survivors. There’s always the team.

But after playing Left 4 Dead 2, playing the original feels like a downgrade, or like the “lite” version, simply because when Valve made the sequel, they had to add “more.” So, what’s missing? Well, melee weapons for one. No more slashing your way through a horde using a cricket bat, or even better, standing stock still with a chainsaw and watching the zombies just run, run, run into it. The characters can only shove enemies away with their firearms, and there’s a more limited selection of those, too. There are some of Special Infected you won’t be seeing (The Jockey, the Charger, and the Spitter).

The big thing that’s missing, though, is the character interaction. Possibly my favorite part of L4D2 was the throwaway dialogue you would hear in the quiet moments of the game: Ellis’ crazy stories about his friend Keith, Nick worrying about his expensive suit, Coach’s plan to get rescued by starting a rock concert. Left 4 Dead has almost none of that. With precious few expetions, the characters speak only when it’s relevant to game play (“Weapons here!” “Reloading!” “Hunter’s got Zoey!”) and as a result, they never come alive in the same way. The game feels like a set of missions, rather than a story. Another problem with playing solo (or less than 4 people) is that the co-op AI is stupid. ‘Bot players will run off, get stuck, set off car alarms (summoning zombies), and forget to run into the safe room to end a level.

Is it unfair to compare a game to its sequel? I think it is, considering they came out for Mac in the same month, and cost the same amount of money. They also include some of the same DLC: “No Mercy,” the first campaign from the game, was released for free with L4D2 (and features the extra weapons and enemies), as was “The Sacrifice,” a coda for the original survivors. I know that if I played these games in order, I’d probably have warmer feelings for the original survivors, but the simple fact is, I didn’t. Left 4 Dead is a good game; fun to play. But If your choice is between this and the sequel, get the latter.

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