Left4Dead: What did it do differently?

With Halloween fast approaching, Dylan Benjamin O’Keeffe shares his thoughts on one of the most highly ranked games in the zombie genre.

Left4Dead. One of the most iconic games of all time. When it first arrived on the scene, its eerie box-art set the tone for what was to come. Developed by Valve South and published by Valve Corp, when it was released in 2008, fans of the zombie genre were in for a treat. As Halloween and the ten-year anniversary of the game in November approaches, I thought I would take a look at what made the game so popular.

Running on the Source engine, the game pitted four player-controlled ‘survivors’ against hordes of individuals known as ‘The Infected.’ Not so much zombies in the traditional definition of undead reanimated corpses (think George A Romero), the Infected are vicious, lightning quick and filled with the unquenchable urge to rip the survivors to shreds (very similar to the movie 28 Days Later). This led to frantic games where players had to work as a team to survive, or the AI (known as ‘the director’) would decimate them. This style of gameplay was fresh and fast-paced and it required the player to think and plan strategies. Another factor in this game’s success is the AI changing upon each game, which means a playthrough on the same map twice would not be similar.

The main aspect which brought these things together was the ‘Special Infected’, which mutated to develop specific characteristics which required the player to approach each situation with them with caution. For example, if a player wandered too far from the group, they could be pounced on and mauled by one type of Special Infected or hung from a building by another. The two most iconic Special Infected in the game the ‘Tank’ and the ‘Witch’, are now two of gaming’s most iconic enemies. The sequel added new Special Infected such as the ‘Jockey’ which also took their place in the upper echelons of gaming monsters. Safe to say it did extremely well to compete with the likes of Resident Evil 4, Dead Rising and other zombie games which saturated the market.

The modding scene for Left4Dead allowed the player the freedom to mod their game and this was extremely popular amongst players and was a huge factor to its success. YouTube is filled with videos of the game with outrageous mods such as turning the Infected into Teletubbies and Velociraptors which led to hilarious moments that were unique to the franchise. The Source engine allowed modders to customise the game with ease. The two games have chalked up millions of views between them on YouTube and Twitch. This, the gameplay and the replay value of the game ensured that it would go on to be the bar that other zombie games would strive to reach for.

As Halloween approaches, I would implore anyone with a gaming console or PC who doesn’t already own these games to pick them up and play them with your pals. The fast-paced, heart-stopping action will be sure to get you in the mood for this spooky time of year!