Left 4 Dead

The Baltimore Sun

Microsoft Xbox 360, also for PC; $59.99 ($49.99 for PC). Rated Mature. ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)


Zombies are everywhere in Left 4 Dead, set in the aftermath of an unexplained undead apocalypse.

Players control one of four survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they try to make it from each level's starting point to a safe house on the other side. It's a typical ragtag group - a college student, a nerd, an old-timer and a rough-edged outlaw. All of them have the same abilities, though: Run, jump and shoot.

The game doesn't really have a story beyond the setup. It can be played solo, but like the Battlefield games and Team Fortress 2, it's much improved by the addition of a human mind or three. Oh, and please note: Left 4 Dead is violent, gory and gross - just like a zombie movie.

Depending on the stage, the survivors may trek through zombie-infested streets, zombie-infested woods or zombie-infested sewers - wherever they go, it will be infested with zombies.

These aren't the slow, dumb zombies from the film Night of the Living Dead. These are the fast, angry, virus-infected zombies of 28 Days Later, and they've brought along some interesting friends.

Players can team up with computer-controlled bots for the game's four campaign settings (each with five areas), play split-screen with friends or hop online. The game is fun on its own, but working with fellow live brains is better.

And better than that is the versus mode, which sets a team of survivors against an opposing foursome of player-controlled Boomers, Hunters, Smokers and Tanks. (Witches remain computer-controlled.)

This mode offers all the frantic action of the standard multiplayer mode, along with the knowledge that some of those zombies are smart. And playing as the zombies is a blast - they're individually weak but just keep on coming; they can see in the dark and spot survivors through walls; and there's a wicked thrill in snagging a straggler with a Smoker's tongue or pouncing on an unsuspecting human as a Hunter.

After each round, the situation flips, so each team gets to try a level from both sides before moving on to the next.

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