Wow, I really fell behind with this blogging commitment! I had meant to have all of my favourite games of last gen blogs done last month, but unfortunately some things got in the way. As many of you know, I’ve been battling cancer, and January was kind of a rough month. I was alternating between being depressed and just not being able to focus on writing of any sort. Plus, I went through most of January not really being in a gaming mood at all, which really didn’t help my motivation for writing about games, as you might imagine. So far, February is looking to be a much better month! I’m finally done with chemotherapy treatment (whoo!), and I’ve recently fell back in love with gaming, so I’m going to try and recommit to these blogs. Plus, my buddy Matt Thompson has already started his own countdown of the best games of last gen, so I’ve got to get cracking on my own now!
10. Left 4 Dead
Developed by Valve
In the five-plus years that have passed since this game’s release, zombies have dominated pop culture to the point of stagnation. From the disappointing Walking Dead TV show to being shoehorned into every conceivable game genre, I’ve reached my personal saturation point with zombies. However, for a glorious time in 2008, Valve’s Left 4 Dead represented a distillation of everything I loved about videogames. With Left 4 Dead, Valve not only evoked the excitement and terror of what it would be like to be in a zombie movie, but elevated co-operative gaming as a whole, requiring players to work together efficiently as a team in order to succeed. Lone-wolfing, a play-style now synonymous with the Call of Duty series, became a good way to get you killed (and a good way to piss off your teammates).
The setup and gameplay were simplistic, with only the bare minimum of a narrative underlying the game’s multiple campaigns, but due to a narrative innovation called the “Director”, the game’s story was delivered through situational encounters rather than more traditional cutscenes. The Director would randomly generate different enemy encounters for players depending on how they were behaving. If a team was doing really well, they could expect the Director to whip an extra zombie horde at them, or a whole bunch of special infected (and basically make their lives a living hell). If you and your team were on your last legs trying to hoof it to the next safehouse, you could expect the director to be a bit more lenient and forgiving. The beauty of this overall design was that it was all being done in the background; like any good film, all the technical wizardry disappears and allows the viewer (or in this case, player) to simply enjoy the experience. The Director mechanic also meant that enemy encounters were pretty much all randomized, which made each playthrough unique, helping to alleviate repetition.
The actual gameplay of Left 4 Dead was fast and twitchy, relying less on overall player skill than an itchy trigger finger, an ability to handle large groups of enemies, and most importantly, a willingness to cooperate with teammates. Making the game accessible from a playability standpoint was a smart move on Valve’s part, as it gave more casual gamers a chance to try out a shooter. Of course, placing the emphasis on cooperation rather than competition also contributed to a more accessible game, and I personally know a few lady gamers who honed their first person shooter skills with this game. Fortunately, Valve also saw fit to implement an ingenious competitive mode which emphasized the cooperative skills that the game’s campaign mode taught you. One online gaming regret I have is that I didn’t get more involved in Left 4 Dead’s competitive arena, as the few times I did play were exceptionally fun. Getting to play as the zombies and troll the human players was particularly satisfying.
Unfortunately, Left 4 Dead does not hold the same sway over my heart as it once did. While I contribute part of this fatigue to just being really sick of zombies, I also played this game to death, and sometimes that’s all it takes to make you sick of something. I still firmly believe that it deserves a place in the top 10 games of the 7th console generation; it truly gave me some of my fondest gaming memories, and helped to usher in a resurgence of cooperative gaming, which has always been my favourite way to experience games. Most importantly however, it played a pretty big role in bonding with my long-time partner Casey, who I had been seeing for two years when the game released. We fell hard for Left 4 Dead, and I think it paved the way for another, more “hardcore” gaming obsession we would bond over even more. Of course, you’ll have to wait to find out what game series that is, but anyone who knows me won’t have a hard time figuring it out.
So, thank you Valve for creating one hell of a game, and in my opinion, the definitive zombie shooter. You definitely deserve the #10 spot. Now, where the hell is Half-Life 3?