It Came From the Deep (Archives)
What I expected when starting up the game was dark environments, frantic heroes, infinite blood and guts, in a serious, deliberate pace. What I got, beginning with the trailer at startup was some great rock courtesy of Depeche Mode, with high adrenaline and action zombie plowing scenes, and a ton of sardonic quips and one-liners. This was not at all what I expected.
The game itself is retro in every sense of the word. Both the level designs and gameplay conventions are reminiscent of mid '90s action games like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem, and the like. Simplistic linear box-like levels with simple props in your way is the order of the day. There is no complex duck and cover, guns and ammo are littered as power-ups around the map. Enemies come at you not one at a time through the walls and shadows as one might expect from titles like Doom 3, but instead pour toward you in waves more akin to Doom 1, Serious Sam, or Pain Killer.
It is this interaction that, for me, saved playing the game from being a slow torture of reviewing a genre I'm not fond of to actually being a fun experience. Left 4 Dead gained quite a cult following, and I've begun to understand why. Not only is the gameplay a throw back to an earlier, simpler gaming era, but also to classic art genre. Instead of the modern psychological thriller I expected, the style is actually classic B-movie horror in the vein of Night of the Living Dead. While the premise of the “zombies” existence is a disease that mutates people into psychotic, feral creatures the obvious inspiration is those classic low budget films. With environments spanning from a shopping mall, complete with display race car you must re-fuel to escape in the finale, to a “dark carnival”, a swamp, and a church. Each begins with a loading screen set up as a film poster with catchy bad slogans such as “Prices aren't the only thing getting slashed”, “This time it all goes south”, and, my personal favorite, the slogan for the dark carnival chapter: “You must be this high....TO DIE.” This tongue in cheek nod to the poor quality classics definitely sets the mood for the in game mood and humor.
Despite the environments though, the zombies themselves can still be creepy. Typically encountered dripping blood and running at twice the speed, typical zombies can be unnerving. Specialty zombies, while surprising, are less scary in most ways. Boomers who spew bile at you which acts as a homing beacon to other zombies are kind of comical, while witches are simply intimidating. Mostly, though, despite some creepy zombie sound effects, the pace of the game goes too quickly to even notice most of the scare. It's a dark action game, but certainly invovles no stealth or slinking in the shadows.
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