Initial Left 4 Dead Impressions

I got to play an offline, single player version of Left 4 Dead the other day, and I have to say I am impressed. It is without a doubt the most wanted game. However, I have decided it isn’t above my want for Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection. This is no fault of the game, but I think the long term repeated viewability of Neon Genesis outweighs the long term replayability of the game. The main point of the game is the online feature, which gives the game a long shelf-life, but even so, years from now I would still be watching Neon Genesis, but probably have moved on to other games. Then again I have been playing Counter Strike off and on for years (most off, which is kind of the point).
Still, I have to think that the Game of the Year will be between Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3 (the XBox 360 version of which is also on my Christmas Wishlist, only IF we got a 360). Fallout 3 is well, a Fallout game and really well done one at that. Left 4 Dead is yet another great game from Valve, who did Portal, which did win Game of the Year, and is still one of the best games ever created. I can’t say enough about how great Portal is… wow… Excuse me while I go play it a bit again… Okay, I am back. As I was saying, Left 4 Dead is an amazing game, but I think in the end Fallout 3 will win as it has better metacritic and game ranking results. However, the only negative I see in the reviews of Left 4 Dead seems to be focused on the fact that the Source engine is showing its age some now, and not on game play, though there is plenty of complaints about how shot of content it is. The thing is, I would expect there to become plenty of official and unofficial maps available to download and play on (okay, so the unofficial maps will be only available to PC users), giving it a longer term value… then again, Fallout 3 will have user made content on the PC as well, though I am not sure if the game system version will have additional content made for it. Anyhow, I am sure there will be lots of debate in the game editing offices over which of the two will get Game of the Year.
Of course I haven’t gotten to my initial impressions yet, which is the point of this post. As I noted, I only played the Single player version, and the whole point of the game, like Counter Strike, is online play with other players, so even as initial impressions go, this will be short.
In the game you play one of 4 survivors of a Zombie Apocalypse. Your goal is to survive and get to a rescue point where you wait for rescue. The game comes with 4 campaigns, each with several chapters, the goal of each is to reach a safe room, the final one you try to survive until rescue arrives. Each campaign should take a bit less than 1 hour. So yes, the single player game would be over quickly (I certainly didn’t have enough time to do that much with it, though I did complete a full campaign). The game’s AI is smart enough that its placement of enemies, bosses and I believe weapons depends on how well you are doing, so each time you play you get a different experience, even if the start and end points are different. Still, the 4 campaigns means you will be playing the same maps a lot, at least until official and user created maps appear. My PC needs several upgrades (which would make it better than a 360, in graphics anyhow, for less money), so I can’t really comment on how far behind it is on those terms. All the games are knocked down to its level. So from my perspective, the graphics aren’t any worse than a modern day game and as a matter of fact may play smoother, but I understand, and if I had a slightly better video card and a bit more RAM, I would probably comment how the graphics aren’t as awesome as many of games are today, though Valve has done an admirable job of keeping the engine doing lots of cool things.
Playing in single player mode shows a weakness of the AI in that regard. While the Director (as the AI that places enemies, controls their behavior and such) is great at what it does, your co-player AI will just follow you. It does an admirably good enough job at that, but I haven’t found a way to make one of them take the lead, meaning you have to go out put yourself in harms way more. Under a regular co-op match, each player would likely take a turn taking lead.
I haven’t played it enough to go into too much more detail, but I can tell that it is a Game of the Year Contender. I can tell that I really want this game myself (I would probably prefer the PC version of the 360 version, even if I had a 360 in this case, though for Falllout 3 I would go with the 360 version).