When asked what, in my view, is the best designed game, my answer is always Left4Dead.
What originally sparked my interest was the idea of a slightly “Serious Sam” style game with zombies. I expected Left4Dead to be about killing hordes of zombies and at first, it truely was. Out of all zombie/infected games on the market, of which there are many, Left4Dead was easily the best. The hordes were exciting to take out and clearing rooms was simple but fun, popping headshots as you went. In addition to the common infected there are the special infected. Three types (hunter, smoker and boomer) spawn constantly, providing some spice into the recipe, and there are also the witches and tanks. Witches and tanks provide dramatic events and can alter the mood and tension of the game very quickly. The set pieces at the end of each campaign work very well. Players must work together to fend off the hordes, followed by a tank and then repeat before legging it to a boat or plane etc to escape and complete the campaign.
The level design of the original campaigns is excellent. The game at its heart is very linear but the pace and objective has you and your team more than willing to push on in such a direction. At no time have I ever felt restricted, rather relishing the focus given. It also allows for players to be guided through specifically designed areas such as tight areas or into set pieces as well as providing a logical route for the special infected to ambush you. Supplies of weapons and health are very well distributed, along with horde triggers and witches/tanks. The setting is suitably eerie, which was well supported by the audio. Again, the audio in Left4Dead is top notch. The music dynamically changes according to events around you so when the shit hits the fan, the background audio suits it. This really helped with the immersion of the game. The range of weapons, whilst not extensive, provide more than sufficient choice and tactical value. Rather than having to learn the particulars of a great variety of weapons, players can quickly develop their favourites and most weapon stockpiles will carry the weapon you want.
The setting of a film was fairly novel, although aside from the graining effect it doesn’t add a great deal. The lack of a real plot may put some people off, however the game really isn’t about plots or characters. It is about battling through the carnage together and making it to the safe room. Despite the lack of plot or strong character back stories, the voice clips provide background to the characters and develop personalities that have gone on to lend themselves well to fanfiction and mods.
Once you’ve explored the campaigns, the game does risk becoming stale. Of course there are custom campaigns and the “Director” system ensures that no campaign is exactly the same, however it still isn’t enough to really keep you there for the long run. This is where Versus mode comes in. It is a 4v4 game where one team play the survivors (characters) and the other team play as the special infected. As players build experience they become far more effective than the bots (AI). Through voice comms you can speak to your team mates, coordinate attacks and become an effective. This of course leads to clan gameplay (something I do) which can add significant life onto a game as well as community support.
However the versus mode is far from perfect. Rage quitters can ruin games all too easy, creating very uneven teams. The lack of special infected (not present in L4D2) also leads to a lack of variety in tactics plus the random selection of type does make it even harder to effectively plan. The three do have very distinguishing uses, although this isn’t always a good thing. It is quite frustrating to have a great ambush location for a smoker around the corner, only to “get stuck” with a hunter.
The biggest annoyance in Left4Dead is, without a doubt, the bots (AI). They are incredibly dumb and frustrate all the time, healing you whilst you’re fending off zombies or dithering about as you sprint to get in the safe room with specials hot on your tale. However personally I think that this is preferable to ensure that a human player is better to have on your team. We don’t want the bots winning games, they are just there to make up the numbers.