So says Patrick Klepek of MTV Multiplayer, who had a chance to sample the game's single-player mode at the recent Penny Arcade Expo. He's already spent some time with the survival horror zombie-fest, he said, but this was his first chance to square off against the undead with only computer-controlled allies at his side.
Describing the A.I. as "functional," Klepek said, "[Computer-controlled characters] faithfully follow you, firing at the surrounding zombie hordes and applying health patches when you're wounded. My A.I. allies didn't get lost or stuck in hallways. The A.I. accomplished what it needed to." Despite that technical competence, however, Klepek added that the one thing the A.I. couldn't do is "compensate for the absence of human-controlled allies."
"Left 4 Dead was designed as a co-op experience among four players," he said. "You lose much of what makes the game tense and exciting without someone to scream at. When one of your A.I. teammates goes down for the count because they took a wrong turn, you don't feel compelled to throw yourself into danger and save them. It's easier to keep moving forward and save yourself."
Of course, this shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone. Games are designed as either single-player or multiplayer experiences, and as such are inherently stronger as one or the other. Did anyone really come away from Quake 3: Arena satisfied with the single-player mode? Conversely, the multiplayer patch for System Shock 2 turned that game from a tense, moody (and so damned awesome) thriller into some half-assed run-and-gun that nobody really cared about. Left 4 Dead is a multiplayer game, so why would you play it any other way?