I first played Left 4 Dead around a month and a half ago, when the demo came out. I can honestly say that I played the demo more than I played most full games, and that's saying a lot coming from a big RPG fan. The game was just pure fun, before co-op even entered into the equation. Once you play co-op in Left 4 Dead, you never look at co-op the same ever again. Every other game seems to be lacking...something. In this game, teamwork isn't just fun (and often funny), it's essential. Walk away from your friends in Left 4 Dead, and you will soon find yourself dead or maimed by the special infected. The game is also excellent because it is exquisitely designed. Environments are varied and filled with hazards, multiple paths, and billions of places for zombies to hide. The weapons are balanced pretty well, and the different difficulty levels really give you different experiences.
My friends and I had a boatload of fun playing the game, but the really amazing thing is that some of my friends just had fun watching us play the game. My roommate just loves watching us play and he knows all the different bosses and their sound effects. The game just rocks, and there's something in it for everyone. Co-op fans can rejoice, as the standard for co-op has just been set.
As the resident casual gamer here at Co-Optimus, I am quite torn when choosing my favorite this year. If you had asked me a month ago, I'd have quickly picked Rock Band 2. In addition to delivering one of the finest co-op experiences of any game ever, RB2 tuned the already solid game play elements of the original to perfection. The user-friendliness of being able to import all your RB1 songs, plus DLC, sends it over the top. However, it's NOT a month ago. I've played Left 4 Dead, and I love it. It's like actually being in a zombie movie, from the music to the scares to the overwhelming eerieness of it all. Replayability and Vs. mode ensure that I'll be enjoying this title for a long while. If Rock Band 2 wasn't a sequel, maybe I would choose it, but the appeal of Left 4 Dead makes it my choice for game of the year, co-op or otherwise.
If Marc is the resident casual gamer, I am probably the resident single-player gamer who dabbles in co-op experiences. I have not had the luxury as of yet to play Left 4 Dead outside of the demo on the PC, but I find it hard to deny it is probably the best co-op experience this year given the amount of things people like Nick and Mike have said about it. For the games I have played and the Co-Op Nights I have experienced here at Co-Optimus, I have to say that Saints Row 2 and Rock Band 2 really stood out for me. I loved Saints Row 2, especially the Insurance Fraud mini-game that I talked about in the Co-Optimus review of the game. Rock Band 2 was also a lot of fun even though I could only hear Nick and Coop through my headset because I honestly never knew there was a slot for it in the darn guitars...heh. I'd have to give the nod to Rock Band 2 simply because of the immense amount of fun I had playing it during the Co-Op night.
For me, the game of the year really came down to two contenders. In one corner you have Gears of War 2, a solid sequel to one of the best cooperative games of all time. The game continues the standards it set in the first one and adds a 5 player co-op Horde mode. In the other corner you have Left 4 Dead. And while the game doesn't have an epic story, or many levels, it does have a bunch of intangibles. Whether it's the AI director, the level design, the graphics and sound cues, or just about anything the game simply exudes quality. Left 4 Dead creates a co-op experience out of necessity and gameplay, not by forced mechanics. It was a close race for me, but I have to tip my hat to Left 4 Dead simply because I had the most fun with it.