Left 4 Dead is a cooperative fps by Valve, in which you and 3 others battle your way through hordes of infected people (zombies but fast) to reach a means to escape the apocolypse.
This game is unique in that it’s main focus is cooperative play. There’s a good serving of situations that you physically cannot get out of without a friend to give you a hand. While many games has coop modes, mostly these are just the singleplayer campaign with two people instead of one, not really interacting with each other in a purposeful way. The games that have player characters directly interacting with each other are the cream of the crop in regards to coop, and left 4 dead uses this to fullest potential.
The main characters, the survivors, are 4 very different people, each with a refined personality, backstory and a few odities.
There’s Francis, a disgruntled biker who hates quite a few things, as he is more than willing to tell you, Bill, a Vietnam vet who is oddly agile and responsive for someone his age, Zoey, a teenager traveling with 3 older men(she also likes horror movies but this is the more notable trait), and Louis, a black electronics manager who still hasn’t taken off his tie. I mean seriously.
These guys are hilarious, and have a tendency to yell new lines every now and then, interact with each other in convesations, and give a nice charming face to the future of humanity .(Francis’s, of course).
You travel through 4 different scenarios trying to escape the nightmare, shooting a large amount of zombies on the way and virtually DRINKING pain killers.
The infected (zombies) aren’t the dead, shambling “Braiiiins” kind, they’re humans driven to insanity by a mutated rabies virus, to which the survivors are immune for some reason. That’s about the beginning and the end of the plot you get in this game. Not that it’s a bad thing though, it suits quite well because I expect in a zombie appocolypse the empahise isn’t on the why, rather the shooting, dying etc.
The ‘common’ infected will run at you, climb fences, and do whatever it takes to beat the shit out of you. One isn’t a significant problem but it’s common to get them in groups of 30-50ish. They cause minimal damage, but they also cause you to slow down dramatically, causing big problems if your swarmed. They’ll go after you, they’re attracted by loud noises, such as car alarms, scissor lifts, and one memorable metal detector in an airport. There’s really no point in trying to kill ALL of them, you should just run and occasionally find a good spot to make a stand against a horde.
There are several ‘special’ infected, which have different abilities. They’re less common, but are far more dangerous.
The hunter is a hoodie that can jump off walls and up buildings, all for the purpose of landing on you. When he lands on you he starts ripping your chest apart, presumably looking for lungs or something, and renders you completely helpless until another survivor either shoots or melees him off. He can also pounce long distances to get additional damage to surviors, which is capped at 25.
The smoker is possibly a 20 pack a day man who has a long tounge, possibly made out of tumors, that can pull survivors long distances, pulling them up to you for some scratching or hanging them off a ledge. Again, you have to wait for a survivor to help you by shooting the smoker, meleeing you or shooting the tounge. He also explodes in a spectular poof of smoker which makes it hard for the survivors to see whilst inside it.
The boomer is rather discusting quite honestly. He attacks people by vomiting on them, which in turn summons common infected in swarms after the person who was boomered. They’re effectively blind, and pretty much helpless, needing the team to help you fend off the infected.
The tank (my favorite) is a muscle bound (like, 2.5 meters tall)chap who is rather more direct in attacking you. He simply runs and hits you, throwing you far away, possibly off any skyscrapers you happen to be on, dealing LARGE amounts of damage (by hitting you. Skyscrapers tend to be a 1 way street). However for the sassy tank you can also rip up chunks of concrete from the ground and throw it at the survivors. The best defence against tanks is fire, but most of the time he’ll be the most likely to take your victory.
The Witch is more of an environmental hazard than a zombie, she sits down and cries, and is avoidable usually. However if you disturb her (shooting, yelling, too close, looking at her in a funny way) she tends to get violent, instantly incappacitating the bastard who disturbed her, or simply killing them on the hardest difficulty. After that though she tends to run away and hide.
There’s a high concentration in staying together in this game, a person alone can get swarmed, pounced or smokered, and if you go off alone there’s a high chance you’ll be dead within 2 minutes. And don’t even think about taking on a tank one on one, you’ll get a good dosage of shear, unadulterated muscle. However staying together as a group dramatically increases your chances of survival, if you’re quick and smart.
Weapons are pretty basic in L4D. You get two tiers. Tier 1 weapons are a pump shotgun and uzi. Not particularly powerful but you can survive with them well enough. Tier 2 weapons are the auto-shotgun, M4 and a Hunting rifle, all of which contain a serious punch, downing infected in 1 well placed hit. Melee is also a large part of the game, you can hit hordes back, get special infected off survivors, and… actually just those two things, but those are two big things!
Oh, and you also get a pistol as a sidearm, and they can be dual wielded if you find another, but these aren’t really EVER used unless you’ve run out of ammo, they just aren’t powerful enough.
You can also carry 1 grenade, 1 healthpack, and 1 bottle of pills.
The grenade can be a molotov cocktail or a pipebomb. The molotov instantly kills common infected and causes problems for the boss infected. It can kill entire hoardes coming your way if placed smartly, act as a deterent for pursuing boss infected. It’s actually my favorite stratergy for taking down a tank, molotov then RUN until he dies, firing backwars whilst running.
Pipe bombs are for large groups of infected, nothing else. You throw one, it starts beeping, which attracts infected, often in large quantities, and after a while it explodes, often killing a good 50 or so infected. Useful to have as a backup plan, also looks downright COOL.
Healthpacks are just your standard first aid kit, even cushiony soft, which heals lost health by you banaging yourself up for a bit, also reseting the times you can be incapacitated. A quick explaination of the incapacitaion system, you can go down to zero health and you won’t die, you’ll just fall on the group, not able to get up without a team mate, and can only use pistols to defend yourself. You can do this twice and be revived with half health, but after this you come back with only 30 temporary health, and if you get to zero health you die for good. Until your team mates find you in a closet of course (yeah, don’t ask about that one).
Pain pills give 50 temporary health, which is health that slowly decreases over time, and really is only good enough until you find a healthpack. Biggest advantage though is that it can be taken on the run, while healthpacks require a good 8 seconds of your time, which the tank in pursuit may not sympathise with.
There are two main modes, Coop and Verses. Coop is the standard campaign in which you try to get through the apocalypse itself, while verses is a rather more competitive mode where 2 teams of 4 take turns to play both survivors and the special infected. As you can imagine Coop mode has been pretty much abandoned because of the infinite fun of playing as wacky wacky zombies.
Playing verses is a lot more stratigic than Coop, because after you play surivor you get a score based on how much health you had, how many people survived, whether you had healthpacks or pills and what your average distance was. This results in survivors only healing when strictly nessisary, hording pills and healthpacks.
The infected though are sole concentrated on taking as much health off you as possible. You’re assigned to be either a boomer, a smoker or a hunter (usually a hunter), then you get to choose where to spawn via ‘ghost mode ™’ and then wreak havoc on the survivors. You can also get tank when one has spawned, which is the most fun you’ll have for a long time.
You’re also rewarded for using clever tactics in verses, such as smokering people into a car alarm which is triggered by touch. The combinations you can use the infected in are enourmous, such as having 2 hunters distract people while a boomer sneaks up from behind and have a smoker drag one away, smokering people into areas which can be used by hunters to get 25 damage pounces, the possibilites are endless!
It’s worth noting that the 2 teams doesn’t nessisarily break out of the coop gameplay, rather it feels like 2 coop teams are working side by side, each to their own goals.
The way zombies, item spawns and other things are decided is by a sophisticated piece of AI called the director. It measures how well you are playing, how many zombies you’re fighting and how your stress level are (Last one is a bit difficult to believe really), and spawns zombies in appropriate amounts, even controlling the flow of special infected in campaign. This is a rather clever piece of technology, but since it’s been named as a human would be, and it’s directly responsible for fucking around with you, it’s developed a sort of hated-idol status amoungst players, them occasionally shaking their fists at the sky and yelling “WHY DAMN YOU? WHY!?!?!”.
Really though the game is fun even when you’re getting your arse handed to you. The flow of zombies and occasional unexpected hunter keeps you on your toes.
He also controls the zombies to make a experience that feels rather cinematic, such as creating lulls in the action to create tension, and high points to exhilerate you and make you fight for your life, rather similar to the stratergies employed by movie makers to capitate the audience.
This game has a system I like to call ‘functional music’, in that it tells you what mood the director is making, but more importantly it gives you advanced cues on dangers link hordes, witches ahead, and I’ve never had a situation where I’ve seen a tank without at least 5 seconds warning in ‘tank music’.
The only negative point I have to make about the game is the small amount of maps. There’s 4 campaigns, 2 of which can be played in verses mode, so you end up playing the same maps a LOT. While the zombies, items and such are changed up a bit every game you start to get bored of the architecture itself, the same hospital you’ve travelled through a good 50 times becoming a bit repetitive. While it’s a minor niggle it’d be nice for them to add more maps or give the community resources to make their own campaigns, which I hear they’re doing actually, but it would have been better to have this from the start.
Valve was very clever to make a exlusively coop game and such a brilliant one at that. The AI director ensures that the game is never the same twice, and the verses mode allows us to have the most enriching “not quite zombies” experience yet. Highly worth checking this one out.