There’s not really much that hasn’t already been said about Left 4 Dead, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about it. I went to the PC Gamer Showdown largely because I knew that Left 4 Dead would be there and, I kid you not, it was the very first thing you see as you walk in the door.
In fact, the two best games on show were next to each other: Left 4 Dead and Far Cry 2. But I’m not going to talk about the latter, mainly because I didn’t really get a good play of it. Left 4 Dead, however, was played three times. I queued three times to play the same game, which should tell you something.
The first thing you realise when you play L4D is how powerful the weapons feel. This isn’t some typical FPS where enemies take a fair few shots from the weapons before they drop, no sir. A shotgun blast to the face will send a zombie pinwheeling through the air, blood splattering the screen as twenty more run through the mist with the intention of eating your face. The automatic weapons feel much the same, although they don’t give quite as obvious a kick as their pump-action brother they still manage to feel powerful. Even the standard pistol is more than powerful enough to drop a few zombies, it’s only real drawback being slow firing time and small area of effect.
What Valve seem to have realised is that when you are fighting a mob of people you want them to be built out of paper. You want to be able to crush a mob with ease, ripping them to shreds with your mighty weapons while they struggle to get close enough to claw you to pieces. This does not mean that the game is easy of course, not in the least, only that the basic soldiers of the zombie army really are bottom of the barrel.
The standard infected get their danger from their sheer numbers, as I’m sure you already know. I mentioned before about how you can shoot one down and others will run through the mist, and that’s what makes them so dangerous. I spent ages during my play-throughs backpedaling as twenty zombies charged at me. I’d cut them down one at a time, but in between shotgun cocks or magazine changes the horde would reach me, then they would eat me.
Actually playing the game showed me something that I wasn’t aware of before, no matter how many videos I had watched. When the mob gets you it becomes impossible to move. They are clawing at your flesh, ripping at you and generally molesting you to death, and they are not letting go if they can help it. As a result, trying to move is slow and painful unless you punch them off you, giving you just enough space to breathe.
I’m racking my brain for other goodies you might not already know, and can only come up with a few things about the weapons and the bosses, so let’s see how this goes shall we?
Apart from the power they present, the weapons have a noticeable lack in the recoil department, which is actually a good thing. Recoil still exists but it is greatly reduced, which helps avoid the potentially irritating situation where you manage to miss every shot you fire because you aren’t crouching. L4D is about running away and shooting, so the recoil needs to be balanced in such a way so as not to force you to stop, and they’ve done an excellent job. In a way it’s somewhat strange not being able to rely on recoil to make up for bad aiming, and you have to be more precise with your shots, but even the most jittery of gamers won’t have a problem hitting something with the amount of creatures out to get them.
As for the boss zombies, they are brilliant. I didn’t get to see much of the smoker in my games, largely because every time he popped up someone splatted him, resulting in a brief cloud of smoke and not much else. I did get grabbed by one on a single occasion though, and it’s quite scary when you suddenly get lifted out of the crowd and halfway up a building.
The tank. Scary.
The hunter is a brilliant source of comedy and terror. His penchant for jumping about like a psychotic puppy makes him look hilarious until he manages to pounce on you and start ripping your guts out with almost childlike glee, and he can strike from almost anywhere. In one game he managed to leap off a roof and onto one of the players with pinpoint accuracy, all the while his friends were busy fending off a mob. Excellent.
The boomer, despite his size, is very good at sneaking up on you. The natural reaction is to shoot him as soon as you see he’s sneaked up on you, which is stupid because he will explode and hurt you badly. The willpower to fight off the immediate response and instead knock him back with a punch is something you will need to learn very quickly.
Finally, the witch. I’d heard that these things were scary and powerful and fast, and they are. If you are the one to set off a witch then you will die, it’s that simple. Your team will probably be able to take her out, but you will be ripped apart before they can save you. It was a witch that gave me the biggest fright during one play through. One of my buddies set her off and got floored. It was a dark room, lit by flashlights at the occasional crackle of a damaged light. In the distance, where my buddy had been moments before, were two glowing eyes staring at me. The lights flickered and I saw her, just for an instant. She was ripping into a figure on the ground, but her eyes were looking at me. I was her next target, she had already decided that, all she was doing now was deciding which part of me to eat first. Luckily, a clip of hunting rifle bullets was sufficient to put her down just as she got close enough to nom on my fleshy goodness, albeit with some help from the other survivors.
This pretty much leaves only one more thing to say. Left 4 Dead is a must buy, simple as that. It’s fun, scary, hectic and weirdly social. It forces people to co-operate in such a subversive manner that you don’t even realise you are doing it. The valve happiness gnomes sneak into your head and compel you to help your fellow survivors on instinct, and it works so very well. People have been asking if it’s the next counter-strike, and it’s not. Left 4 Dead is better than counter-strike or any other online FPS I could care to mention, at least it is if you have reliable friends. There’s always the possibility that your typical online cretin will bugger up the game, but then that’s always a risk when you play with people you don’t know. Play with friends and I think this game will keep you occupied for a very long time. It’s certainly threatening to become my go-to game for games with buddies.