Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now Playing: Left 4 Dead

The setup for this game is simple - drop you and up to three of your friends inside a zombie film based on one of four scenarios. Simple. To the point. Refreshing.

It is also absolutely exhilarating and terrifying. The levels and maps may not change, but the developer Valve had a fiendish trump card. The zombie locations are different every time and also changes based on how you play. For example, you may get swarmed right at the start of one level by a horde of really fast undead. The next time you play the exact same level, you may only see a few stragglers for quite a while.

Then when you least expect it, the horde descends upon you and tears your team of zombie movie cliches apart.

It. Is. Glorious.

You play as one of four people: Louis the accountant, Francis the biker, Bill the ex Green Beret, or Zoe the college girl. For all of us who grew up with zombie movies, this is like playing a game taken frame for frame straight out of our imaginations. To up the ante, Valve also threw in a few "special" zombies that have talents for screwing you over right when you're the most vulnerable. The Smoker has a long tongue that constricts you and pulls you out of safety and into harm's way. The Boomer is a lumbering tower of blubber that vomits all over you and explodes when shot. The vomit, by the way, not only blinds you but acts as a pheromone attracting every zombie in the game to your location. The Tank is a tower of muscle that will resoundingly screw you and your team mates over.

As for The Witch, avoid her at all costs. Do not question me.

Thus far, I've blown through all four campaigns and hopefully this weekend will get some online time with fellow GT'ers once we return from West Texas. But I'll give you a few examples of the type of insanity coming your way:

The first level I guess is called No Mercy. Each section is setup like a horror film with four levels of progressing terror capped off by a siege finale that redefines insanity. On each level, you're essentially running from your initial Safe Room to another Safe Room on the other side of the map. During the No Mercy section, you're fighting through a city and then a hospital. The setup is for you and your team to get to the top of Mercy General then call in a news helicopter to airlift you to safety. We get to the roof, and call in on the radio. The guy radios back that it'll take 15 minutes to get to us. Then we hear the shrill roar of the zombie horde.

I start praying the 'copter guy didn't mean "in real time."

We get onto the roof of the radio shack and find a mounted mini-gun aimed at the center of the roof. I mount it and pull the trigger lightly enough to spin up the gun without actually firing. Then the three others start firing like crazy but not in front of me. I turn and see an endless wave of really pissed off zombies climbing over pipes and up walls on EITHER FREAKING SIDE of us.

I jump off the gun and start blasting with my automatic shotgun (an absolute must in this game). The upside to using it is it's a heck of a crowd pleaser and can down multiple zombies with one shot, but the downside is it takes a bit long to reload 10 shots. The four of us are blasting away for a minute before I even realize ANOTHER horde is charging, this time from the front. I leap onto the minigun, spin it up, and unleash the fury. Body parts, blood and gore spray in every direction before me.

I think at this point I was laughing so maniacally that My Fair Lady looked at me like I'd lost my mind before leaving with Max. I think she mumbled something about a bad influence. Couldn't hear her over the sound of the awesome on my TV. Then I notice the screen is shaking, which can mean only one thing:


Trouble is, I don't see him. He's kinda hard to miss considering he's 9 feet tall and about four feet thick of solid muscle. Not to mention he roars. Which he does to my immediate left at just the right moment. I drop off the minigun and spin around just in time to watch the Tank's fist connect with my face, which sends me flying right off the rooftop.


Oh, crap, right back at the start of the final level. That's when I found out the hard way that there are no check points. Die somewhere in a level and you will start back at square one, which is a gargantuan pain in the ass when you're on the longer levels. Sometimes the game cheap shots you too by placing a Witch right in front of the Safe Room door right at a levels end (had this crap happen twice).

So I get back to the rooftop with my team, only I count two others plus me. Where's Zoe, the college girl? I spin around and don't see her. Then I catch her shadow on the other side of the roof and realize she's been tagged by a Smoker. Trouble is I can't get to her. So I get to watch as she's slowly strangled by a special zombie I can't shoot and we three are left helpless. We turn and run to the control room and radio in.

Then we hunker down to endure the horde.

Basically repeat what I said above only this time when the tank shows up, he comes in behind us. We manage to take him out, along with about 500 horde, before the helicopter swoops in. All three of us are bleeding out and on the verge of death. The helicopter lands, and we make a break for it. Right away, Louis is vomited on by a Boomer and the horde tears into him. We're all so low on health that trying to save him is pointless, so Francis and I make a break for it. We're blasting away through the horde in front of us trying to make it to the helicopter.

Naturally, when you're so focused on what's in front of you, little things like what's behind you tend to be ignored. Which explains my literally gasping in surprise when all of a sudden something grabbed from behind and started pulling me away from the helipad and right through the horde. I realized instantly a Smoker got me, and I was pretty much done for because the only way you get free from those things is if a teammate frees you. With two down, and the third somewhat busy I resigned myself to going out with a bang.

Then I get pulled over a ledge into a pile of broken concrete. Then the Smoker explodes and Francis jumps down to help despite his bleeding out. I'm incapacitated and pinned to the ground. I whip out my two pistols and start firing like crazy. Doesn't matter what I hit, just that I hit something. If those.. things... were gonna take me, then they were gonna die trying. Again. Francis and I pretty much went out at exactly the same time and as the screen faded to black I saw a Tank land on me, which pretty effectively ended my campaign that night.


The following night, I tried out another campaign which culminated in a siege at a boat house. Oh, it's as awesome as you might think considering the house is small, the odds long, and the ammunition dwindling. Three of us were on the roof holding our own when a Tank hit. It came in downstairs and trapped Francis on the stairs at the exact moment when several waves of zombies attacked. I blasted swaths through the zombies with my M-16 and alternated clips - one on the horde, one on the Tank that was pretty much sitting on Francis. We managed to kill the Tank, but Francis was incapacitated and none of us could get to him before the horde did. He went down fighting, that much was clear.

The three of us were slowly being flushed towards the water which was not good. Our range of motion was decreasing faster than we could reload so we were pretty much good and screwed. Then the boat came. Trouble was, it must have blown its horn somewhere on the cape because every zombie in, I think, the world came with it.

I threw a pipe bomb away from us (this gem attracts zombies away from you before exploding) and ran for the boat. I got to the pier then turned to see the horde take down Zoe. Louis was trapped at the start of the pier and I was blasting away from the boat. Then Louis went down, and the boat pulled away. Mission complete.

As the credits rolled, there was a special shout out to the deceased, and I about fell out of my chair laughing at the spectacle of it all. I have about a dozen more stories just like this (including a doozy of a war story set at a farm house) and that's the beauty of this game. Every time you play through it, you experience a new version of hell. Strategies change on the fly on both sides. I haven't even played online with flesh and blood players - all the above was just with the AI.

Oh, and online you can also play as the zombies including as specials. If you have any love for the zombie genre you owe it to yourself to play this. Just do it at night with the lights out and the sound cranked. You'll be glad you did.

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