For some reason zombies are hot in gaming, film, literature, and geek culture as a whole right now. From books like Max Brooks’ World War Z to games like Resident Evil, zombies are getting tons of attention and people seem to have fun plotting out their own zombie survival scenarios across message baords (geeky, I know). With Valve’s upcoming Left 4 Dead, you and up to 3 more players get the chance to make a survival run through a zombie infested city, and working together is key to survival. Over the weekend I had the chance to delve into Valve’s invite-only demo with some friends and the experience was quite impressive.
The Left 4 Dead demo only has one level, but you can still play online with up to 4 people at one time. You begin the demo on an apartment rooftop where you can choose between a sub-machine gun or a shotgun as your primary weapon. You’ll also each grab one med pack and everybody has a pistol as their secondary weapon. The four of you need to make your way across the city, through hordes of zombies, to the hospital rooftop where you can be evacuated. Along the way there are safe rooms where you can switch weapons, restock your ammo supply, heal up, and just catch a quick breather. At each of these checkpoints the game gives you updates on who has killed the most zombies, who has taken the least damage, which player pulled off the most headshots, and more. Once you’re ready to face the droves of zombies again, you open up the safe room and head back out.
The demo is fairly short, but it’s worth playing through multiple times for one big reason: The Director. The Director is the name that Valve has lovingly given the AI in Left 4 Dead that manages how the zombies populate the city. Every single time you play the game, the zombies will be scattered differently and they will attack with varying frequency. The first time I ran through the demo things were pretty evenly paced, but the second time zombies would be absent for long stretches and then just crammed into strategic choke points. Another time I played the zombies were scarce in corridors, but they were rushing in large numbers in open areas from all directions. The result of all of this is that Valve has created a game that keeps you on edge, keeps you working closely with your teammates, and keeps you interested in playing the same levels over and over again.
The demo also stresses just how important teamwork is in Left 4 Dead. With most co-op experiences, if each player is just good at running a level with guns blazing, you’ll do just fine. In Left 4 Dead, you really have to watch each out for each other, and you can’t stray from your team. At times the zombies will take you down, and getting up is impossible without a teammate shooting them off of you. Also, certain zombies can incapacitate you for a moment until a teammate saves you. If you wander off alone, you are going to die. The Director is not kind to wandering souls.
The demo only manages to show the gamer a little of what is in store for them. Screenshots show that we can expect a variety of locales and a lot of different weapons (the demo features 4 main weapons). I have no doubt that Left 4 Dead has the potential to become one of the best co-op experiences ever to be seen in gaming. Here’s hoping that in the rush of releases this year that the game gets its fair shake on the console front, because I already know that the PC community is behind the game in a big way.