I'm sure you all know the type of Zombie movies where a small team of survivors fight against overwhelming odds somehow trying to make it out alive when everyone else is wobbling around with a serious skin problem and an uncontrollable urge for human flesh. Valve has grabbed this simple idea and demonstrates how to make a proper co-operative 21ba first person shooter. Yeah, I know, there has been some weak attempts at co-op play before, mostly as half-hearted bonus modes in single player games, but this is Valve and Left 4 Dead is dead serious about co-op play.
The basic goal is to survive - flee to the next safe house, ultimately trying to get rescued. There isn't that much of a canned storyline to go with the gameplay. Each scenario opens up with a cheesy movie poster and a short introduction that gives you an idea where you should be heading to - then it's up to you to make it happen. Just one small problem. All those zombies between you and your goal consider your team as a walking buffet table.
Instead of cheesy cutscenes with lousy scripted "story" to push you around, Left 4 Dead tells the storyline as you play it. The four main characters have hundreds of different lines they use at appropriate moments and levels tell the story in their own way through visual clues and occasional "writing on the wall". In many ways Left 4 Dead feels similar to Portal - yes, there is a story, but it unfolds as you play, with players acting in it instead of watching it. No lame script, no cutscenes, no predictable, pre-scripted levels with little replay value - just pure action. Lesser developers, take notice!
While Left 4 Dead does offer bots to pad out your team to support playing it alone, they are there just so you can learn the basics. The heart of L4D is co-operative play, either with friends or in random teams. L4D's bots are competent - perhaps even a bit too competent - but you can't really feel for them and somehow the whole game feels "wrong" when you are not playing with humans. So bring friends or hop into a random team.
Surprisingly, random online teams actually work in L4D. Even if you get stuck with a griefer or chronic AFKer, you can just feed him to the zombie horde and tough it out with just three. Nobody survives alone for more than a few minutes and a bot is ready to stand in should someone leave in the middle of a level.
The absolute need for teamwork is the key bit that makes Left 4 Dead so special. It also somehow makes random pickup games work - everyone wants to survive, and everyone must play together or end up dead in a gruesome way. Online quick play actually feels like a zombie movie as it simulates the basic premise, a bunch of random people bought together by circumstances must learn to work together to make it out alive. Got a teen with an apparent case of ADHD who can't play well with others? He won't last for five minutes in Left 4 Dead.
Games: Left 4 Dead
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