Valve have done something they’re really rather good at doing: realizing the potential of decent modders and their output and then doing something with it. They’re great at spotting relatively simple ideas that boast massive potential.
Turtle Rock Studios was founded by Michael Booth and went on to create Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, and a bunch of maps for Counter Strike: Source, they even ported Counter Strike to the Xbox. The team has been working with Valve for a long time now and their most recent announcement goes by the name Left 4 Dead.
Turtle Rock and Valve really want us gamers to work together, they’re attempting to bridge that gap between us and create something that requires a much more friendly, more, well, co-operative approach. Left 4 Dead isn’t about being the best player, it isn’t based on kill counts, camping or competition. It’s about surviving zombie apocalypse with your buddies, be them temporary internet friends or your real ones the need to protect them is very (well, virtually) real.
The concept is pretty simple but it’s a mixture of the survival horror, teamwork and clever “AI Director” elements that make this title so unique. While it will be possible to have games in which teams of players are against each other it’s mainly based around the four-player experience of escaping AI zombies.
Said zombies are inhabiting the planet, or at least America, and our players find themselves in a bunch of different situations being swarmed from every direction imaginable. It seems there’s hardly anyone left bar our four friends who are made up of Francis, a gruff and bearded biker, Bill, a hardened ‘nam veteran, Zoey, a wealthy college student and a store manager by the name of Bill.
We have to put the Survivors, as they’re known, through a series of four campaigns each with five fairly large maps. Though the maps are linear the replay value shouldn’t be affected much as the game’s aforementioned AI Director will keep things varied.
Turtle Rock have made this mechanic a big priority, and the work clearly shines out as no two plays of a level will ever be the same. The AI Director takes into account factors such as how well you’re doing and acts accordingly, controlling the both the pace, location and intensity of the battles.
Our stint on the game threw us into a level made up of a collection of different areas split up by safehouses which you’ll need to reach in order to replenish your stocks of ammo. Said areas involve a mix of residential and commercial buildings in a series of locations such as streets, sewers, gas stations, warehouses and a hospital full of infected. The journey eventually leads to a radio tower in which you’ll need to escape via a helicopter pick-up. Aside from the inner-city settings we’re told there’ll also be levels in the woods.
Our initial loadout includes a pistol along with either a shotgun or SMG depending on preference, followed by a choice between Molotov or pipebomb. As you progress you’re given the opportunity to dual-wield your pistols and upgrade to an automatic shotgun. There’s also a sniper rifle up for grabs but beyond this you’re left to your will and intellect to defend yourself. It’s possible to melee in times of dire need and this can help give a little much-needed space between yourself and the zombies.
The simple approach to weaponry helps brings the focus to tactics and co-operation rather than explosions and giant time-bending super rocket launchers. Your inventory also allows the possession of a single first aid kit along with pain-suppressant pills that allow a temporary boost to health in desperate times. The game has a habit of leaving you without much in the way of health bonuses meaning the good fight is tough to say the very least.
It’s possible for players to be killed and revived a total of three times, after which they’ll be sent to the next safehouse until their teammates get there. Reviving is a process fraught with danger in which the player without health is lay on the floor only able to shoot, not move while a teammate must stand by and revive them. Never can all four Survivors die at once though as you’ll be faced with that massive downer known commonly as FAIL.
Amongst the “Common Infected” are a bunch of extra tough “boss” mutants thrown in to make things just that little bit harder. The Hunter is a sneaky one that will pounce like an infected evil high-jumper. These beasts can pin you down and the only way they’ll budge is with the help of a teammate’s trusty bullets.
The Boomer is a rather weighty monstrosity covered in growths that will run towards players and vomit bile in their general direction. It’s essential not to shoot at them when they’re too close though as they’ll explode and spurt their acid all over. When covered in bile, players will attract the undead in great numbers from all directions, a pretty terrifying experience.
The tank is a gigantic Special Infected that can take a massive amount of damage without flinching. The Smoker throws smokescreens, confusing players before attacking from above, enabling him to hoist players up from the ground with his giant tongue. The Witch is an easily annoyed NPC who, when startled by the close proximity, torch or bullets of a Survivor, will become angered and run at the startler with a powerful attack.
It’s possible to play as any of the Special Infected other than the Witch, with a four vs four setup: Survivors vs Special Infected. Though it’s possible to play through the game’s modes in single player the focus is very much on the online play. Much of the achievements in the game are based on co-operative play rather than tasks you’re able to achieve in single-player.