Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Left 2 Die

I'll be the first to admit that I follow a lot of gaming news. I try to watch a lot of trailers, gameplay videos, and even some of the Achievement Hunter stuff. I'll read previews, reviews, analyses, and commentaries. I soak it all in. Mostly because I'm not going to have a chance to play even a fraction of it. At least not right away. So tracking the current events is a make-shift second.

Left 4 Dead has been making the gaming sites buzz for a little while now. There has been a lot of expectation around Valve's new take on co-op gaming, and a lot of attention paid to it. I took it all in. I've watched the trailers. I watched the intro video. I've seen probably half an hour or more of gameplay videos. I read about Germany getting censored box art. I've scanned the reviews. I've seen all I can without actually seeing the game.

This in no way prepared me for the zombie apocalypse.

I am not the survivor type. I will be the first one to bite it if the world ends in a rage of living dead. Or Dinosaurs. Or aliens. I cannot fight. I am too cautious. And I do not like things jumping out at me. I may survive if I have time to plan, and can sufficiently outfit a bunker somewhere. I'd be good technical support. Just don't expect me to help in a fire fight.

I don't even like horror movies. I was pretty sure that this dislike carried over into survival/horror games. I'm absolutely sure of it now.

I like to explore. I like to collect. I like to soak in the atmosphere, and the story, and I don't like it when things are trying to remove chunks of my flesh while I am doing so. This is why I like Myst, and the old Lucas Arts adventure games, and the occasional strategy game. I can explore and develop at my own pace.

For instance, I am hardly ever lost in games. Left to my own means and allowed to explore, I easily generate a mental map that out does most in-game maps. But put into a high-stress situation where running away from, or towards, enemies is the only mode of travel and I get lost very easily. It takes me an excruciating long time to understand the level layouts of FPS games to the point I feel comfortable navigating them at speed. This often puts me at a disadvantage. And I die a lot.

I played the demo for Left 4 Dead the other night, on a friend's Xbox 360. I didn't even make it through the first level before I turned it off. I was taking my time, staying alive pretty well, and managing to kill most of the zombies that came at me. This is better than I usually do in console FPSs, as I usually have a hard enough time not aiming straight down.

Then I got to a lower level of the building I was traversing. That's when it started. The mad scrabbling of the zombie horde, just outside.

"Oh dear," I thought, "this is not good."

"Oh dear," I said, "I don't like the sound of that."

I reloaded my pump shotgun and faced the stairs opposite the way I had come and waited for the mass of undead to storm in. And waited, the noise of the horde growing louder. Then suddenly I was taking damage. I spun wildly around, but they were already through the boarded windows and everywhere! I fired madly, but was quickly overwhelmed. I think my AI friends helped me back to life.

I was done.

My wife said it looked like I had a mini-seizure.

If you haven't figured it out, Left 4 Dead is a first person shooter, zombie, survival/horror game. It's unique claim to fame is that it is almost entirely co-op based. While the game can be played with AI helpers, it does not shine until played with, or against, real people over the internets.

The gist of the "story" is that there are 4 survivors: the grizzled military guy, the average joe/token black guy, the woman, and Jayne. You are stuck in a city with a bunch of fast zombies. There are also a few special types, like Tanks. The levels have you progress from saferoom to saferoom trying to escape the city.

The plot doesn't really matter. The levels are designed to be played again and again. The game is designed to be mastered through repetition. It is also designed to be played with other people at the controls of the other major characters. The story is left 4 dead so that the gameplay can be focused on. And, according to the general consensus of the reviews I've read: it works.

The fun is in mastering the levels, working with friends and allies, and generally staying alive in the face of gibbering horrors. From the outside it looks like a blast.

Just not for me. I think I'll just watch.

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