I was going to write something about Left 4 Dead

14 Jul

…but was too busy playing Left 4 Dead.

Now I’ve broken into PC gaming like a pair of comfy trousers, I’m starting to see that whilst console owners bicker like children over which of the Big Three is best and how Gears of War/Killzone 2/Mario is arse, PC gamers are a sort of Cool Dad – they’ll let them have their petty arguments, because they know they’re the Daddy here.

The reason for this is not the mouse/keyboard controls (analogue sticks are unfairly bullied for coping badly with FPS’s and pretty much anything where you have to aim – they can’t be that bad, I’ve switched to mouse and still suck at Sniper on Team Fortress) but the community. Fair enough, I’ve only really experienced proper online play on the PS3, and the occasional Youtube video of COD4 griefing on the Xbox 360, but the users of both seem to alternate between mute, self-reliant Rambo types and racist nine-year-olds. I think I can be perfectly honest when I say “Do Not Want”, which is why the PC suits me like…well, a pair of comfy trousers.

Are there wankers on the PC? Yep. But in the space of a couple of weeks I’ve also met people who are friendly (I’d easily buy them a pint if there was some sort of Pub game on Steam), articulate, funny (“Now, has everyone got their Medic buddies?”) and, most importantly, willing to communicate and use tactics.

I’m a tactics nerd. I love planning an attack or informing my comrades of danger and seeing it all come together, my team emerging victorious, and whilst I’ve co-ordinated a couple of base assaults in TF2, nothing satisfies my thirst for teamwork like Left 4 Dead.

There are many great moments in L4D, like the graffiti in the safe houses, the bit where you enter a garage with a van inside, and your tattooed biker friend Francis simply mutters “…I hate vans” in a voice so dry you can’t help but laugh and love him, or beating a zombie to death with a first aid kit.

I don’t think he appreciated the irony. But anyway, the best parts come from when you’re fighting as a group.

Split up in L4D and you die. Shoot sloppily around your team and they’ll die. Refuse to share supplies or even thoughts on what to do next and you’ll all die, horribly, at the hands of a thousand rabid zombies. Communicating is more a necessity in L4D than a lucky benefit, and that’s partly why it’s so engaging.

A couple of days ago me, my real-life friend Sarm, and two Americans we’d never met had to defend a riverside house from a few shopping mall’s worth of zombies for ten minutes until a rescue boat would arrive. It was pulling into the harbour when Sarm got slaughtered. Me and one of the Yanks were incapacitated by Hunters, a rare form of zombie that can leap rooftops and pounce you from a distance, helplessly pinning you until someone shoots or punches it off. The lone surving Yank was too busy fighting off a horde to come and save both of our useless arses, and we bled out from Hunter scratches.We both watched, from Spectator mode, our mutual friend and last hope for humanity trapped blackly humourously in a cupboard and hundreds of vile creatures tried squeezing into the doorway. At one point he made a vain break for the boat, but was pounced by another bloody Hunter. With no-one left to save him, we failed the mission. We’d lost about half and hour’s work.

Normally that’s enough to make a player quit in frustration. Sarm did. Me and the Americans decided to have another go, and this time we were packing headsets (and yes, as I’ve already said, I’m a geek). Along our way we came accross a Witch, an absolute she-bastard of special Infected that will sit sobbing until disturbed, at which point she sprints at you, knocks you to the ground with a single hit, and utterly shreds you with her spindly, horrific claws. And can take an unholy amount of damage before falling. She’s best avoided, but here she was sat in the doorway of a house we needed to pass through. At this point, one of the Americans suggested he went back, grabbed a powerful shotgun, and made a do-or-die charge attack on the unavoidable Witch.

We took position at the side wo we wouldn’t shoot our friend once the Witch was up.

“Got my back?” asked the noble Yank. We did, but we didn’t need to. He took her out in a couple of shots and was congratulated. We were thrilled.

We reached the extraction point, geared up and called the boat. This is where it got good. I mowed down legions of undead on a mounted machine gun as my new buddies covered by back. A simultaneous Molotov/assualt rifle/chaingun attack downed a Tank, the biggest, baddest Infected, before it even got to the house. This was great. It was like being in the SAS, only without real bullets and awesome uniforms.

Three of the four survivors (Sarm’s character was taken by an AI) made it to the boat when the last, one of the Americans, was ambushed by a sneaky Hunter attack. As he was slashed into casserole steak and a horde of regular zombie pricks stomped his head in, me and the other human – and I have never, ever intentionally done this before in a game – went back to help him. I pistol-whipped the Hunter away and helped the injured survivor to his feet whilst the other guy fired into the crowds of livid infected. The AI character stayed on the boat like the dickhead that AIs usually are. We managed to hobble, ammo depleted and health waning, back to our rescue vehicle. Miraculously, we avoided that damned Hunter and escaped, as a few straggling zombies ran stupidly after us into the water and drowned, as one might expect when one’s brain is decaying.

The genius of L4D is a lot simpler than that of games such as Bioshock, which relied on an affecting story and an impossible but brilliant underwater city setting – the former is great because of the comraderie, which in turn creates war stories that are seldom repeated and fondly remembered.


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