One game that I was upset I couldn’t arrange a meeting for at E3 was Left 4 Dead, Valve’s new co-op horror game. Walking past their room a couple of times, I realized I needed to get in there no matter what. During a break between two other meetings I broke down and walked inside and said that while yes, I didn’t have an appointment, I absolutely needed to see the game. The people there were incredibly nice about it, and offered me a computer to try out the game right away.
I’m so happpy they did. This could be the co-op game to beat come its release in November. Actually, scratch that- that’s a goddamn guarantee. This will be the best co-op game ever made. I doubt I’ll eat my words on that, as I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun playing with 3 other strangers.
The basic story here is that you’re part of a group of 4 survivors trying to make your way out of a city infested with zombies. Alright, they’re technically infected with some kind of super-rabies, but it’s easier to just say zombies. The big thing about this game is that these aren’t slow, shambling creatures- these guys can book.
The fast zombies make for a very different experience than you’re used to, and the fact that each character only can get knocked down a few times before they’re dead for the rest of the level means that you really have to watch their backs. If they get knocked down by a creature you have to run and help them up, or shoot it off them- carefully, because your bullets will hit your friends. You get bonuses for helping them out, and, of course, the added firepower that another character brings. It’s going to be nearly impossible to beat this one when you start losing your friends and getting injured (you will start to limp unless you heal yourself). You can always see the silhouette of the other survivors even behind walls, a smart idea that makes it much easier to see at a glance where people are and when they need help.
We played this on PCs and it ran fast and smooth and beautiful. It’s one good looking game, definitely an upgrade from Half Life Episode 2. It’s also very gory and bloody, but what else would you expect from a zombie game? The zombie’s heads and limbs will pop off left and right as you shoot them, but remember these aren’t real zombies- you don’t necessarily need a headshot to kill them. That’s a good thing, because at the clip they move you’d be dead before you got your aim straight. You shoot with the left mouse button and can push them back with the right, a very important move to give you some space.
You pick from 4 characters… I was given the girl, Zoey. There’s also a biker, a Vietnam vet, and a local electronics employee. All of the characters have the same abilities and can handle the same weapons, but they each have unique personalities and my limited playtime showed some great voice acting. You really feel the panic in their voices when they’re being attacked and need help, and some have a dry wit about the situation. There was supposedly over 1000 lines recorded for each character to keep things fresh. And speaking of keeping things fresh, every time you play through the game enemies and items will be in different locations, and things will even play differently depending on how well you’re working together. Play poorly and you’ll have an easier time but miss some of the cooler set pieces.
There are a ton of enemies here, including some creepy boss creatures with different abilities (like bloated fat guys that try to blow themselves up right in front of you). If you advance without your friends, you will die. Simple as that. I learned that the hard way when running up a sewer pipe into the streets with only one of my buddies behind me. As soon as I got up top I knew I was in trouble. There were dozens upon dozens of zombies standing there that immediately rushed me, and while I took more than my fair share of them out (courtesy the very fun shotgun in my hand) they eventually pulled me down, pinning me to the ground and killing me before my teammates could rescue me. So fucking cool. (Not for my teammates, but still…)
Another memorable moment was a standoff. Throughout the game there will be moments where you’ll know in advance that if you perform a certain action, you’re in for a serious fight. This one in particular was in front of an elevator in a creepy hospital. Getting all of our guys in place, one of us hit the button to call it down. And immediately the zombies started poured into the hallway.
All four of us stood at the end shooting anything that moved, and it really is jaw-dropping to see these things come flying at you with such speed and numbers, even busting through the walls to get to you. At one point of those those boss zombies appeared, grabbing me with a tentacle (!) and dragging me along the floor towards him, but thankfully one of my guys got on him right away and saved me from being pulled right into a pack of zombies. When the elevator finally came we ran inside, screaming for the last guy to stop fighting and get in there, because as soon as the doors opened, they fucking SWARMED us. A sea of the undead came hurtling down the halls, and as we kept them off of our teammate and he finally stepped through the doors, they shut right into the creatures faces, and we were off to the next level.
If it weren’t for Fallout 3 this would possibly be my game of the show… it really can’t be released soon enough. With this, Dead Space and Resident Evil 5, horror games are back in full force, and I couldn’t be happier.