Or, Why you should be playing Left 4 Dead.

Warning – this is my longest post to date – more of an article I guess?

Co-operative play is Something that we have desired for a very long time. PC gamers have long been jealous of the ease of access to co-operative experiences which console owners enjoy.

There have not been many games that have been released for PC which have co-operative play as their primary aim. Typically, PC gamers are required to wrestle co-operative experiences from games like a farmhand attempting to milk a surly cow. We have been required to utilise third party mods, laborious multi-player AI or to endure lazy first-party implementations which subject the players to a disjointed mish-mash of play due to the developer’s inability to work out how to get certain levels and cutscenes to work with two simultaneous viewers.

I’m going to put aside Real Time Strategy (RTS) games and team-based multiplayer titles for the moment. I am focusing specifically on games which are carefully crafted by the developers to give a group of players a co-operative experience against the game environment.

My first positive Co-op memories are of playing X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter over Parallel Serial/LPT cables at Nozz’s place. We had so much fun playing a game co-operatively for once that we just had to find more games which offered the feature.
We found other titles like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Quake II, MOO 2, Diablo II etc. Unfortunately, we soon found ourselves running out of options. There were other titles available to us yes, but these required us to use unreliable (at the time) third-party patches like Sven Co-op for Half Life or strange contortions in order to fluke a level or two of co-operative fun.

The driving force in co-op games these days seem to be the consoles. Due to their nature, co-op is almost a requirement. “There are four controllers on there, so we’d better make games that utilise them”. Unfortunately, this means that PC gamers have to rely on dodgy ports in order to get a taste of sweet sweet co-op play.
Gears of War is a good example of this. Ported to the PC in July 2007, Gears landed on PC hard drives with a small amount of fanfare. The port was usable, but riddled with phrases like “Press A to continue” – not to mention the awful implementation of Windows (read:Xbox-Lite) Live. All this, after a full eight-month development cycle following the the Xbox 360 release!

Things were not looking good.

Then came Left 4 Dead.
Valve Corporation are a force to be reckoned with. The producers of arguably the best first person shooter (FPS) of all time, Half-Life, Valve have come to the market with great game after great game. I own the entire Valve back-catalog and I have not been disappointed with any of the games on the list. Most notably, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Left 4 Dead is a four-player co-operative FPS set during the Zombie Apocalypse. Do I even need to finish this post? How does that not sound awesome?!

The basic premise of the game is four human players join together as the Survivors. Their goal is simple: Get from one Safe Room to the next without being killed by HORDES OF THE LIVING DEAD. Sounds easy right? I mean, you get guns and zombies are just slow, shambling things aren’t they? Not true. The zombies in L4D are subscribers to 28 Days Later School of Incredibly Fast Locomotion.
If that wasn’t bad enough, add to this the inclusion of the Special Infected. This band of gory malcontents include:

  • The Hunter – a zombie with the ability to leap great distances and pounce on a Survivor’s chest, pinning them to the ground to await rescue from a team-mate,
  • The Smoker – A slow-moving zombie with an incredibly long, prehensile tongue that it uses to grab, drag and constrict survivors again necessitating intervention from a team-mate,
  • The Boomer – a bloated sack of bile which excels at projectile-vomiting on the Survivors, coating them in its sickly goo, or exploding in a spray of the same substance. The kicker (as the Americans say) is that any Survivors coated in goop attract a horde of the undead to their position.
  • The Tank: A huge, hulking monstrosity which moves very fast, punches survivors off into the distance in order to separate them and can tear up huge chunks of masonry to throw as a ranged attack. Tanks have an incredible amount of hitpoints and require the firepower of a full compliment of Survivors to take down.
  • The Witch: What you might consider to be an non-threatening emo-kid crying in the corner is in fact one of the most threatening zombies in the game. She sits in place, minding her own business unless startled. Once she is peeved, she will doggedly chase the offending Survivor until she reaches them and swipes at them with her huge claws. This will usually incapacitate a Survivor in one hit, or outright kill them on higher difficulties.

The beauty of this game is the fact that it requires you to work together. A group of Survivors who are greedy with health packs/painkillers, separate, or do nothing to protect each other are not long for this world. The inclusion of inherent voice communication means that players can communicate almost instantaneously, giving them all of the tools they need to work together. Incidentally, I highly recommend playing this in the same room as the other players, or changing your voice settings to always-on. This adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game as you hear every shriek and freak-out from the other Survivors.

I could go on. I could mention the fact that you can drop in and out at will using the (ever-improving) matchmaking system, take breaks without ruining the experience for the others by going to Idle and allowing the AI to take over for you, or the included eight-player Versus mode in which four other players take on the roll of the Special Infected(!) – but I won’t. This post just hit 1033 words so I’ll leave it there.

Long story short: Go and buy Left 4 Dead.

2 Replies to “Substantiation”

  1. I guess you’ll have to put aside MMO RPGs for the moment too…

    Maybe your post is less about the availability of co-op games, and more about just telling everyone how much you love Left 4 Dead? 😉

  2. MMO RPGs are a different kettle of fish all together.

    I grant you, they have elements of co-op play, but they aren’t designed with co-op as their primary focus. Yes, you can group-up in order to take out that Elite over in Thundercrack Woods who’s head is worth a lofty sum to Sergeant Boff of The Crinkle Creek Watch, or you could join a raid party in your never-ending quest for the latest tier-set. The thing is that these interactions are not the bread and butter of the game. The thing that keeps people coming back is the accumulation of the latest stuff. You’re always chasing that last piece to complete the set, or the last few points of XP you need to *DING MUTHA*@*#ERS*.

    L4D is simply a shining example of co-op play. Other examples include the afore-mentioned Gears of War, Diablo II, Descent Free Space, Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2… The list goes on.

    My primary point is that co-op games are great and that there need to be more of them produced with the same care and consideration that has gone into L4D.

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