Left 4 Dead's main hook is four-player cooperative combat in a urban environ bursting at the seams with "The Infected" -- fast, seemingly coordinated, 28 Days Later-style zombies. Hopping into a match, we first had to gear up. Rather than opting for a static inventory screen, the developer decided to keep players immersed by scattering equipment tables throughout each level (Left 4 Dead is a linear game, but has no preset spawn points for the zombies, providing some freshness for subsequent playthroughs). We grabbed a sub machine gun, although we could have opted for a shotgun. After making sure we'd also snatched some additional ammo and a med pack, it was time to rock.
Along with three other human players (if you opt to play solo you'll be joined by AI bots) we made our way through the building we'd started in, noticing that we could see our squad mates' outlines through walls, Metal Gear Online style, and color-coded from green to red to indicate how they were doing health-wise. Likewise, we could see if they were being pounced on by The Infected. This proved very useful in ensuring we weren't quickly a man (or woman) down. In such situations, we learned that accuracy is key -- you can do more harm than good if you inadvertently cap a friend instead of an Infected when they're in distress.
There were plenty of heart-stopping moments triggered by dozens of zombies flooding in through doorways, or even just a few springing out of a dark corner. It soon became clear that sticking together as a group was vital to taking the hordes down as quickly as possible, but, as the game's devs have previously mentioned, The Infected are definitely directed to flock more furiously to lone Survivors.
After clearing our way through a few buildings and zombie-filled alleyways, we came to a checkpoint – a room with reinforced doors and more guns, health and ammo. Just because we were inside, however, it didn't mean we were safe. Someone (certainly not us) had forgotten to close the door behind us. In an example of the game's use of contextual audio cues, the Survivors began yelling for someone to close the door (we did, being heroes and all) and we were safe ... at least until heading into the next area.
There we got a taste of some of the other environments as we trudged through the subway (complete with derelict trains), and eventually met our demise after straying too far from the friendly fold on a rooftop -- but not before clearing debris to save an NPC trapped in a closet. (It wasn't, much to our disappointment, R. Kelly.)Left 4 Dead
, well, left us with the feeling that it could be the "Next Big Thing" on Xbox Live and PC when it hits this fall. (Or, as its devs say, "When it's done.") It's fast, fearsome, and full of surprises. One of which is the Infected vs. Survivors mode, which sees four human players squaring off against The Infected and four human controlled "boss" zombies -- a mode that was, sadly, not on show at EA's event. We'll hopefully get our hands on it soon enough, though, and will be back with all the (very) gory details.