Jan 11, 2008
Chet Faliszek, Left 4 Dead's writer and one of the funniest parts of the internet since it was all HotBots and AltaVistas, offered advice and information as we played through the new rural map, which culminates in a farmhouse stand-off surrounded by cornfields. It’s classic, it’s cliche, and it’s five decent-sized stages away from the temporary campsite we started in. Like the other maps, each scenario is broken up into five large stages, punctuated by safe areas where you can reload, patch up and see who was letting the team down, in the form of stats, achievements and team betrayals.
The new rural level has an extra layer of creepiness over the urban; it feels more open, and the brick of a city is always going to feel safer than a fading, endless forest. This is particularly true of a forest that generates zombies. Whereas the city level induces claustrophobia and keeps you on your toes with vertical combat, the cornfields level is more fundamentally terrifying - a level where there is no safety, nothing to put your back against. It’s especially true in the final dash through the corn, running nearly blind and just hoping that the zombies won’t arrive before you get the doors closed. You never see them spawn (that would be shit) but they’ve got the uncanny ability to be suddenly there. For the living dead (pedants please read ‘those infected with a horrible disease that turns them into cannibals’) they’ve got a real dramatic flair.
The four characters - John Everyman, Tattooed Biker, Freshly-Weathered Rich Girl and Grizzled Veteran - are unchanged, and are as much a part of zombie canon as putting too many vowels in the word ‘brains’. They all play identically too, which will reduce the bitching about who gets to play the cool biker.
The weapons range hasn’t been extended, either - a choice of pipe bomb or molotov, SMG or shotgun, and a medkit each. It’s certainly not the most expansive set of weapons, even with the auto shotgun, assault rifle and hunting rifle that become available at later checkpoints. But what did you want: bio-rifles and portal guns? Left 4 Dead keeps a tight focus on what it is; it don’t need no stinkin’ gadgets.
Co-op games often get away with letting you not play co-operatively. Larger group games all allow solo tacticians to profit from their lone heroics. Left 4 Dead encourages you to work together in the most sensible way possible: by killing anyone stupid enough to get stranded. Zombies can appear at every available entrance, necessitating someone to cover your back. The Smoker and Hunter have incapacitating attacks, forcing teammates to rescue their friends by getting close and slapping them off. You can revive fallen mates during their bleed-out time, but doing so incapacitates you for a short while: so should you? That depends: is the area clear? Are you sure? Are you covered by your other two friends? And most importantly, has the clumsy prick been shooting you in the legs?