Whose co-op is best?

The Players: Tyler, Brett, Mikel, Joe

Basic Intel: Left 4 Dead is entirely co-op (up to four players), though it can be played single-player with AI teammates. L4D also has a versus mode in which one team plays as Survivors and the other as Infected. It’s available on PC and 360, and was developed and published by Valve for PC. The 360 version was published by EA.

Joe: Our subject today is Valve's zombiegasmic blood orgy Left 4 Dead.

Brett: Love it!

Joe: It absolutely captures the feeling of playing a top-notch zombie flick.

Tyler N: The AI "Director" isn't just a nice buzzword. It really adds replayability to each "movie." Valve obviously understands what makes co-op games fun... just look at Team Fortress 2.

Brett: All four players are equal, no one has an advantage over the other, you're all in it together, sharing ammo, patching each other up…

Mikel: And doing your damnedest to kill the AI partner who wanders off to stand in a dark corner while everyone else is piling into the safe room.

Joe: Though you have to work as a team, it’s very different from the forced co-dependence of Resistance 2.

Above: Playing as the Hunter zombie

Brett: Plus, unlike Resistance, the enemies die very quickly so you get much more satisfaction out of the body count.

Tyler N: You're rarely frustrated with other players in random PUGs. Instead you want to jump out of the safe room so you "don't leave anyone behind," you want to share med packs, you want to call out special zombies.

Brett: Exactly. I don't care how or why some zombies have superhuman strength or ninety foot tongues. It's just FUN.

Joe: Even with no "explanations" you still get a feeling of story, though, with all the little touches around the maps. The hastily-vacated apartments, the deranged messages scrawled on safehouse walls, the rescuers who pluck you from the horde’s clutches…

Tyler N: Yeah, there's some hilarious and clever grafitti on the walls.

Brett: And each story plays like a mini-movie, so you have a full experience in about an hour or so.

Mikel: Yeah, there's a definite feeling of closeness with the other players, mainly because you can't survive without each other - there are too many enemies who can hold you down until someone comes to save you. A lone survivor can't abandon his/her teammates and blast his/her way to the end of the level, because a Hunter or a Smoker is going to pop out and rip his/her guts out.

Above: Hunters pin down your teammates, forcing you to rescue them

Joe: That closeness makes you feel terrible when you accidentally engage in friendly fire!

Brett: I also love the fact you're deadly even when you're about to die. While you're being revived you can still shoot from the ground, take some of them with you and cover your healer - it's like everyone has the CoD4 Last Stand perk.

Mikel: Yeah, that's welcome. Although somehow, I never imagined that if I was brought down by a swarm of zombies, they'd all stand around stomping me to death.

Brett: Nice progression of weapons too, the bigger guns start showing up as you play on.

Joe: Rate of fire becomes crucial as the mob thickens – the automatic shotgun is my fave weapon.

Brett: My main complaints are that it's kind of a short affair, with only 5 missions. You could go through the entire game in one day. Granted though, the experience is different almost every time to a certain degree. I also found the versus multiplayer to be so-so.

Tyler N: I was also disappointed with the versus mode, it's just not as much fun playing as the special infected as I thought it would be.

Above: Foolish survivor, I will taste your flesh

Joe: Teamwork is even more crucial when playing as zombies, because the Survivors can kill you so easily. You really have to set up your ambushes and play up your class. If you’re a Hunter or Smoker, the best time to strike is after your Boomer has tagged someone.

Brett: The respawn as the undead is a tad too long given you can die in one or two shots.

Joe: Regarding the duration of game, it was short for a stand-alone release. I feel like Valve should have released Half-Life 2 and the Episodes as one SKU, then put L4D, Portal, and TF2 in the Orange Box FTW.

Mikel: I did like the randomization of the whole thing quite a bit, even if it turned out to be a huge problem when there were just two of us playing on Advanced difficulty.

Tyler N: When playing Left 4 Dead, we're always laughing and shouting out to each other in good spirits. You don't get as many of the hardcore jerks who scream at their teammates and bark orders... everyone's just having a good time.

Mikel: My experience has been everyone barking orders to each other, rather than a single alpha trying to take over. And by "orders," I mean "AAAAAAHH! SOMEONE COVER ME! SOMEONE GET ON THE MINIGUN! SOMEONE GET THIS THING OFF ME! AAAAAAAH!" Screaming for help and trying to organize your squad is a big part of the fun.

Tyler N: I really do feel like it's a different crowd on Steam vs LIVE.

Joe: It’s the exploding heads, they have a narcotic effect on otherwise surly, bitter gamers. And if you do get some jackhole on your team who insists on running ahead, the rest of your team doesn't fail, like in CoD:W@W. You just bring him back at the next glory-hole.

Brett: Playing with friends though, that wasn't really an issue.

Tyler N: One time, a Hunter pounced on me and I had two teammates next to me holding gas cans to fend off the next horde... and a split second after the hunter hit me, my two teammates gas-canned the hunter to death... there's always something unusual that happens like that in L4D.

Brett: There are also a lot of environmental ways to stop the horde, the gas cans, propane tanks, barring doors etc. It feels like there's more to go and more going on, despite it running on fairly old tech.

Above: A well-timed explosion keeps the mob at bay

Joe: I know right? When I first fired up L4D, I thought “Gawd, Source is looking oooooold,” but the more I played the less I cared because the gameplay is so refined and the framerate stays rock solid even in the most crowded mobs.

Brett: It still looks good though, they worked really well with the hardware and throw so much at you it's hard to notice. Resistance looks, at least in my mind's eye, on par with 5 people as L4D does with 4. Something about the visuals in R2's co-op really underwhelmed…

Mikel: Again, it's all about volume; both of those games throw a shit-ton of enemies at you, and they look great while doing so.

Tyler N: It looks solid on the PC. Francis' tattoos are quite detailed, and you can even see things like Zoey's piercings if you look carefully. Have you also noticed that the same strategies don't always work in L4D? There are multiple ways to hold off the horde in the final scene and sometimes the most obvious one doesn't seem to always work.

Joe: The jump in difficulty between normal and advanced is huge too, forces you to explore new strategies, new ways to use the environments, setting off strategic explosions, saving your pipe bombs for just the right moment…

Mikel: Yeah, the only real problem is when you're trying to set up defenses and someone who doesn't have a headset gets bored and hits the switch to summon the zombies.

Above: The Tank: shoot it in the head, not the crotch

Tyler N: L4D also introduces the term "closet camping" into the lexicon of gaming for all time.

Joe: So how do you kill the witch in one shot, since the sniper rifle won’t do it?

Mikel: I hear you have to run up and blast her in the face with the shotgun.
Which can't be easy, because the second you get close to her shill will eff your shit right the eff up.

Tyler N: IMO the best strategy is to set the witch on fire with a Molotov and blast her down before she can touch the person who startled her.

Brett: I just really love the variety in everything L4D offers. Level design, locales, enemies…

Mikel: What’s left to say? It's awesome? You should play it?