September 11, 2007 – The survival horror genre seems to have been done to death. Every time you turn around, there’s a new one coming out. Whether it is you versus hordes of zombies, you versus the dark elements of the night, or you versus the creepiest town on the planet, they all share one common element, the “you versus” side of gaming. This isn’t a bad thing always; sometimes it is more enjoyable or immersive to experience these classic genre games by your lonesome. However, what would it be like if you had a buddy to come along for the ride? If you think one buddy is intriguing, then how about three? Putting you and three friends in an impossible scenario and finding out who’s left for dead seems to be the biggest draw to this game from Turtle Rock Studios.
The game itself will take place in some traditional landmarks of the horror genre like urban streets, wooded rural areas, small hamlets, and a shopping mall. There will be a few other areas for us to try to survive, but those are the confirmed ones. What might you be surviving against in the game? This is an interesting twist on some of the formulaic games on the market. The villains of the game are called “The Infected.” I know you might immediately think, “Oh great – more zombies.” Instead of the ravenous undead, we will have to deal with those who have been transformed into ravenous people with a severe form of rabies. It makes one wonder if people are the only “Infected” or if we will have any pooches to square off against. For that matter, it might look like an evil Disney Woodland valley unleashed. Four players will assume the roles of “The Survivors” in the game. Each level will have you working together to reach the ultimate goal. For example, one level’s mission is to catch a helicopter out of the area, and through teamwork, you will have to fend off The Infected until the helicopter has time to arrive.
The Survivors will be selected at random once the players hop on to the server. At first I thought this would only cause complication with how players join up in the group, but each human character will have the same abilities and capability to use every weapon. The characters themselves will have distinguishing attributes for you to easily recognize who’s a friend and who’s not. This could eliminate some of the problems of friendly gaming online. As for the characters that will be selected for us to play as, we have Francis Barrels, a tattooed biker, Zoey Coen, the teenage daughter of a wealthy family, Bill Calhoun, a Vietnam vet with combat skills that have kept him alive, and Louis Parker, an assistant manager at a local electronics store, to choose from. This is truly an eclectic group of characters to throw together in a situation like this. There is something interesting about The characters of the game we will be cast as. Instead of always being the good guy, we will have the opportunity to be one of the Infected as well. Of course, The Infected will have that appeal of extra abilities and capabilities that the human players won’t. For example, the Boomer can projectile vomit on the human players causing them to go blind and attracting other Infected. The Boomer also explodes when it dies causing more damage. In addition to the Boomer, player will have the chance to play as The Hunter, which is agile and can climb walls, The Smoker, a fiend with an extremely long tongue similar to Resident Evil’s Licker, and The Tank, who will only be playable for short periods of time, in which players of the Infected will be notified when it becomes available. There will also be a character that players will not be able to control. The Witch will be mostly passive unless provoked, similar to how the Big Daddies were in BioShock.
The A.I. in the game is being promised as so convincing that you will not be able to tell which players are bots and which are controlled by human players. This feature, as long as it holds up, will increase the playability of the game. Another feature for the A.I. is that if for whatever reason you can’t seem to accumulate the team you want in the game, you will be able to play singularly with bots filling in the remaining slots on the team. As long as some of that impressive A.I. they are talking about holds true, then this could be a great game alone and with friends. Also, as long as a the game doesn’t fall into the traps of some recent games trying to mimic success of previous titles, then I for one cannot wait until it hits shelves.
Left 4 Dead has all the markings of a game that you want to really play. Unfortunately, as has been the case in recent years, there have been several titles that have you hooked until the day arrives for you put the game into the console or PC, and then there’s nothing but disappointment. However, at present, Turtle Rock seems to have the formulaic genre by the reins and guiding it into a new aspect that could be beneficial for other developers to explore as well. Only time will tell how the game holds up, but with a release date in the Spring of 2008, it gives me enough time to find three comrades to survive the horrors of the Infected, or to push in front of the Boomer’s special attack. We’ll have more as we get closer to the date of release.
Throw Resident Evil and Counter-Strike in a pot and stir
February 22, 2007 – Along with Nazis and nameless, nondescript soldiers, zombies are probably one of an average gamer’s most numerous foes. Gamers have dispatched hordes of the evil undead in everything from SNES’s Zombies Ate My Neighbors to current favorites like Resident Evil and Dead Rising. Although there are probably very few gamers that can accurately say that they’ve never slain an approaching digitized zombie, even fewer can claim that they’ve played a game from the viewpoint of an undead aggressor. Turtle Rock plans to change this in a big way this year with the release of their multiplayer survival horror game, Left 4 Dead.
Unlike the average survival horror game where the game is based around the protagonist trying to survive alone against multitudes of foes, Left 4 Dead lets you choose your side. You can choose to play a human in a team of four survivors, or you can choose to side with the mutated “infected,” a mass of monsters that resemble RE’s undead, although some of these infected are endowed with special abilities beyond that of slow, plodding zombies. Most of the infected are unplayable foot soldier-esque monsters, although there are four playable boss infected that are distinct from the rest of the horde.
Left 4 Dead takes place in the stereotypical post-apocalyptic scenario. An incredibly potent virus has been released, distorting humans into rabid monsters that swiftly and mercilessly attack anyone that is uninfected. A small group of humans finds themselves immune to the virus, which winds up being both a blessing and a curse, since they must now fend off the infected if they wish to continue surviving. Beyond setting the stage for the gameplay, developers Turtle Rock admit that the story isn’t as important to the game since it isn’t emphasized or progressed for the most part.
The human team consists of four fairly ordinary people with diverse backgrounds, including a Vietnam veteran, a rich teenage girl, a manager at an electronics store, and a loud but loyal roughneck. To combat the infected, these human survivors have access to an arsenal of weaponry, including standard survival horror fare like handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Developers Turtle Rock, also known for Counter-Strike, promises to also keep updating and adding additional content that can be downloaded after the game’s release, which will probably include new and more innovative weaponry.
A little more interesting than the humans, however, are the four playable boss infected, with three that can be chosen outright. The first is called a Boomer, which is a large, flabby infected that explodes when killed, allowing him to take closer humans into oblivion with him. Boomers can also “tag” humans with their vomit, which marks the unfortunate victim as a target for all nearby infected. The Smokers are another type of infected, which, like the Boomers, explode when killed, but into a cloud of smoke. This smoke is dense enough to obscure the survivors’ vision, creating a potential handicap. Smokers also have long tongues that can be used to lasso humans and can even be used to hang them when the Smoker attacks from an elevated area. Hunters, the third infected type, are stealthy and swift, allowing them to sneak up on their prey. Hunters also have the Predator-like ability to turn invisible when unmoving. The most agile member of the infected, Hunters can leap to great heights, wall jump, and pounce on humans, knocking them over and setting them up to be killed. The final playable infected class isn’t selectable and is called the Tank. The game will choose select players in the middle of a match to have the option of becoming a Tank. As its name suggests, the Tanks are incredibly strong and hardy and are capable of tossing heavy obstacles at their human foes as well as taking heavy damage from firearms. Most of the infected are fragile and easier to kill than humans, which requires the infected to ambush humans if they want to gain the advantage. The dull-witted Tank, however, cannot abide long periods of idle time. For every moment that a Tank character isn’t in the presence of survivors, a frustration meter fills, and the Tank completely loses control when the meter is full. All of these elements combine to create an interesting dynamic between the armed humans and the dangerous infected characters.
Like Counter-Strike, the game is set up as a series of multiplayer matches pitting the humans against the infected. All four humans are playable, and the aforementioned boss infected are playable among the unplayable hordes. The humans generally have to work together to survive, as the infected obviously outnumber them immensely, although most of the infected are fairly easy to kill. However, the infected also don’t stay dead, which is par for the course with the undead. Also, the infected don’t take damage from long falls and have night vision which gives them slight advantages in certain areas.
Currently, Left 4 Dead is focusing almost exclusively on creating a great multiplayer experience. There is little to no story, although there are objectives and goals as well as boss fights. The single player experience will substitute bots for the player’s teammates, with the developers working to create intelligent AI that ensure a great single player campaign as well.
Left 4 Dead uses the latest version of the Source engine, so we can expect great graphical and lighting effects along with wonderful animation. Hopefully all these visuals will translate well to the online arena where sometimes battles are won or lost in an instant, and recognizable characters are essential where reflexes rule.
This game seems to be taking an interesting premise and creating a strong multiplayer game from it. With its sharp visuals, the effective balancing between the infected and the survivors, and the promise of intense multiplayer battles, Left 4 Dead might be the game for people tired of uninspired zombie killing and looking for the chance to do some killing as the zombie. Look for Left 4 Dead in late 2007.