My wife & I loved playing Left 4 Dead. Sure it only had 4 campaigns and became repetitive after a while (but we still logged 30+ hours on it), but there was just no other game like it. Not only was it the best co-op experience I’d ever had, defly encouraging real co-operative play (rather than just feeling like you happen to be in the same game at the same time) without it ever feeling forced, but it was also without doubt the best zombie apocalypse simulator ever.
I like Steam. Sure, you’ve got all the people moaning about not being able to sell on their games afterwards, but I don’t care about that - maybe because I don’t buy that many games compared to some, and I tend to hold on to them regardless more often than not. It’s the nearest thing to XBox Live on the PC and it does a pretty good job of it. Buying games and keeping them up to date is simple, and it’s indie-friendly with far less of the snooty attitide that seems to be increasing in the console online marketplaces now they’re established.
For those who don’t follow these things, the new, free Left 4 Dead DLC drops next week, which does 2 things - it enables ‘Versus’ mode on the 2 maps where it wasn’t available before, and it adds a new gameplay mode called ‘Survival’, which is basically about holing the survivors up in one area of the map and throwing zombies at them relentlessly, with leaderboard scoring for the teams that survive the longest.
Valve are awesome. They’ve made a string of excellent games, many of them including elements that have significantly progressed the medium, like the Half-Life series’ in-game storytelling, Team Fortresses class systems, Portal’s FPS without guns and Left 4 Dead’s reinvention of the co-operative gameplay experience (yes, I know some of these became Valve when they absorbed other teams, but they had the vision to nurture and promote them). Then there’s the fact that they’re almost single-handedly helping to keep PC gaming relevant in the modern world with Steam.
I just saw that Valve are doing some fun merchandise for Left 4 Dead now. The ‘movie posters’ are nice if you’re still in that phase where you like to stick posters on the wall (I’m not), but the T-Shirts are of pretty universal appeal. Francis seems to be pretty well represented here, or particularly his predeliction for saying how much he hates everything all the time (hospitals, airport terminals, woods, vans, you name it), so I’m guessing he’s turning into a fan favourite.
So, my back has been getting slowly better over the last month since my hospitalisation experience; I occasionally have a small relapse, like just after I picked up my new guitar - you wouldn’t think that shifting a small practice amp would be a big deal, but I certainly felt it for the next few days - but overall steady improvement. Part of my rehab is to take more regular gentle exercise, and to mix up my routine a bit so I’m not hunched at the desk in ‘work posture’ for such long periods of time, which means, among other things, daily walks of a few miles, daily guitar practice and plenty more gaming time (hence more game-related posts on this blog).
I finally got chance to play Left 4 Dead co-op with my wife rather than single player with all AI teammates, and it’s an entirely different experience. I’d heard this of course, but even so I found it surprising just how much difference it makes. Having a real person yelling for help as they get jumped by a hunter after hanging back behind the others, running scared from a marauding tank together, or frantically trying to help a team-mate up so you can get back up into a defensive choke point before the wall of dead flesh that’s charging down the abandoned subway track crashes over you, it’s simply enormous fun.
Serious games are big these days. Whether it’s training firefighters, soldiers, plant operators or surgeons, the benefits of a simulated environment in which people can hone their real-world skills is widely recognised. Now, with the impending release of Left 4 Dead, we have the necessary training environment to prepare ourselves for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You’ll be thanking those foresighted chaps at Valve in due time, mark my words. I just picked up the demo today - on PC, because if there’s one thing that’s going to increase the likelihood of the recently dead opening your skull and spreading your grey matter on water biscuits, it’s being limited to a fixed turning speed.