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. It may have had it’s problems initially, and some people don’t like the lack of resale value on games, but there’s simply no other system as slick as it for getting content and updates, and connecting with friends on PC, and the opportunities it offers for independent developers is fantastic.
It was just announced that the Left 4 Dead Survival Pack will be free, both on PC and 360, which is great and another reason to say ‘yay Valve’. The one criticism you can level at Left 4 Dead is that it’s a little short on content, given that a single playthrough of the entire game could maybe take you 6-8 hours. Of course the replay value is great though, very much like Horde on Gears 2, which we’re playing a ton, but more content is always welcome (note: this pack doesn’t include new campaigns, but a new play mode called ‘Survival’ and enables Versus mode for the 2 maps that didn’t have it - not that we play Versus). Multiplayer games have always had this benefit of course, but in my case I haven’t been a fan of playing against other random players from around the world for a few years, simply because I don’t want to burn lots of time practicing, and in that case the experience is too unpredictable to guarantee a fun time, every time - I really don’t want to have a 50:50 chance of being frustrated every time I play. Conversely when I play co-op with friends against the AI in Horde or Left 4 Dead, I can guarantee that it’ll be fun every time because we can peg the difficulty the way we like, and still have fun as a group.
For this reason I don’t feel bad that I’m buying my 3rd copy of Left 4 Dead this week. We already have 2 copies on PC, but we decided to buy the 360 version too so we can play with non-PC owning friends. These games definitely work best when played with real-world friends rather than ‘randoms’ (as we’ve come to call them) from the Internet, and the sad fact is that more of our friends play on 360 than PC these days. We’ve had so much fun on Horde lately we want to have another similar experience to alternate with.