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July 25, 2008
E3 2008 Preview: Left 4 Dead - PC

By Jason Van Horn

The best thing to ever happen to zombies was giving them the ability to sprint. A shuffling zombie is good for a laugh, but they hardly spark fear in anyone. As soon as I placed my hands on the mouse and keyboard and prepared to try Valve’s upcoming Left 4 Dead, I knew within a matter of moments that I was in for something frightening and special. Did I manage to make it to the chopper in time or die like everyone else?

The story of Left 4 Dead revolves around several uninfected people joining together under dire situations, trying to find some way to survive. The characters you’ll play as have different looks and back stories, but when everyone is just looking to survive, the only thing that matters is if you can wield a gun. Handling the machinery is simple to do too, as Left 4 Dead features the same control scheme many other first-person-shooters use. Players will use the WASD keys to move, the number buttons to cycle through available weapons, and the mouse to not only shoot weapons, but perform a melee bash as well.

I jumped into the game and was thrust into a safe room, where my crew went about gathering healing med kits, choosing their weaponry and stocking up on ammo. Unlike Master Chief from the Halo series, players are very human, and therefore can’t wield all the great weapons at once. Players can carry two weapons on their person at one time, including one power weapon – an assault rifle or shotgun – and then a sidearm like a police pistol. We were told that the weaponry true to life, so don’t expect to wield anything you couldn’t do in the real world. Players will also run out of ammo pretty quickly depending on the weapon being used the most—I usually found myself trying to survive with nothing but a pistol. For the record, a pistol does not make a great weapon when facing down ten rushing zombies. Once our crew of four was loaded to the teeth, we stepped out into the darkened corridors of a hospital and tried to work our way to the roof, where we were hopefully going to be able to jump onboard a rescue helicopter.

Left 4 Dead featured some of the creepiest set pieces I’ve seen recently in a game, as the hospital’s corridors were darkened due to broken lights, blood was smeared on walls, and debris was scattered everywhere. Our group slowly spread out to check the area, only to discover that you really need to have a buddy with you at all times or else you can be killed in no time at all. Following one partner, for instance, I watched as a tentacle shot forth, grabbed him, and started to slowly reel him into the darkness for the kill. If I hadn’t been watching his back and there to put a bullet in the monster, he would’ve been a goner. I found myself in a likewise dire moment about ten minutes later, as a creature grabbed me and was strangling me from afar with its tentacle, letting me dangle as if hanging from a noose. I lost a lot of health, but thankfully someone discovered me, gave a bash to the monster, and managed to revive me. It’s possible to fully die in the game after a certain amount of deaths, but generally players are able to help each other by pressing the E-button, which amounts to one player extending their hand in order to help the downed player .

The majority of the zombies were the quick skirting monsters seen in previous trailers and video footage of the game. Tthe zombies were dressed like patients of the hospital, with dressing gowns flapping behind them, exposing their backsides. They were frightening with their rage filled eyes, decayed skin, and hardened hands (which I often found reaching for my throat). We didn’t see every zombie type in the game, but we were assured that there would be multiple types. We did see the sprinting zombies, tentacle zombies, and a few hulking behemoths which took a barrage of bullets to finally put them to rest.

Though the gameplay was excellent, the thing that really defined the game was its sense of timing and pacing. Left 4 Dead included quite a few notable moments of never ending violence and nerve rattling battles, such as our crew waiting for an elevator to arrive and having to defend off a zombie attack that came at us from every direction. One of my fellow survivors was literally vomited on at one point, which blinded them and kept them from the action. He needed me to help defend while the horde of zombies was drawn in, due to the stench that had been splashed all over him .

Another terrifying moment came during one of relative quiet, when we thought the safe room would actually be...well…safe! As our team went about grabbing guns and health, we were yelled at by our Valve sponsor to hurry up and close the door. We were slow to act, however, and suddenly the room was filled with zombies killing all of us in one quick blitzkrieg. If one of our survivors hadn’t had the common sense to hurry and close the door, we surely would’ve lost the game at that moment.

The piece de resistance of the whole experience was the closing moments of the first scenario, which would’ve had the team escaping on our rescue helicopter. We were forewarned that there would be a mighty battle once we dispatched for the plane, so we readied into position with one man behind the stationary gun and others providing support. It was a horrific running of the bulls as zombies came flooding from all the cracks, breaking right towards us. The stationary gun was soon overrun, but not before lighting a fire that swept through the zombie wave. We thought we were in the clear, but then another wave came, and a hulking monstrosity took several players out with one powerful slam. I knew I couldn’t survive by myself, so I ran to give a hand to a downed partner, hoping with their help we would survive. I was so focused on wanting to save everyone that I didn’t hear my Valve representative yelling at me to forget him, he was already dead, and to try and save myself. I actually felt compelled not to leave him behind, but I decided to break away and rush towards the helicopter. I thought I was in the clear, but a wave of zombies appeared, cornered me, and then it was game over.

I had great hopes for Left 4 Dead when I first heard about the game. I’ve been desperately clinging to the hope that one day a true zombie apocalypse survivor game would be created, and I’ve found that with Left 4 Dead. If you want to be scared and actually feel as if you are trying to survive the end of days, you better keep a watch out for this game, as it will be releasing in only a few months time.


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