A Date with Zombies

I do take breaks from WAR every once in a while.  Few and far between as those breaks may be, I think it’s good to get a little variety.  With that in mind, I and two of my WAR buddies set a date last night with the undead. 

The three of us had picked up Left 4 Deadvia Steam over the Christmas break, but only cracked it open a couple brief times, mainly due to focusing on our WAR duties.  So we planned ahead, decided to lay off the MMOs for a night, and fired up the zombie shooter. 

For those that may not know, L4D is a co-op shooter released by Valve in which four teammates face off against wave after wave of zombies.  Fast zombies – think 28 Days Later style.  There are 4 campaigns, each of which are broken into 5 stages.  The stages are separated by safe houses, where players get to heal up and reload.

If I had one word to describe L4D, that word would be “intense”.  A couple minutes into the game you are facing your first wave of zombies, pouring out of every imaginable space in the environment.  It really makes you feel like you’re in a zombie movie.  The zombies are everywhere, and they’re relentless.  Boss zombies (five different types) are interspersed throughout the world and provide some much-needed variety compared to the drone zombies.  The lulls in the action (besides the safe houses, which double as loading areas), while few and short-lived, provide a nice contrast to the balls-to-the-wall franticness (is that a word?) of the game.

L4D is a co-op game.  Do not play this game by yourself, it’s not the same.  (Luckily Valve has implemented a matchmaking system for this game, which is nice for those of us that do not like to mess with selecting a server.)  The fun of the game has nothing to do with how good a shooter it is, even though it seems passable enough (coming from a non-FPS guy).  The fun is in the interaction with your teammates.  You’ll quickly grow accustomed to hearing someone call out “Boomer” when one of the fat, vomiting boss zombies wades onto the screen.  You’ll hear them scream for help when pinned by the horde, or thank them when they come to your rescue by pushing a Hunter off of you and reviving you to fight again. 

It’s amazing the camaraderie the game builds, even with people you haven’t even met before.  By the end of one of the scenarios (which typically take a bit around an hour, maybe a little over depending on skill level), you have formed a bond with your teammates, whether you knew them before or not.  In all likelihood, you’ve bandaged, revived, rescued, and protected each other countless times.  Actually that’s not true – it was counted.  Just check out the end game “credits” that roll by, showing all the statistics you could want in a movie-style credit roll, dedicated to the characters that did not make it, of course. 

We had a great time with the game.  Time will tell whether we keep coming back to it.  One nice feature is that the so-called “Director” AI manages to randomize the zombie movement for every playthrough, so you’ll never play a level exactly the same way twice.  That said, the best parts of the levels are generally the big showdown moments, culminating in the final stand right before rescue at the end.  The “wow” factor wears off a bit from those moments on multiple playthroughs.  It’s still fun, but running through the cornfield and holing up in the farmhouse in Blood Harvest is never going to be as atmospheric as it was the first time through. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: it’s a great game, and I’ll keep playing it, but the replayability is not infinite.  It’s not tearing me away from WAR any time soon, but it is certainly a nice distraction.

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