I’m glad to see Valve continuing their proud tradition of Doing It Right. As I frequently make known to anyone within earshot, I believe it’s just a matter of time before the streets fill with the hungry dead. Thus, all media produced on the topic should be given at least marginal attention. Romero should be studied, of course – to a point. Thanks to him we know effective methods of dispatching your former friends and family, and ok, maybe a few people didn’t know that you shouldn’t try to tame the undead as pets. However, I draw the line at supposing zombies could form their own society, where they would like nothing more than to live in peace without scavengers from Bartertown coming in to steal their cigar and whiskey rations. And show them fireworks.
I don’t know why that’s pissing them off really – to my knowledge, they can neither drink nor smoke, and they really seem to enjoy looking at fireworks. Zombies are kind of arbitrary dicks even when they’re not eating you.
Right, so – the game. Behold:
This is the intro movie, which I have yet to skip when I start the game. I’m pretty sure this brief clip is the only time you ever see a cut scene of your group, but I was immediately taken by how real the characters were. I’m not saying that the voice acting is particularly stellar, or that the animation lets me see pores and liver spots. The interaction was just very . . . natural. That’s the best way I can think of to say it. Little details and mannerisms that a live actor displays without thinking are mostly absent in game animation. Obviously the better the tech you have to work with, the closer you can approximate natural human action, but I think it also has a lot to do with developers actually considering how people would react and taking the time to add that, even if it’s just a flicker of expression across a character’s face that might go wholly unnoticed by the majority of their audience.
The other notable thing about the intro is that it is also your tutorial. I won’t go into detail, as others already have, but I will say that everything you need to know about the game is presented to you.
I’m still honestly trying to figure out why I like the gameplay so much. In reality, you play as one of four characters who differ only in appearance, using a basic set of weapons and making your way through maps that also lack much in the way of variation. The only real difference between each of the four “movies” you play through is where they start you and where you’re supposed to end up.
In the end, I suppose it’s all build up and atmosphere. What you hear and imagine as opposed to what you can actually see. L4D uses that visceral “what the fuck is out there?” reaction very effectively. Only you know exactly what it is, and that it shouldn’t be, and that makes it much worse.
That’s not to say you don’t see zombies. Clearly you do, otherwise there would be nothing to shoot. It would be fair to say that seeing a handful them shuffling around a hallway or staring off at nothing in particular is unnerving. Then there’s the moment when one of them has *noticed* you, and the aimless staggering to and fro shifts instantly to focused attention. Or when you see the shadows of horde rounding a corner in a parking garage. Even in a virtual environment, it can still cause half a second of dumbfounded shock.
Additionally, the game is stingy with supplies. You each can carry one (1) first aid kit. And to use it, you make yourself totally vulnerable for a few seconds, so someone has to cover you. You really do have to stay together and cooperate with each other in multi-player campaign or you will die. This fact left little impression on my friends and me, as our game immediately descended into pumping shot gun shells directly into each other’s faces. When we ran out of shells, we just started beating the shit out of each other with the guns – up and down stairs, out into the streets. The zombies mostly tried to ignore us, not wanting to get involved.
When brute force grew dull, we moved on to even bigger dick moves like locking each other in closets. And locking a single person out of the safe room.
Multi-player is still more than worthwhile though, for the versus mode. Mostly because you alternate between survivor and zombie – essentially the same as Team Fortress. Except that one team is utterly without specializations of any kind, while the other has a selection of lethal special moves. It would be nice if you actually could select the type of zombie you spawned as, but I can understand not wanting to allow for the possibility of an all Boomer zombie team simultaneously using their special attack. I imagine it would look something like stumbling into a roomful of feral cats.