E3 2008: Left 4 Dead Hands-On Preview

Left 4 Dead. I could pretty much just write the name, and it would easily be one of the most read previews I’ve written here at GamerNode considering half our community comes from a Half-Life based site. (In fact, I almost took the easy way out–I’m tired and it’s 2AM, people!)

To say that L4D has received an enormous amount of hype would be an understatement; L4D may be one of the most anticipated games of the year, if not the most anticipated for the PC. And for good reason.

After months of waiting to have a chance to try it, my time finally came Tuesday afternoon in Valve’s Left 4 Dead room here at E3. Sitting down with GamerNode’s own David Henry, one of Valve’s people, and another journalist, we embarked on a journey to find safety from the zombie hordes. (Spoilers: we didn’t.)

When you start a match, you’re given a CounterStrike-like amount of time to gear up. Unlike CS, in the L4D demo there was no purchasing. Instead, various guns, health packs, and ammos were placed on tables or surfaces in the room, free for whomever grabbed them first. This creates an instant division of labor for any intelligent gamers who have seen zombie movies and read Max Brooks’s books. Obviously I grabbed the shotgun. I know how to fight zombies.

Unfortunately, Dave and our non-Valve partner have never even heard of The Zombie Survival Guide! Both of them ran ahead of Valve and I, shooting their pistols and machine guns like two giddy schoolchildren overdosing on Ritalin. Dave learned the hard way after being taken down by zombies several times that you can’t run ahead and leave your back exposed, and that jumping into dark rooms isn’t going to give you the element of surprise against zombie foes.

Eventually we managed to make it past most of the cannon fodder zombies and got to the meat and potatoes of the level, a warehouse-like building. Contrary to what many people wanted, Valve went with the new faster style zombies, not the traditional Romero ones. What that means is that the zombies you’ll be facing can run, climb, and get around obstacles in ways old-school zombies can’t. While one of our team members thought he was perfectly safe on top of a roof, some zombies climbed up the opposite side and ended up surprising him from behind. They took him down, and our Valve member had to find a way on to the roof, kill the zombies, and then heal our fallen comrade by getting close and holding E.

Teamwork like that plays a vital role in L4D. While you can easily take out any zombie in front of you with even a pistol, the sheer number of zombies and the 360 degrees of possible attack mean it’s vital to have someone watching your back–especially with some of the zombies and their incapacitating attacks. Whether it’s lashing you with their tongue or mounting you and raining upon blow after blow of zombified fist meat on your skull, zombies have several options for keeping the human players down. For most of these, the only way to get free is if your teammates save you by attacking your undead assailant.

After the warehouse district, our team members fell one by one until only I remained. (I told you, I’ve mentally prepared for this zombie shit for YEARS!) The safe haven to finish the checkpoint and bring back my friends was in sight, but I had to cross an entirely open shipping and receiving warehouse with no more health packs, and limited ammo in my shotty. Still, I had to try, because there’s no way to kill yourself to avoid being ripped apart or turned into a zombie in L4D.

At first things seemed good; nice and quiet. Too quiet. Yup, there were the zombies pouring out of several doors and all heading towards me. I shot at them with the dual pistols I was also carrying, and just started weaving through shelves and boxes to try and hold them up for even one more second. Eventually I was surrounded by at least two dozen zombies, all pushing to get a piece of Brendon pie. I tried firing, but no luck because I couldn’t aim and pull the trigger with the constant attacks. Desperate, I just started swinging my gun around wildly, clawing and batting my way out to eventual freedom in what one of the Valve guys called one of the greatest escapes he had seen yet.

Sadly, I died to the next zombie, one of those jumping ones with the tongue whipping action. Had I killed him, I could have easily made it to the safe point, stocked up on items, and brought my friends back. Like The Zombie Survival Guide says, it only takes one lucky attack by a zombie to nullify all of your hard work. In this case, that one lucky attack happened to be a gigantic licking followed by a pummeling the likes of which our world has never seen.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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