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We’ve relished the movies about it. We’ve daydreamed about it happening in our own lives. We’ve even drawn up detailed plans for how to survive the admittedly unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse (answer: barricade ourselves in the local Costco). There’s just something so tantalizingly thrilling about the prospect of fighting for survival in an undead-infested world.
Left 4 Dead, Valve Software’s new multiplayer first-person shooter, delivers that awesomely terrifying experience to us. Abandoned metropolises, a ragtag band of hapless strangers, and an endless horde of infected humans—all the staples of a nail-biting George A. Romero zombie epic—are present and accounted for in this ambitious cooperative adventure. But how does this game hold up to our obsessive zombie fantasies? We busted a few thousand undead skulls to find out.
In the global zombie apocalypse of Left 4 Dead, our goal was simple: just survive. But reaching a safe haven in hopes of getting rescued was easier said than done. We had to navigate through the crumbled ruins of modern civilization and defend ourselves against a mob of angry zombies that would stop at nothing to see us dead. Luckily, we were never alone in this frightening fight for survival. We were not only always accompanied by three teammates (controlled by either real players or AI) but also equipped with a zombie’s greatest weakness: bullets. Lots of bullets.
Our nerve-racking journey was broken into four story campaigns, each consisting of five sequential levels. These “movies” all followed the same structure: The four of us traversed zombie-infested territory to reach safe houses at the end of each chapter, building up to a lengthy final stand while awaiting rescue at each campaign’s finale.
We started off in the No Mercy act, which challenged us to find a way to the rooftop of a hospital from a distant apartment building. As we made our way through dimly lit hallways and claustrophobic stairwells to the street, we caught our first glimpse of the infected masses—soulless husks of our once neighbors and friends. It was a mistake to agitate them; once alerted to our presence, a wave of the ghoulish goons swarmed our position. These common zombies were easy to put down with our assault rifles and shotguns, but their overwhelming numbers and surprising speed made them formidable foes. Zombies would climb fences, claw through closed doors, and crawl over any obstacle for a taste of our flesh. Shooting off their limbs wasn’t even enough to keep them down—the undead were impressively determined (a well-aimed headshot, though, stopped them in their tracks).
Frenzied shootouts were dynamically timed by the game’s AI Director to give us moments to catch our breath after a slaughter (see the sidebar on the next page). These welcome lulls in the mayhem actually added tension because we weren’t sure how much time we had before the next onslaught.
Even more frightening was the presence of five Boss Infected. More freakish than the common zombie ilk, each boss had a special ability to cause disarray among our group. The grotesquely obese Boomer vomited bile on us to attract hordes to our position, the stealthy Hunter pounced from the darkness to keep us pinned on the ground, the lanky Smoker snagged and strangled stragglers with his tongue, and the hulking Tank swatted us around like we were flies. The only way to stay alive was to work together, communicating frequently and calling out threats to avoid being caught off guard. The necessity for teamwork here is unmatched by any other multiplayer game, and the payoff for surviving the full campaign is incredibly rewarding.