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December 13, 2008 / Abe Pralle

New Age Gauntlet

I’ve been playing a lot of Left 4 Dead lately.  It’s super-fun: in each of the levels (4 scenarios with 5 big levels each) you and three other players must survive hordes of zombies to reach the Safe Room or the transport out of the city.

Farm

Along with nailing the feel of zombie apocalypse, L4D makes a major stride forward in cooperative mechanics.  Besides just needing every person shooting and swinging to avoid being overwhelmed, there are a number of special zombie attacks (being pinned down; tentacle choke-holds) that will totally incapacitate players and require the aid of another player to escape.  If you stick together you can cover each other and probably be all right.  If you go wandering off by yourselves you’ll almost certainly die.

The cooperation element is just one example of a larger maxim: the game is entirely willing to trade realism for fun mechanics when necessary.  Another example: in this world zombies are attracted to piercing noises (!).  They don’t seem to notice gunfire one bit (!), but a pipe bomb with a beeping timer on it attracts them all to one big dog-pile of zombies with a grimly humorous and satisfying final result.  It doesn’t make all that much sense – especially when a beeping timer with no bomb attached would probably keep them off your back for much longer – but it’s more fun this way too.

After some particularly satisfying survival incidents last night it suddenly struck me: despite many failed attempts over the years to update the classic Gauntlet I/II, Left 4 Dead is the first true successor.  It’s a group of friends fighting off thousands of monsters, looking for rare health and special weapons, trying not to shoot each other, and generally cooperating in a frantic rush to the exit in each level.  Well done!

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