At an Electronic Arts event last night, I touched one of my most desired games of 2008: "Left 4 Dead" from Valve and former "Counter-Strike" contributor Turtle Rock Studios.
There's nothing I love more than a good horror movie, especially those involving zombies. It's as though "Left 4 Dead" was a game made just for me.
Good horror games are few and far between. Good horror games involving group cooperation are fewer. Do they even exist? The last one I can remember is "Resident Evil: Outbreak" -- and we all know how that one turned out.
Thankfully, "Left 4 Dead" looks to be much, much better. It's not even a fair comparison.
Valve had four stations dedicated to showcasing a single level from "Left 4 Dead." I'm told the level had been shown before, but it was all new to me. 1UP's Scott Sharkey was seated to my right, but I didn't know the other folks playing our demo, which presented our first problem (and one that wasn't actually the game's fault): communication. Or the lack thereof, really.
"Left 4 Dead" is a game designed around cooperation. Talking to one another and coming up with effective strategies against the impending zombie hordes relies on communication. In a loud press event, without headphones or microphones available, that's not possible. Our team was already at a disadvantage.
It takes a little while to grasp the idea of cooperating in such a hostile environment. Your first instinct is to rush forward and start blasting, but "Left 4 Dead" has no problem tossing what seems like hundreds of zombies rushing at you simultaneously. These are not George A. Romero's zombies; these are straight out of "28 Days Later;" they can run.
You might not realize that being a little conservative, sticking together and watching each other's back is crucial to survival -- or you die pretty quickly. I did. Dying isn't a one step process, though. Other players can revive you several times before you're truly dead, but if you are mauled for too long, it's truly game over.
But, then again, not really. So long as the rest of the group makes it to the next checkpoint, you're revived and back in action. Valve and Turtle Rock understand that while it's unrealistic to "appear" again, it also wouldn't be much fun to watch everyone else keep playing for another hour.
Our group made it to the end of the second scenario. There were four scenarios available, but we didn't survive to see the second half. Our demise came in a building full of pipes. An ammo table was at the front of the room, a button at the other. One of the developers warned that the moment that button is pressed "all hell breaks loose." At this point, Sharkey started lobbing Molotov cocktails everywhere and turned the place into an inferno.
There was so much fire, in fact, that no one could reach the button. Sharkey pressed forward through the flames and triggered the next event. Dozens and dozens of scrambling undead came pouring through the windows around us. We didn't last long.
But I was proud of myself. While I was the first one to die when we first jumped into "Left 4 Dead," I was also the last one standing, guns blazing.