Valve’s ‘Left 4 Dead’ Feels Finished, Very Scary

Nothing better than a good scare. It makes you feel alive.

I’ve yet to find a video game that’s managed to scare me as much as “The Blair Witch Project” or “A Nightmare On Elm Street.” I’ll admit “Silent Hill” came close.

Valve is onto something with “Left 4 Dead.” It’s not going for the subversive scares of a David Cronenberg film. It’s a fast-paced, a-monster-just-jumped-out-of-the-closet thriller.

At E3 last week, I saw down with “Left 4 Dead” for the second time this year. Even in a crowded developer suite, the game made me literally jump.

Valve showed a new level at E3 — new to me, at least — set in a hospital. Teamed with three other games journalists, each sporting one of the new character designs Valve added to this build (I was the grizzled war vet), we attempted to survive our tour of duty through zombieville.

We didn’t last long the first time.

The swap-in-swap-out setup of the demo meant that people who hadn’t had a chance to play “Left 4 Dead” before spent much of their time become acclimated with the control scheme. We were given a chance to run through the hospital area a second time, though, which proved a much more successful attempt. I tried to hold off the brunt of the incoming flesh eaters with my shotgun, while machine gunners kept an eye on the rear.

This time, I discovered that if a player is knocked off a building, they’ll quickly grasp the ledge. The problem? They can’t lift themselves up, requiring another player has to rescue them before their strength runs out. It adds yet another sense of urgency to an already frantic game, especially as players start dropping like flies. Luckily, it’s not hard to find someone who’s in trouble.

Still, “Left 4 Dead” doesn’t perform well in a demo space. Crucial to survival is communication and it’s awkward to shout commands at three people you’ve never met. Our lack of communication lead to quick deaths. If we’d been more familiar with one another, we could have easily blasted through. But it’s a tribute to “Left 4 Dead”’s polished mechanics that still make it fun in this form.

Given how well the game already plays, it’s surprising Valve isn’t releasing “Left 4 Dead” until this fall. That’s Valve for you, though. They take their time. If that means “Left 4 Dead” becomes even better, though, that’s cool with me.