Tons of Left 4 Dead Details! puts out “The 1up Show” nearly every week; a surprisingly polished and entertaining online TV show featuring the latest videogame news, previews and reviews. A mix of wit, discussion and slick editing, the show presents its hosts not as hosts but as real people, and it’s fun to get a sense of what kind of games these people like and to see a passionate debate about whether or not a given game is any good.

This week they talked about their recent hands-on time with Left 4 Dead (heading to the PC and XBox 360), and between their discussion of the title and the new footage of the game, it’s easily the best look at this new title coming from Valve Software and Turtle Rock Studios.

“Zombies make everything better.”

Left 4 Dead is an online co-op game featuring four survivors trying to keep surviving in the midst of a zombie holocaust. The unlikely team is immune to the infection and has been pulled together out of sheer survival instinct.

The zombies? Dawn of the Dead remake-style running zombies, pouring out of every building, flooding the streets and alleyways, desperate to snack on our hardened rag-tag team.

That much we already knew though … so what do we learn from this?

First off, we learn that Kathleen and Ryan loved the game. You can see it on their faces as they talk about it. Kathleen says that she’s been waiting a long time for this game. They’re grinning as they discuss their time with it, and if their enthusiasm doesn’t get you excited, there’s something wrong with you.

Co-op and replayability are the two main focuses. For example, unlike most games there won’t be a list of “so and so killed so and so” popping up on your screen because the team found it made people too competitive. Another example, you have a context sensitive use key, and if you look at some ammo and hit it, your character will call out the ammo location. When you reload, again your character will shout out that they’re reloading so everyone else will know to cover you. Obviously this is a smaller thing for the XBox 360 version where voice chat is pervasive, but PC gamers will no doubt appreciate those kinds of touches.

Based on the impressions in the show, splitting up is the quickest way to die.

It really seems like the people at Valve and Turtle Rock have tried to make the game streamlined in its controls but deep in how it plays, and if they have succeeded, that’s good news for everyone.

Most interesting has to be the zombies themselves. First up, the way they run; they really seem to have weight to them as they lean while turning, and just that simple running animation makes them seem quite imposing. There are a number of “boss” zombies, each with special abilities, that can be played by people, too, though that’s optional, but no doubt will make for more chaotic games for the survivors.

The boss zombies each have unique abilities. One was described as alienesque. Fast, leaping from wall to wall. Another can vomit onto a survivor, and that vomit will make every zombie on the level head for the poor survivor who got hit with it. Another has a massive tentacle to snare a survivor and attempt to drag him away from the safety of the group … if merely surviving the zombies encourages teamwork, surviving these guys demands it, and the thought of a group of boss zombies working together intelligently is surely even more imposing.

The regular zombies are all controlled by artificial intelligence, but what is most interesting there is actually in how they spawn into the level.

Worried about the game becoming too predictable, something called the “director” was cooked up. The director is a piece of artificial intelligence, but it doesn’t control any in-game character. What the director does is control how the zombies spawn. There are no set spawn points, and zombies will never appear out of thin air. The director ensures that.

The director monitors each player’s experience separately to keep things interesting. If a player hasn’t been having much action, the director is going to make sure that zombies are going to be heading his way, and similarly if a player has been seeing lots of action, then the director will at times give him a bit of a breather as they found that people were burning out playing the game when the zombies were just constant.

Each game plays differently then, as the director reacts to what the survivors are doing in a smart but unpredictable fashion. They want people to be able to play the same levels over and over again without the challenge or fun fading away, and from the sounds of it they’ve achieved that with the director.

In the new footage we see zombies busting through doors and windows; we see that a survivor can be felled but not killed. Left bleeding out on the floor, they’ll still able to fire at the hordes but not move, presumably savable if a team mate can reach them.

Left 4 Dead looks like a dramatic, chaotic, yet cinematic experience. You can check out more impressions and see the footage for yourself right here, and if you have any interest in video games, I wholly recommend that you do.


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Jon Condit

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