LANDodger: Adventures in Left 4 Dead

BY Andrew Miesner / May 19, 2009

Adventures in Left 4 Dead

Written by Mike “LANDodger” Luxion

Weekends are great. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Most people don’t have to work or go to school on the weekends. This leaves extra time for important activities like studying and catching up on work.

Sleeping in til noon is also acceptable, I guess, but that’s not for me. I’m not really into that whole “relaxing” fad. I prefer to keep my skills honed at all times. I have to be ready for whatever tragedy life sends my way. That means a weekend full of counter-terrorism strategies played in a 5v5 format, hand-to-hand combat training so I can become the ultimate Street Fighter, and solitaire (just in case Satan challenges me to a contest with a deck of golden cards on the line, the 2009 version of the psalm of “Devil Went Down to Georgia”).

Recently, I realized that I’ve been neglecting one key aspect of my training: the undead. To rectify that, I’ve been training to complete my crash course in killing zombies … lots and lots of zombies.

In other words, I finally bought Left 4 Dead.

Most people will not be shocked to learn that Left 4 Dead is really, really good. The fun starts with character selection. You can choose to be one of four characters: Bill (the grizzled old man and war veteran), Francis (the most heavily tattooed Francis in the history of people named Francis), Zoey (the gun-toting, gung-ho girl of the group), or Louis (who, wearing a dress shirt and tie, is clearly having the worst day at work, ever).

Personally, I went with Bill. This is mostly because when I’m 65 or so, I too hope to “take no guff from nobody” while smoking a fat cigar and packing massive amounts of heat. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that in the original character art he looked like a slimmed-down version of Santa Claus dressed in military fatigues. I consider that to be a pretty big bonus. I mean, come on, if there was ever a game where Santa Claus came down to America to help prevent a zombie apocalypse, looking trim and surly, wouldn’t you want to play as his character? Hell, I’d be so excited I’d probably slip into role-playing. I’d walk into an unexplored room uttering lines like, “Santa’s here with milk, cookies, and heavy weaponry. And he already ate all the milk and cookies.”

Personally, I went with Bill. This is mostly because when I’m 65 or so, I too hope to “take no guff from nobody” while smoking a fat cigar and packing massive amounts of heat.(And by the way, the original Francis looks like me after about twenty more years of disappointment in competitive gaming. Except instead of having a pipe-bomb on my belt, it would be a tube of Cheese Pringles.)

The four survivor classes are countered by four special zombie classes known as Boomers, Tanks, Hunters, and Smokers. I’d describe each of them like this:

Hunters: These are the door-to-door salesmen of the zombie world. They wait in the wings, biding their time until the “client” is distracted. Then they pounce, pinning their target, ripping them apart, and leaving them to bleed out. The only difference is that salesmen make you bleed out through your wallet by buying things you don’t really need, and hunters make you bleed out through that gaping hole in your chest when they rip out your heart. Small difference, really.

Tanks: Huge, hulking brutes that occasionally pick up pieces of the floor and chuck them around like they were baseballs. In other words, think Barry Bonds in three more years of steroid cycles.

Smokers: Just your basic nicotine addict after three months of being cold turkey. Heavy cough. Looking decidedly green. The only difference is that they have a tongue that reaches impossibly long lengths and does crazy things like wrapping people up and dragging them away. It’s the biological equivalent of Indiana Jones’s bullwhip.

Boomers: These are clearly the guys that have been hording the zombie world’s Twinkie stash. They’re fat, soft, easily killable, and when push comes to shove their only recourse is vomiting all over you. If successful, it calls hordes of zombies to your position. I’m not sure what the exact composition is behind this special vomit, but clearly in the zombie world it’s the best thing since sliced humans.

(There’s also something called a witch, but she’s mostly there for comedic relief, like the voice in Portal. Trust me. Nothing to worry about at all.)

As for the game itself, well, there’s not a whole lot they did wrong. It feels like they took the best qualities from other FPS games, distilled them down into their most fundamental parts, then reconstituted the whole thing in a zombie-filled post-apocalyptic world. The only real downside might be that the game ended too quickly. We demand more goodness.

Other than that, the only real complaint I heard during a couple weekends of play was about Bill’s proclivity for the euphemistically named “friendly-fire incidents”, which in normal speech is just “capping your teammates in the back.” And by “Bill’s proclivity”, I of course mean my proclivity for that activity.

To be fair, I didn’t think this was as big of a deal as other people did. In fact, I was pretty impressed by my consistent dominance of this statistic. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I was the Muhammad Ali of “friendly-fire incidents”, except instead of floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, I floated like a drunk guy and stung like a hyperactive, blind, rabid scorpion. I stumbled from room to room, shooting anything I could find. Zombies, ladders, buckets, shadows, whatever. This led to two things: a lot of auto-generated, condescending warnings from virtual teammates on the hazards of friendly fire, and LD rules for my human teammates.  I believe the LD rules were something along the lines of:

1. Do not let LD near boomers. He will end up attracting the horde and, in his semi-blind state from the vomit covering his eyes, will shoot and incapacitate at least (at LEAST) one (1) teammate.

2. Do not let LD cover the flank with a shotgun. He will run away, and then you will become the flank.

3. Do not let LD cover the front or middle with a shotgun.

4. Try to put a wall between you and LD when he has a shotgun.

5. Step in LD’s line of fire, which when wielding a shotgun is almost impossible to avoid, at your own risk.

6. No sudden movements or loud sounds in his presence.

7. Leave your flashlight on whenever possible. If you blind him, he’ll still shoot at you, but he might miss.

Personally, my only complaint (besides teammates that kept hampering my sight lines) was probably the title. I’m not quite sure who we’re leaving for dead. It wasn’t the four main characters, because we quite clearly could not die. Every time I did kill a teamm … er, I mean every time a person did get killed by the horde, that person would reappear in a closet, bathroom, or other secluded place, like some mystical fairy. And if we all died at the same time, we were put back in the safehouse. Clearly not dead.

If it was the zombies we were leaving for dead, well … I won’t exactly be lying in bed awake at night, you know what I mean? In fact, if there’s a country full of zombies I’d be ecstatic to leave them bumming around while I helicoptered out to the nearest unpopulated, tropical island. Though to be honest, anywhere without zombies would be fine, really.

And if it’s teammates that we’re leaving for dead, that just doesn’t seem very accurate. Whenever I abandoned my teammates, I left them for alive. I figured they’d come out alright. It’s not my fault the zombies got them in the end.

So to all the people that have asked me to play l4d throughout the past few weeks, only to be rejected because I didn’t have the game, I offer this simple thought: it’s a fantastic game, and I’d be more than happy to play. Just make sure you leave Bill’s spot open, and be careful what you wish for.