Why should uninfected human survivors have all the fun? In Left 4 Dead's Versus mode, you can join a squad of infected zombie bosses and--what else?--vomit on enemy faces. After playing much of the single-player and co-op campaigns, we finally got our hands on the Versus mode of Valve's anticipated shooter.
The squad-based mode is round-based, and survivors will trade with the infected after each round. Just as the survivor team consists of four members, the infected has four classes that are randomly assigned, and the methods in which they deal damage are vastly different. The boomer is an infected fat man in a belly shirt who vomits on survivors. When hit, the vomit distorts the survivor's vision and attracts the zombie horde, which storms forth like a troop of angry extras in 28 Days Later. The boomer is also filled with methane gas and explodes when killed, causing area-of-effect damage to all survivors in close proximity. The smoker is armed with a 50-foot tongue that can pluck a survivor from a distance and drag him or her away from the group, like a frog snagging a fly. The hunter is the fastest of the infected and is hard to hit. He has the ability to climb buildings, but only on designated "zombie ladders," which are glowing icons on the sides of walls. Once up there, he can pounce on a survivor. If successful, he proceeds to claw the survivor's face.
The fourth and most powerful zombie class is the tank. Once per round one player on the infected team will take the role of the tank and can knock a survivor to his or her knees with just one punch. If a pesky survivor is not within striking distance, rip up concrete or cars from the street and hurl them. The tank has a tremendous amount of health, and only a concerted effort from all four survivors can take down the tank without him taking down one of the survivors.
Only the survivor team can score, and points are awarded by how far you've gotten through a map. The survivors begin in a safe room that is loaded with weapons and first-aid kits. The maps in which we played were stocked with more high-level guns such as automatic shotguns, assault rifles, and scoped hunting rifles (not advisable in close quarters). At the same time the survivors are loading up on gear, the infected team is selecting spawn points. You can choose to spawn anywhere on the map that is not in sight of the survivors, or in the safe room itself. The goal is to entrap the survivors, for example by hiding in a dark corner and then pouncing when they least expect it.
The strategy for the survivors is much the same as it is in other modes: stick together and watch each other's backs. When one member has to apply first aid, which takes several seconds, the other members attack the oncoming horde. As a survivor, it's not uncommon to yell at your teammates "Stay together!" or "This way!" Thankfully, there are green exit signs that usually illuminate the correct way to go. As we made our way though a hospital, it was helpful to close as many doors as possible to slow the infected down. Often team members will become incapacitated by pouncing hunters or strangling smokers, and you'll have to come to their aid. If you do become incapacitated, you can still fire your pistols from the ground while you wait for a teammate to revive you. But eventually, you will all most likely die; finishing a map is extremely difficult but rewarding.
As the infected, the strategy is slightly different, but good teams will coordinate their attacks as much as survivors coordinate their defense. For instance, the boomer may vomit on the group to blind them all, summon the horde, and then charge forward--if killed, he will explode and cause damage to each survivor. A smoker can snatch one of the blinded survivors from a distance and continually punch him. The two remaining hunters can then pounce on the last two survivors and finish them off. Such coordination takes skill because the infected have very little health; one shotgun blast or a few pistol rounds are enough to kill you. The goal is to deal as much damage as you can, choose a sneaky respawn point, and do it again.
The balance of the Versus mode, even at this unfinished stage of development, is excellent. Rounds as the infected are just as enjoyable as rounds controlling the survivors, but for completely different reasons. Working your way though a burning apartment building, infected hospital, or the city rooftops as a survivor is intense and almost draining. The zombies just keep coming. If you do manage to escape with your life, a feat that Valve is making extremely difficult, the feeling is next to euphoria. On the flip side of the coin, there's much less pressure playing as a zombie, and barfing on your enemies or pouncing on their heads is almost relaxing, icing on the cake. We'll have more as Left 4 Dead approaches its November release.