For those unfamiliar with Left 4 Dead, the shooter pits you and three teammates in a frantic, postapocalyptic setting against waves of undead "infected" as you shoot your way to freedom (or, at the very least, survival). The story comprises five missions, each with five chapters, and we played through the first two, No Mercy Hospital and Blood Harvest, at EA's UK headquarters in Guildford.
In the first scenario you'll need to fight your way through the streets, alleys, car parks, and sewers of an urban centre on your way to Mercy Hospital under nightfall. But fear not--you'll have three squadmates by your side throughout the game. The four characters are reflections of everyday folk, including a young girl called Zoe; Francis, a tattooed biker; Louis, an African-American office worker; and Bill, a grizzled Vietnam veteran. In addition to your compadres, you'll find a range of weapons to aid your quest, and you'll encounter machine guns, hunting and combat shotguns, pistols (which can be duel-wielded once you find a second one), scoped hunting rifles, Molotov cocktails, and pipe bombs.
You'll be able to carry only one primary and explosive weapon at a time, and with extra ammo only available at set intervals you'll need to ration what you've got. Naturally, the shotgun is perfect for close-quarters battles; the assault rifles, pistols, and explosives are good for medium to long range; and the hunting rifle is great for outdoor areas when you need to keep your distance. The infected are attracted to sounds, so at times you'll want to keep firefights to a minimum, and this is where the pipe bomb comes into its own. It emits a beeping sound once thrown, ensuring any nearby zombies will clamber around it for a look-see, with devastating results. You're also able to melee attack with a right-click of the mouse, which works well when you're surrounded or need to reload.
You can also carry one medipack, allowing you to heal yourself or your teammate. Because the gameplay relies heavily on team play, we found ourselves caring more for the weakest member of the group than for ourselves for the most part, as having four able-bodied members is more beneficial than one having full health. Left 4 Dead really seems to nail the team dynamics well, and despite playing with fellow journalists whom we didn't know all that well, we often felt a real sense of camaraderie. There really is nothing like a zombie infestation to bring people together.
Besides a wide range of the usual zombie "grunts," you'll encounter four types of superzombies. Boomers explode easily, but if they get close enough they'll vomit green muck on you which, in addition to seriously impairing your vision, will attract a swarm of the infected. Smokers emit a noxious vapour and have a superlong tongue which will reel you in if it catches you. (You can free yourself by shooting the tongue, but if you're unlucky, you'll need one of your squad to rescue you.) Tanks are slow-moving brutes which you'd be best to avoid and can only be taken down with a few clips. Finally, witches are fast-moving and have formidable claws, although they're not too hard to defeat...if you can catch them.
While scenarios may look the same on subsequent replays, the action will change thanks to the game's "director" system, which changes the number of infected you'll encounter--and how often--depending on your performance throughout the game. While five missions doesn't sound like a lot, you'll almost definitely have to repeat parts of the game while you and your teammates work out the best strategy to defeat the hordes intent on ending your humanity. We've talked about the hospital in earlier previews, and after several attempts we were able to complete the last chapter in it, Rooftop Finale. After fighting your way through the hospital's wards, surgeries, and yet-to-be-completed top floors you'll emerge on the rooftop, where you can radio for an extraction via the helipad. Unfortunately, you'll have to stave off a small army of infected before the helicopter arrives, which took us a few tries. They swarmed out from every direction, even climbing up the sides of the high-rise hospital, and we decided the most sensible course of action was to barricade ourselves inside a storage room, blazing our guns at the door--which we were told by EA was a suitable course of action.
After a successful extraction we found our squad camping out in the wilderness in the farm mission Blood Harvest. Through our cross-country journey, we stumbled upon a variety of locations including farmhouses, barnhouses, ("henhouses, outhouses and doghouses"), fields, tunnels, and bridges. Throughout the missions you'll encounter the sometimes eerie, sometimes amusing warning left by other survivors such as the time it takes to become infected written by one survivor as a few weeks, crossed out and rewritten as days by another, only to have a later survivor say, "I saw it happen in hours." While some of the scrawls are purely humorous--"'we deserved this'...'maybe you did, I didn't do anything,'" others are more useful and can help with you mission progression, such as "head north to Echo" or "follow the tracks." Taking the latter advice, for better or worse, led us to a tunnel with carriages and debris strewn across the track. Lighting, as you'd expect, is limited to moonlight, flashlights, and the occasional burning fire, and conditions didn't improve throughout the mission.
You'll need to stay close to your teammates and communicate with your team if you want to make it out alive. Once we'd made it out of the tunnel and across a long bridge crossing a ravine, we arrived at Blood Harvest's last chapter, Farmhouse Finale. Set in an abandoned military base amid cornfields (we're not quite sure what use the military has with corn, but we'll go along with it), the rows of tall corn made for a tense, frantic battle against the infected and it was easy to lose our teammates. Thankfully if that happens, you'll be able to see a silhouetted outline of their body, showing you what direction they're in. The finale concluded with us reaching the outpost, calling for help, and unfortunately succumbing to the zombie horde.
Left 4 Dead is set for a November 21 release in Europe. For more on Valve and Turtle Rock's upcoming frightfest, read our previous coverage.