QuakeCon 2007: Left 4 Dead Hands-On

Left 4 Dead may very well be one of the top multiplayer games of the year. Too bad that year is now 2008.

DALLAS, Texas--Left 4 Dead would have undoubtedly been a finalist for multiplayer gameplay of the year, if not for the fact that Valve recently just announced that the game has now slipped to early 2008. Still, it's hard not to be completely engrossed in this cooperative multiplayer action game that has you playing alongside three other players as you try and battle it out of a zombie-infested Los Angeles. It really feels like you're trapped in a movie like 28 Days Later, and the game's desperate firefights and awesome scenes of dozens of zombies rushing you hits something primal in your brain.

We finally got our hands on Left 4 Dead for a lengthy play session with some of the folks at Valve and developer Turtle Rock Studios, which also developed Counter-Strike: Condition Zero. The game's premise is this: a plague has turned almost everyone in Los Angeles into zombies. These aren't slow, shambling zombies like in the old 1960 horror movies, but rather adrenaline-charged nightmares that will sprint, jump fences, bash doors, and more to get at you. There are also a smaller number of stranger zombies, like the smoker, which emits a black, choking cloud of smoke that can blind you and has a froglike tongue that can real you in. Or there's the tank, a huge beast of a zombie that will take an unbelievable amount of punishment before dying.

You play as one of four survivors who is somehow immune to the zombie disease. That's the good news. The bad news is that the zombies want to eat you, and you have to battle work together to fight your way out of the city. We played as Louis, the retail manager of a big box electronic store. Then there's Zoey, a teenage girl; Francis, a biker; and Bill, a grizzled Vietnam War veteran. Each of these characters can use every type of weapon in the game, so they're fairly interchangeable. At the same time, each one makes an impression thanks to the incredible facial animation in the game.

The heart of Left 4 Dead is the fact that you'll have to battle against incredible odds in very familiar urban settings to get through the game. You can carry a primary weapon, such as a shotgun or assault rifle, as well as a pistol that you can use as a last resort. We started out each level in a safe room where our characters could change between different weapons, refill on ammunition, and pick up health packs. Each character can only carry a single health pack, by the way.

Once you have your gear, it's time to venture out into the world. We battled our way through city streets, hospitals, sewers, a subway line, and warehouses, with the goal of getting to the next safe room, which marks the end of each level. The environments are both well rendered and realistic, which helps ground the game in a believable and familiar setting.

The action in the game is completely crackerjack once it gets started. At first you'll encounter one or two zombies and dispatch them at ease, but then you'll turn a corner and suddenly see the screen full of zombies running right at you. The first time we encountered such a swarm our team became split into two, and our teammate was the center of the zombies' attention, swarming all over him. We furiously tried to shoot them off our teammate while screaming for help from the others, who came running. The combat is frantic and desperate and charged.

Left 4 Dead isn't wall-to-wall action though, as there are lulls in the game where you'll wipe out a zombie horde (barely), and then have to move on. There's a sense of teamwork as you stick together and call out to one another. Vocal commands are a big part of the game. When you reload, your character calls out that fact to the others, letting them know that you're going to be unable to fire for a few seconds. The time it takes to reload can seem like an eternity with there are a bunch of zombies in your face. There's also a lot of in-game chatter, as characters can call out warnings and commands. It's tense as you maneuver through a house or structure and use your flashlights to sweep through darkened rooms, looking for zombies. It's also a good idea to have whoever is in the back of the group to keep an eye for anything attempting to approach the group from behind. It's a very tactical game in that sense.

Each character has a health bar that drains the more damage they take, and yes, there is friendly fire too, so you have to be careful with that. If the bar drains, the character falls to the ground and must be helped up by another character. This has to be done relatively quickly, too, or else the person on the ground will die. If you have low health, you can use a health pack to bandage wounds. Just select the health pack and use it like a weapon, however bandaging wounds is a process that also takes a few seconds, and you don't heal until the process is done, so this too can seem like an eternity when there's zombies about. If a character dies, keep an eye open for a red light, which marks the presence of a safe room where you can discover another survivor. That's how you basically respawn in the game.

At the end of each level, the game takes stock of your performance, showing you how many zombies you've killed and your achievements. Shooting a zombie off someone's back, for instance, gets you a special achievement. Taking out a tank zombie gets you another, while getting through the level without getting knocked down by a zombie will get another. There are plenty of other achievements, as well, but it looks like this is a portion of the game that's still getting fleshed out, as the rewards screen consisted mainly of placeholder user interface elements at this point.

This game is so incredibly atmospheric, cinematic, and engaging that we didn't want to stop playing. Left 4 Dead uses Valve's Source engine, so the graphical look is comparable to a Half-Life 2 or a Counter-Strike, but it looks even better thanks to the fact that it's set in such a familiar setting. As good as it looks, though, we're hyped on the actual combat, as it really feels like it's going to be the definitive zombie game. Even better, we're told that the game has an incredibly amount of replayability, as there are different situations and wild moments that can occur each time that you play. This is a game to most definitely keep an eye on, and it'll be released early next year.

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Discussion

33 comments
Trollbane
Trollbane

Eh, I don't really care. This one has been under construction for a long time!

Craft2299
Craft2299

Oh yeah! i so want the game... dangit, they moved it to 2008? oh well... i might aswell keep waiting.

Noventus
Noventus

This is by far the game i am most looking forward to being released, even more than crysis and halo 3, I am a massive fan of Co-Op games and Zombies, so roll on 2008!

Strife8
Strife8

X-7, I really think you are overthinking this. I agree with nth1739 and MatthewShield. First of all it is true that the source engine is a little old, and yes it is flexible, but did we forget that it is stable and can run on almost any computer on the market at the moment. Even stock prebuilt computers, that you get at big-box retail stores can handle it, save for the bottom end models. Lower middle range and up would at least be able to play the game with minimum frame loss. Do you have any idea how many people out there have been waiting for a zombie survival game of these proportions? A lot. So Valve is making a great move by using the source engine again because many of the source files will already be on people's computers and the game will easily be downloadable within a reasonable amount of time and people on lower end machines know that they don't have to upgrade their computer to play. Using the source engine is a very economically sound decision for Valve. Second of all, having actual character based classes would simply be redundant, because the way the game is designed, the players will be able to choose who takes what role in the team. While I agree that not any teenage girl should be able to pick up an AK-47 and fire a few rounds off without severe consequences (lol), I think that making character based classes would be taking that slight problem way too far. Instead, I think they should possibly introduce more than four characters. That's my only complaint. What if I want to be a sad, lonely, computer gamer, that now has his chance for a crack at real zombies? Please Valve, put a nerd character in the game!

DeanCorleone
DeanCorleone

USSJ2Trunks is 100% correct the engine not being out dated. You can have a great looking game engine in terms of display - but have a very poor game in terms of context. This engine has been implemented with most likely the most challengin' AI as of yet... and I can't wait to test it.

auntbessie
auntbessie

I don't want to play with other people, did they ever think about that? Sounds good though, can't beat a good zombie massacre, stupid things, wobbling along dribbling on themselves, say hello to my shotty!

Wezker619
Wezker619

This game looks so cool. I want to play it so much!!!!!

USSJ2Trunks
USSJ2Trunks

I love how someone felt the need to call the Source engine dated. Yeah, it's been 3 years, but it still looks pretty damn good. So what if it's not "photorealistic" like the Gears fanboys want. You guys seem to forget something... NOTHING'S PHOTOREALISTIC ABOUT A HALF-TON SUIT OF ARMOR AND STEROID-PUMPED SOLDIERS. Plus, the Source engine is flexible as hell, Garrys Mod is proof of that. It still has a lot of life in it, considering it can be expanded upon. There have been quite a few single player mods for HL2 released that increase the graphics to a near Crysis level, just by using simple filtering and texture tricks. It's called utilizing flexible technology, instead of working with an engine that's limited, albeit better looking. I'd rather have a game with physics that allow me to climb walls with grappling hooks, than a game that lets me push a 600lb Berserker around like a crumpled piece of paper.

Baconiclore
Baconiclore

Since the first time I heard of this title, I have been stoked. I pre-ordered it as soon as it was available. A teamwork based zombie survival game? I'll take two.

The delays do not dampen my spirits because I know it will be used for fine tuning and some more awesome injections.

As far as specialized character classes? No thanks. The fact that you're playing as basically four average people in a hectic situation will help to play off the player's skills, and not just the skill sets that a "class" would provide.

nth1739
nth1739

Rob101- So Resident Evil 4 invented fast moving zombies? I dont see how that possible nor how it is any negative mark against this game? I know you put no flame...but come one...a game cant take credit for a fast moving zombie :/ This game is going to be alot of fun. I am already having a good time playing the Zombie Master mod for HL2, so I am sure this one will be great. The lack of character classes and defined roles is a gameplay decision. Since there is no SURE respawn method it would be very frustrating to loose a defined player role and therefore be unable to progress through the level. This is also done the same way in Zombie Master mod. Everyone starts as the same class with no guns or ammo. If you are into COOP this game is for you.

MatthewShield
MatthewShield

X-7, I think the point they are trying to make with the lack of character classes is that its up to the player (and the team as a whole) to decide who should do what in any given situation. And when you consider how easy it is in this game to die/get knocked over/seperated from the group, it wouldnt really make much sense to have specific abiltys locked onto certain characters. I believe their words on the gamespot interview was "we want it to really be about the player's skills rather than the character he is playing as". I think you might be mistaking this for Battlefield with zombies. Still, great game, shame about the delay.

Glordit
Glordit

:cry: want this soo bad but I am basically on a dailup connection, so its GW for me instead :)

X-7
X-7

SRY about DBL Post. PM me if this sounds good.

X-7
X-7

They need to change the characters a bit and add new ones. The girl should have low health, ammo, and bad recoil. But carries Three medkits and can patch other players up. Plus, she is the fastest. But has low stanima used for sprinting and jumping. Ability: Three medkits and can patch other players up. The Vietnam Vet should have the most health, ammo, least recoil, carries on medkit. But he would run a little bit faster then the enemies. Medium stanima. Ability: Bash doors open that are locked. The electronic store manager should have medium health, ammo, recoil. Speed would be relatively slow with low stanima. Ability: Can fix electronic devices and hack. Biker most stanima. 2nd lowest health, ammo, and recoil. Fast. Ability: Leaps when he jumps while sprinting. Add two more characters and more competitive multiplayer modes and maps. Characters: Martial Artist and a Hunter. (Close quaters and Sniper.) Multiplayer: Obtain the Serum(CTF). Extermination/ Team Extermination (Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch) Survival (Survive waves of enemies and eliminate other players) Coop Avaible. Extract (Fight your way to the extraction point.) Coop Availble. Zombiefield (A Battlefield 2ish mode where one team is survivors and the other is zombies.) 12 survivors and 8 Zombies. Zombies have 24 AI units to command 3 each. Zombies have 3x the tickets the survivors have. Modifiable. The girl would be like a medic. The Veteran could be the tank. Electronic guy would be the tech guy. The biker the scout. Martial Artist Close Quarters. Hunter would be a sniper.

timma25
timma25

Sounds more like a mod then a full game... Needs more gameplay ideas.. More than just going point to point... acheivements need a meaning (i think at least).. Maybe somewhat of a competitive mode? and is their still player controlled zombies?(read this somewhere prolly gs)

InfernoLink
InfernoLink

Rob_101, The Zombies are fast but not smart, think Dawn of the Dead 2004.

Rob_101
Rob_101

A few things I'd like to say about this game: - The zombies that are not typical slow moving zombies but fast, violent, and smart zombies was obviously taken directly from Resident Evil 4. - When a team mate dies and you can rush over to him to help him off the ground to prevent him from dying seems to be inspired by Gears of War. - I'm also disappointed to hear there using the Source engine, squeezing every last bit out of that dated technology. (It's what over 3 years old now?) - Kinda sucks that this is another Point A to Point B game, very straight forward. - Seems like there not doing anything with the teammates playing differently. A teenage girl can fire an automatic assault rifle and plays the same as a hardened Vietnam vet :? I just had to get those things off my chest and I'll say right now; I'm basing those things off this article. Please don't quote or flame me on these things because they are just my observations and I'm not trying to state them as fact. Other than that I can't wait to play Co-op with my friends and I'm sure the final product will be great ;)

Dakotacs
Dakotacs

So excited about this game!

ColdZero_x
ColdZero_x

Yes... Singleplayer & Multiplayer... Yes... Retail version As i know...

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

woot ill be waiting L4D ill be waiting... just take your time and make it through the dev phase nice and pretty.

markkilness
markkilness

there is single player, but mutliplayer is the main focus.

Newnab
Newnab

Daaamn. 2008. Oh well, saves my wallet somewhat this christmas I guess. Sounding good.

Rockclmbr6
Rockclmbr6

Wow, I haven't heard GS this excited for a game in a long time. I've been watching this one for a while; can't wait.

jono111
jono111

Ah well 2008 to bad, this game is gonna be awesome, show us a movie of the gameplay then..........oh you cant, your Gamespot................ PC Gamer has a full length video of the level showing you the Zombie & the Human side in action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a22lmSFsmkg

gcf0413
gcf0413

This game looks like it will be great. Great concept for a multiplayer game. Theres nothing quite as fun as cleansing the zombie hordes. Can't wait!

ktwq
ktwq

multiplayer only?

iMuffins
iMuffins

Sucks that it got delayed... Sounds good though.

dark_being
dark_being

Cantwaitcantwaitcantwait! too bad the game's been pushed back to 2008