After playing Left 4 Dead 4 a week, er, for a week, I’ve decided it’s really three games in one, with strategies appropriate for each.

Left 4 Dead - Versus mode

Left 4 Dead - Versus mode. Go Smoker!

First, it’s a scary and intense single-player game.  The art direction and the movie metaphor are geared to this.  They rapidly become less appropriate for the other game modes, especially versus, where half the time you’re rooting for the zombies, and relishing the attacks that are so frightening in single-player mode.

Second, co-op mode, with 4 people playing the Survivors.  This requires close teamwork and constant communication, but not the extensive knowledge needed to excel at TF2.  I had a couple of very neat games this week:

  • One on Easy mode, where we used nothing but pistols.  In addition, Chundo was going for the Unbreakable achievement: never healing.  That proved to be a great challenge on the last level when he was on nothing but pills and fading fast, and we had to face down two Tanks.
  • And the really insane one, on Expert.  Expert is nuts because friendly fire is deadly, and even the ordinary zombies can knock you down in five hits.  Experience, and Faux Real, gave us essential tips: Move slowly.  Check out side rooms for health and goodies.  Avoid damage– clear out a space before entering it.  And be religious about avoiding your buddies’ line of fire: always crouch in front, never move suddenly, tell people what you’re doing.  (We didn’t finish the campaign, but it was great fun.)

And then there’s versus mode, where you have 8 players on two teams, and alternate between playing the same level as Survivors or Infected.  This is almost always a great time.  It’s also even more of a team game… much more so than TF2, in fact.  Though TF2 rewards teamwork, it still compares individual players, and you get a gamut from superstars to clueless noobs.  In L4D it’s the team that wins or loses… some players are certainly better at it, but you need all four players to win.  (If even one survivor dies, the zombies can usually mop up the rest.  And even  a bot– an AI player– is a liability.) 

As Survivors, the effective strategy is to run run run.  The teams compete on distance; also, by moving fast you force the zombies to spend precious time keeping up.  (Half their strategy is where to spawn, and you make it harder by being a moving target.)  The other bit is keeping together.  A close knot of survivors is hard to attack, while stragglers are delicious zombie fare.

As Infected, you want to spawn carefully, and work together.  A disorienting boom followed by a double hunter pounce can be devastating.  Boomer is probably the most fun to play, because you blind the survivors and prepare the way for your team.  Hunter is harder– even if you successfully pounce it’s usually not hard for someone to kill you.  (After all, you’re right there, and a rescuer is almost always close at hand.)  Smoker is hardest, largely because finding a good spot is difficult; on the other hand it’s probably the most satisfying when it works.

And then there’s Tank… who doesn’t want a few moments of devastating power?  If only we had these things for taking out sentry farms.