Left4Dead hands-on preview

Platform: PC, Xbox 360
Release Date: Q3 2008

I’m running through a forest, eyes darting left and right looking for both zombies and clichéd, predictable introductions to game reviews where I describe a part of the game in the first person. There’s none of the former and at least one of the latter until – there! A shotgun blast from my left puts the zombie down in one.

The guy sitting next to me laughs and high-fives a guy on his left. Behind me Chet Faliszeck sighs. I grit my teeth, ready for the surge of zombies who heard the gunshot and swarmed us last time I played this level just ten minutes ago.

But the zombies don’t come and Chet breathes a sigh of relief. I look around at him and he chuckles something about how the AI director is re-pacing the game on the fly. My three fellow survivors and I push forward through a crawl space and find a room stocked with weapons, spattered with blood. Someone cheers about finally being able to swap their shotgun for an assault rifle, but I’m more quiet and withdrawn.

I back into a corner, grabbing a Molotov cocktail on the way. I have a bad feeling about this.

Left4Dead Hands-on Preview

Moving through into the next room, it all seems quiet. We’re in a hallway where glass windows let us look out to a warehouse below. There are rooms to the left and right, but apparently no way down. A burly guy in a sleeveless leather jacket checks the room on the left, calls out that it is clear. A girl in a grotty purple hoodie does the same on the right. In the corner the fourth player is trying to crouch-jump onto a sink for some reason. We all breathe easy and laugh at him for a moment.

Then glass smashes and about twenty zombies stream in through the opening, clambering and leaping from the warehouse floor. The zombies are gross like few other in-game enemies – bulbous, dotted in tumours and stained with ichor and ooze. It isn’t that they look just look evil or quote-unquote twisted – there’s no chainsaws for arms or faceless helmets here. The threat is real, human and horribly deformed.

Something in front of me bears its claws and screams at me in a way that almost makes me fill my boots with fear. Someone on my left takes it down with a pistol shot and I hear someone yell thanks; that could be me or it could be the responsive AI of my character.

The guy in the corner calls out that he’s run out of bullets and the player next to me chides him for taking that damn assault rifle. A mass of rags and matted hair leaps on him and pins him to the ground as he pulls out a pistol. Three of us can see this shadow clawing at him, but we all have our own threats to deal with.

Left4Dead Hands-on Preview

Eventually one of us, I think the one in the Army uniform, manages to get a free shot or two in his direction. I run over and help him to his feet, his character remarking that he’s tore up pretty bad. I pull out a medkit and pass it to him, but he’s backing away from me and shooting over my shoulder already.

Slowly I realise that I’ve got my back to the window and that there is something behind me that’s big enough to shake the screen when it moves. It’s a Boomer and if we aren’t careful it’ll kill us all in a matter of moments.

I turn, start backing up and fire with the first thing that comes to hand; the Molotov cocktail.

As the fire starts to lick the ceiling and chew on the walls, everyone starts screaming and dropping to the floor. The Boomer in front of me explodes in a fountain of clotted blood and there’s a single second before I fall down when I realise that I’ve horribly misjudged the situation. Everyone around me sighs and releases their keyboards, waiting for the flames to finish them off.

You really can’t get the hang of those petrol bombs, can you?” says Chet Faliszeck, the game’s writer. “Never mind though – shall I start up a new game?

I nod at him slightly faster and more eagerly than is perhaps entirely professional, but I can’t help it – I have to play some more of this game because, frankly, it’s what I’ve been waiting for my whole life; co-op zombie carnage from one of the best developers in the world.
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October 14 2021 | 15:04