This is a story about dads and sons, parenting a teenager, changing interests, and, of course, zombies.
My oldest son is now 15 years old. We've had an excellent relationship ever since he was just a little tyke. When he was a preschooler, we watched hours of Power Rangers together. When he began school, it was comic books. All along, video games have been a big part of our lives together. My son was the best Gauntlet Legends partner, Smash Brothers teammate, and all around co-op champ you could ask for.
You'll notice I said "was". Unfortunately, as the hormones kicked in, we've grown a bit distant from each other. This has been difficult for me, as we were so close in the past. Instead of watching giant robot anime, he's doing homework. Texting on his phone has replaced playing Magic: the Gathering together. Worst of all, video games have been replaced by... you guessed it: girls.
Our play time together has all but disappeared. Most of the time, my co-op is done with my youngest son, who, at 8, still thinks dad is the coolest. But there are some games that just aren't appropriate for him. Namely, Left 4 Dead.
I've been itching to play the Crash Course DLC campaign since it was released. But it seemed like something always kept me and my oldest son from having any time together. A track practice here, a big English essay there; don't even get me started on the telephone conversations with his girlfriend. Finally, after weeks of delays and interruptions, we had an hour to ourselves last night. Mom took a shower and watched TV in the other room, little brother happily watched a DVD on my computer, and big brother and I sat down on the couch for a session of the latest Left 4 Dead goodness.
We were both a bit rusty, as it had been so long since we had played. I always play as Francis, he always chooses Zoey. When we grabbed the weapons and heard the characters talking to each other, it was a great feeling, a bit like putting on an old comfortable pair of jeans that you find at the bottom of your closet. Our time away from Left 4 Dead had made the experience all the sweeter.
Crash Course plays a bit differently from the other campaigns. The most notable difference was all the platforming elements. In many different areas, you have to hop around various structures. You might jump across a tractor trailer to a rooftop, for instance. There are lots of bridges and abandoned train cars, especially in the finale. These jumping sections add a real sense of danger and excitement to me, since I'm not as good at the "twitchy" stuff as I used to be, and I'm always falling off of things.
The crescendo section of the first chapter is particularly fun. The "switch" is a howitzer, which must be fired to clear rubble away from the entrance to a bridge. The cannon is behind an open bed truck, with an attached machine gun. We set up propane tanks and fuel cans around each side of the truck, and fired the howitzer. A satisfying boom, followed by the chilling scream of the incoming zombies, filled the air. I lined up my shot and fired at a gas can as a dozen or so zombies ran over it. Miss, miss, miss... yup, I'm rusty. Finally, it went off, but not after a few zombies got into the truck with me. I meleed them away, trying to keep my son clear as he (or rather, Zoey) mowed down what he could. All of a sudden, we hear the dreaded screech, and the following message comes across the screen... "Djinniboy has startled the witch"!
She couldn't have come at a worse time. By the time I finally killed her, Bill and Louis were, sadly, departed. We ran into another witch later on. I'm not sure if it was a bug, or Crash Course allows for more than one witch per chapter. We didn't last too much longer without a full group, but the second time around, it all went much more smoothly. One particularly cool moment was launching a molotov into an open box car that served as a choke point. The whole interior burst into flames, and the zombies died easily at our feet.
The real treat of the night, however, was the finale. These adrenaline fueled experiences are the most memorable parts of Left 4 Dead, and Crash Course is no exception. I hesitate to even talk about it; so great was the thrill I hate to spoil it for anyone. But there were so many awesome moments that I'm going to go ahead and discuss it. The finale involves starting a generator to lower a vehicle down from a lift. The generator is quite a ways from a building with a good spot to hole up in. Ammo is right outside the structure, which has two entrances, though one is fenced in. A convenient stack of boxes (more jumping!) lets you perch on top of what must be a small office of sorts in the building. We found no less than four propane tanks, plus a handful of pipe bombs scattered about. We collected them all on our hiding spot, where they'd be handy for us to use.
Once we had everything arranged to our satisfaction, I ran out to start up the generator. Immediately, the lights came on, and the zombie horde came a runnin'. Everything went quite smoothly for a bit, as the lights made it quite easy to see everything clearly. We coordinated our ammo runs, and everything went well. That's when the zombies climbed over the back wall to get to us. Totally surprised, I fired frantically. Remember those propane tanks I mentioned earlier? Well, they made a nice chain reaction, which did kill a lot of undead, but also gravely injured us as well. We fought them off, quickly healed up, and had just gotten back on our feet when the Tank music began to play. We groaned, and then, the unthinkable happened.
The generator stopped and the lights went off!
Of all the "OH SNAP!" moments in Left 4 Dead, this one was by far the best. I literally got chills and cackled in glee. We ran out together to to defeat the tank (barely), fight off the horde (it cost us poor Bill), and restart the generator (took four tries). I stopped to replenish my ammo while my son ran ahead. A hunter took me down, and as he ran back to save me, the vehicle finally lowered and it was time to go. "Go on, leave me, go, go!" I cried, and as I died, I saw him shoving zombies aside, and crawling into the van. Everything looked fine, but another Tank showed up and pounded him dead. So close was the death that we actually saw the van pull out, and for a second thought that we had succeeded.
Alas, it was not to be. We found ourselves at the beginning of the level once more. As quickly as we could, we moved through to the finale. This time, we spaced the propane tanks out more, and there were a couple gas cans we used to great effect. I switched to the auto shotgun, which seemed to work a bit better for me. When the lights went out again, we were totally prepared. The Tank came to us, but I lit him up with a molotov and he quickly fell. My son restarted the generator and I covered his back. This second attempt was quite successful, and we were both tucked safely in the van as it drove off. (Sorry Louis!)
We swapped high fives and fist bumps to celebrate. As the stats rolled by, we talked trash to each other. Sure, I took more damage, but I had 4% more headshots than he did; you know, this sort of thing. The total time, with the two restarts, was 1 hour and 5 minutes. For those 65 minutes, the two of us were the kings of co-op, buddies once again. It was a great feeling. I told him about this new mode called Survival, like Horde mode, sort of, that I wanted to try out. He looked at his watch, and told me he had a phone call to make. Sure, I said, maybe tomorrow we'll play again. He walked off to his room, and I debated whether I should maybe look up a friend or three online. I decided not to; the evening had been special, pure, just about perfect. I didn't want to mess that up. I wondered if he felt even half as good as I did. I figured he just did it to get the old man off his back for a bit.
When he came to tell me good night (no kisses, of course, not since he was twelve or so), he told me we needed to get some of those cool Left 4 Dead movie posters, because they are awesome. I nodded, agreed, and wished him good night. Maybe, just maybe, he enjoyed our time together as well. Perhaps teenagers aren't as bad as zombies, after all.