Editorial | 10/13/2009 at 8:44 PM

The Co-Op Survival Guide

Survival or Waves modes seem to be all the rage these days with co-op games.  And while we all love a good cooperative experience bolstered by solid exposition, it's hard not to love the arcade like nature of survival challenges.  Survival modes typically have arcade style scoring or progression, rewarding players with more points for working together.  Some have a fixed endpoint, while other require you to survive as long as possible before being completely over run.  All of these modes are separate from the main game.

Right now there's four major players in the survival mode genre for shooters, we'll take a look at what they offer, what sets them apart from each other, and even some strategies to help survive!  

Gears of War 2: Horde Mode

Gears of War 2's Horde Mode took most folks by surprise, and more or less, has lead the charge in the recent additions of cooperative modes in games.    

How is it played?  The five player co-op mode has players facing off against waves of enemies.  Every 10 waves enemies get stronger and have more health for 50 total waves.  While the kinds of enemies that appear in each of the waves are pretty much set, there's some randomness to the spawning and number of.  Two players can play split screen with online teammates as well.

How many maps are there?  The game ships with 10 maps.  Three map packs are available to bring the total maps to 19.


Tips for Survival: 

Stick together! Helping each other up, and covering multiple entrances to a small area is very important.

When faced with the higher-level enemies, such as the Blood Mount, hold up in an area with some kind of choke-point that can be blocked off.

Communicate when looking for ammo for a particular weapon, or when covering different doors so your buddies don't get surprise visitors.

If you are unfortunate enough to die on a particular wave, scope out remaining enemies for your buddies.

Plant shields to block areas off; Blood Mounts can't cross shields easily.  Remember to grab shields in between rounds or they will disappear!

Try to leave the last enemy alive as long as possible.  This allows you and your teammates to run across the map safely to find ammo and weapons.

Left 4 Dead: Survival

Left 4 Dead introduced it's survival mode as a free download for both Xbox 360 and PC owners a few months after the game's release.  While not the most popular mode in the game, it's a quick distraction from full campaigns and versus mode.  Typically matches last less than 7 or 8 minutes.

How is it played?  Each survival scenario starts out like the traditional "finale" missions from the campaign.  Once players are ready they trigger a constant onslaught of zombies.  A timer ticks up with the time survived, and the best times earn you medals.  Two players can play split screen with online teammates as well.

How many maps are there?  All of the game's crescendo moments, any moment you trigger the horde with a button or switch, can be played as well as a specific map designed just for survival.  In total there are 13 maps to play including the recent Crash Course DLC which added an additional level.

Tips for Survival:  

Each round of survival needs to be treated like the finale mission, plan your attack before starting the timer 

Use gas cans, propane tanks, and other objects to buy your team time

Try to avoid standing on top of open areas, Smokers will pull you away from the team

Try to lead the tanks into "traps" set up with propane and gas cans

If you're out of traps, leap out into the open and have one member of the team lead the tank around in a wide circle (keeping enough distance between them and the tank) while the rest shoot the tank

What little lulls there are in the action use to heal up and grab ammo.  

Communicate when grabbing ammo

A good area to hold up in is the top of the Light House in The Last Stand.  If you crouch Smokers can't pull you off.

On No Mercy, there is an enclosed staircase near the ammo/radio room.  Put two survivors on the top, two on the bottom, and it's fairly easy to defend.  Switch locations when you need an ammo/health run.

Be careful not to use a wall that is destroyable for cover.  

Halo 3 ODST: Firefight

Halo 3 ODST's Firefight mode when announced, immediately drew comparisons to Horde.  Players quickly learned that's not the case.

How is it played?  Four ODSTs are squared off against 5 random waves of enemies either dropped in or spawned.   Each 5 waves is a round, and every round adds a new skull to mix things up.  There are 3 rounds in a set, and every set adds a permanent skull to the match.  There are 4 sets total.  Two players can play split screen with online teammates as well.

How many maps are there?  The game ships with 10 maps, though 2 of them are night versions of the same map.  Maps are unlocked by playing the game's single player game.

Tips for Survival:   

Headshots are key to score big points.  Team up the pistol with grunts (and birthday party) for massive medal multipliers.

Grunt Birthday Party causes splash damage, eliminating several Grunts at once.

Stick together and find choke points.  Enemies funnel really well into doorways and staircases

Make sure to regroup between waves and replenish your ammo and health, remember ammo and health are restocked between rounds.

During boss waves don't group up too tightly because the gravity hammer will decimate your team in one swipe

Don't waste the sniper rifle on Jackals and Grunts - it's more valuable against Brutes.

If you can get close enough, wait for Brutes to take a swipe at you, then reach around for the Assassination one-hit melee kill.

Use vehicles if they are available, as they have unlimited ammo.

Call of Duty: World at War Nazi Zombie Mode

World at War's Nazi Zombie mode came out of nowhere in a tired World War 2 genre, and it quickly become an addicting co-op experience.  Treyarch combined two of gamer's favorite past times - killing zombies and killing Nazis - and rolled it into a wholesome co-op experience.

How is it played?  Four players are tasked with surviving endless waves on zombies.  Each successive wave has the zombies getting faster and more difficult.  Players earn points by rebuilding barriers, killing zombies, and reviving friends.  These points are then spent on weapons and ammo that are hung on the walls.

How many maps are there?  The game only ships with one map, but three additional ones were added via DLC.

Tips for Survival:

Watch your window - zombies will pile up faster than you think. Don't assist someone else unless you're completely clear.

The bolt-action rifle is your friend. More powerful, more accurate, and cheap ammo make it worth holding onto for a while.

Go for headshots, every time. Body shots are worth 10 points each for a maximum 60 points...headshots are a cool 100 points.

Grenades will often blow the legs off of a zombie, creating a "crawler". If the last zombie is a crawler, take the opportunity to grab ammo and reinforce the windows.

If you're doing well, stay put! Don't open doors for the sake of opening them. Find a choke point, and survive.

Grenades replenish automatically every round. Use them!

Avoid weapons that take too long to reload...like the double-barreled shotgun.

If you do decide to open up a new area for weapons, make sure your team communicates and moves together.  Splitting up across areas is generally a bad idea.

Only open areas between rounds, there's no sense in creating more chaos in the middle of a firefight.

Other Survival Games and Modes


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2 is a newcomer to the genre offering two styles of survival.  While they have a standard game mode against waves of enemies, there's a Gold Rush mode where players need to capture a piece of treasure while surviving against the onslaught.  You can earn big points and upgrades in this mode by performing special combos, capturing a lot of treasure, and killing a lot of guys unlocking items to use in the other co-op and multiplayer modes.  These modes are only available online.

Resident Evil 5 Mercenaries Mode

Mercenaries mode is similar to Left 4 Dead's survival mode, in that the two players are competing against a clock.  Instead of counting up though, the clock counts down.  Your goal is to score as many points as possible in that time period and then earn a ranking based on your performance.  You'll find special markers throughout the levels which increase the multiplier which is shared between the pair of players.  This mode is playable locally and online.

Dawn of War 2: The Last Stand

while not a first or third person shooter, Dawn of War 2: The Last stand is being released as free DLC for the game on October 14th.  In this mode players can use persistent characters and unlock and earn upgrades as they fend off twenty waves of enemies.  The three player co-op mode is only playable online and requires all three players to be present and only one map is playable.


Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor

Another RTS take on survival, there's only one map available as up to four player defend a town against a German invasion.  You'll need to survive 16 waves, and in the process upgrade and build additional units.  Special structures around the map earn you bonuses, but are capable of being destroyed.  


What survival tips do you have for any of these games?