"Close the god damn door!" shouts a character from Valve's four player co-op zombie shooter Left 4 Dead. Frantically the players scramble towards a safe house before it's too late and they are overrun by the zombie horde. As the last player gets inside his team mate closes the door as the line of zombies behind him slam into it snarling. At this year's Penny-Arcade Expo, that's exactly what the line looked like at the booth for the game. Long lines of zombie gamers pounding on the doors eager to get their hands on the thrilling shooter. When they finally got there? Simply sitting back and watching them play the game it was easy to tell one thing; this shit is fun.
Perhaps there's some sick and twisted inherit human trait that makes killing zombies so damn fun, but when Turtle Rock Studios (creators of Counter-Strike) decided to create a game on the subject, they knew immediately it would have to be a cooperative title. Left 4 Dead writer Chet Faliszek said that from the get-go the team designed the game with co-op in mind, but they didn't want it to have a tacked on feel. One thing the team disliked was seeing co-op games that left you with no options. What does that mean? You won't see any cheap environmental puzzles or situations that you can't get out of on your own. That's not to say there aren't some unique co-op elements. You'll have your standard revive mechanics, but you'll also have situations where you can help friends in trouble. Perhaps they are being over run by a horde of zombies, pinned to the ground frantically shooting to stay alive. It's simple to see your call to duty here. There are other times when certain zombies will stick you with long tentacle type thing, a notification will go out to all players alerting them of this, and hopefully soon they will rush to your aid!
While Left 4 Dead is a four player co-op game, if you don't have three other buddies to help slay the zombie horde the game is happy enough to fill in with AI bots Speaking of bots, I think Turtle Rock really hit the nail on the head with a unique new co-op feature that is an AFK (away from keyboard) mode. The concept is simple, and it takes drop in and drop out to a whole new level. If at any time during the game you need to do something in the real world, that blasphemous real world,there is an option available where a bot would take over and continue playing with your friends. When you come back, simply resume the game and continue the slaughter of zombies. All in drop-in/drop-out fashion.
Another announcement for the game that came out during PAX was the fact we would see dedicated servers for the Xbox 360 version of the game. This is something that's quite the rarity in Xbox Live world, but according to Faliszek it was "important to offer the same consistent experience on both platforms." This doesn't mean dedicated servers are the only servers available, peer to peer options are still there. At first glance it might seem odd that a four player co-op title would require dedicated servers, but with 50 or more zombies on a screen at once, there's plenty of data to sync up.
After playing at both E3 and PAX2008, and after watching every attendee that played the game walk away with a smile, I think it's safe to say this game is going to be a hit. Left 4 Dead will hit PCs and Xbox 360's on November 20th of this year. Read up on the Zombie Survival Guide now - before it's too late!