I don't quite know how to start this article. However, that's really a good thing. Frankly there are too many cool features, "OMG" moments, and cinematic moments for me to be able to quickly and smoothly start this article. Heck, any one the aforementioned topics could easily take up an entire article. I guess all I can really say is that this week, I played the Left 4 Dead demo on the Xbox 360.
A demo has never been my game of the week, mainly because demos just do not have the replayability that makes it capable of being a "game of the week." However, Left 4 Dead has proven me wrong. In fact, I spent more time on the demo (which just released yesterday) than any other game this week (and I am no slouch as to how much time I spent gaming). In my short time playing the game (well "short," meaning several hours), I've discovered a lot that I like and a few things that I've never really seen before.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game or have not played the demo, here's a brief description of the demo. You start at one safe zone (which has weapons, ammo, and health packs) and try and make your way to the next safe zone. Of course between the safe zones are hundreds of zombies. So, with this in mind, I picked up the game and played it with some buddies. Before even encountering our first zombie, the necessity of teamwork was made apparent. We had to choose our weapons wisely, either a submachine gun or a pump shotgun. We discovered that having two shotty guys and two submachine guns was the best mix of power and sheer bullet spray. However, when encountering swarms of fast zombies, the more submachine guns the better (but nothing clears a room like a shotty).
After encountering zombies for the first time, the idea of necessary teamwork became clear. The fact is that zombies are everywhere, in about every corner of every building. They are fast and unpredictable, sometimes both at once. One moment a zombie will be sitting down or standing still, and the next it'll be running at you full-tilt. This is where teamwork becomes essential, since you really have to cover your buddies' backs. Plus, since enemies come from everywhere, you need to cover all angles, which requires a team to do. And to top it all, the zombies are incredibly random (in a good way) and can come out of most any place.
At a certain point, I came to realize that Left 4 Dead just might be a revolution in co-op gaming, or at least a big evolutionary step. This is because in Left 4 Dead, you cannot survive without your teammates. Your teammates are essential to your own survival, and you simply cannot go your own way and expect to live very long. This is quite an accomplishment, and not even the best co-op games can claim this. Even Halo and Gears of War cannot say that without your teammates, you'd get massacred. In both of these games, you can go your own way and do alright. But this is not the case in Left 4 Dead. You stick together or you die. It's as simple as that.
Even in the core of it's gameplay, Left 4 Dead is co-op all the way. An example of this is the special zombies (the Hunter, the Boomer, the Smoker, and the Tank), which take teamwork to defeat or deal with. The Hunter can knock down one of your teammates (and beat the crap out of them), the Boomer can make your teammates a zombie magnet (via their nasty spewing), the Smoker can choke your teammates, and the Tank takes an entire team to kill. This makes teamwork all the more important, and soon it becomes second nature. Eventually our team made sure to protect those puked on by the Boomer, kill the hunter before it mauled on of us, shoot Smokers on spot, and so forth.
One of the biggest killers of co-op gaming is boredom. Yes, playing with your friend can be fun, but oftentimes games get repetitive. However, Valve has cured this by creating the Director. The Director is a system that randomizes where weapons will be located and (more importantly) where enemies will spawn. This makes the game far from repetitive, and no two playthroughs are the same. My buddies and I noticed this in the beginning of the demo. We would enter the house and sometimes rooms would be filled with enemies, while other times, there would be no enemies. Likewise, on one playthrough an alley would be a killzone, while other times it would be utterly empty. More than anything else, this made the game extremely replayable and let us play for an amazingly long time.
This article could easily be an essay, but I don't think that the Co-Optimus faithful would appreciate it. However to summarize, I had a great time playing Left 4 Dead, even though it was "only" a demo. It gave me a great insight into what will undoubtedly be a very popular game. From everything I've seen, Left 4 Dead is the kind of co-op game that redefines the co-op experience, much like Rock Band did (in that Rock Band made it simple to simulate a real rock band). The game has serious legs and replayability with it's Director program, and it's really a fun game by its own right. It also manages to have a great atmosphere, which makes you really feel like you are fighting an impossible war against waves of enemies. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to play some Left 4 Dead.