Eurogamer has a preview up on Left 4 Dead, Valve’s zombie-themed team-based FPS bound for the Xbox 360 and PC. As a default, I am not that interested in new FPS games – even Halo 3 isn’t much ticking my gauges – these days, it feels like I’ve had my fill of them already.
Left 4 Dead is doing a lot of interesting things. First off there’s the very precise theme of four survivors in a zombie-infested world, trying to escape. It’s something most gamers can instantly relate to, having watched a zombie flick or two. That means you don’t really need to learn stuff – basic FPS controls, you vs. zombies, off you go.
Taking a leaf off Alien vs. Predator and the excellent Natural Selection, you can also play as the Infected (the zombies), of which there are several variants. Some can explode, some can strangle, and so on.
They have added some intriguing emergent tactics to the mix. The survivors have flashlights (all the game happens at night), but if they use them, the zombies can see them through the walls. The survivors can run faster than most of the undead, but if they do, the zombies can see them through the walls. So it’s likely the survivor players actually huddle slowly in the dark much of the time, voluntarily.
Most of the bigger zombies require the concentrated efforts of the survivors to bring them down. Survivors are rewarded for playing with the team and penalised for things like running into a comrade’s line of fire. All pretty standrad team-based fare, but something I expect to lift the game above a run of the mill “shoot them as they come”.
Most interesting is the “director AI” controlling the unwashed masses of undead. Instead of following a set level design, the director analyzes what’s going on in the game and paces the experience, allowing stress levels to drop before dropping another bomb. Because of advanced lighting, animation and physics, zombies can climb over obstacles, burst through doors and windows and lie in wait in the dark. Add some cunning infected human players to the mix and you’re likely to get an extremely scary opposing force.
And where is the Xbox 360?
One to look out for, then. Speaking of waiting for things, my Xbox 360 is still in repair – I got a bit confused as I received a message that it’s been dispatched back to me from Germany, and then two days later another message saying that it’s been received in England. There’s a couple of demos and XBLA games I really want to check out, but more on them once the box is back. It’s been 15 days on its second repair trip, a total of 35 days without a console in total. I’m not exactly happy.