"It is a fun party game, in a way," remarks Valve's Chet Faliszek. The fun party game in question, of course, is Left 4 Dead, a team-based shooter that actually makes Armageddon amusing. Don't get us wrong -- horrible, horrible things are happening to you and three friends. You're all fighting for your lives, living from room-to-room as you aggressively expend ammo, rummage for medical supplies and desperately try not to shoot each other in the back. Good times!
This strange combination of fun and misery, of horror and laughter is ultimately what makes Left 4 Dead such an enjoyable shooter. The urban setting is familiar and the shoot-everything-that-moves gameplay isn't particularly deep, but there's a real sense of camaraderie and playfulness -- even between complete E3 strangers -- that emerges, even if it is largely motivated by your own selfish desire to not die.
"...Left 4 Dead manages to turn the thrill of survival-horror gameplay into a cool, shared experience."
It doesn't take long before the shotgun blasts are drowned out by fits of "did you see that?" giggling, shouts of crucial advice -- "It's behind you!" -- and castigation for people running too far ahead of the party. "You should heal yourself," you might advise a visibly limping team mate. You're not doing it because you're nice, mind you, but because slow characters are a terrible liability. Remember, a dead team mate means less firepower!
"It doesn't take long before the shotgun blasts are drowned out by shouts of crucial advice..."
It's a great roller coaster ride, one that is best experienced with friends. That way, you can hear them taking a deep breath as you climb up the track, and let out an ear-piercing scream as you plunge down again. Though its central mechanics and presentation may not stand out in a single-player game, Left 4 Dead manages to turn the thrill of survival-horror gameplay into a cool, shared experience. Even the apocalypse is fun with friends.
Left 4 Dead is out on November 4th for Xbox 360 and PC. Check out precious previous previews here and here.