Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Thanksgiving leftovers: Left 4 Dead
I've been lying awake at night thinking about what wrong ever since my last, unsuccessful game of Left 4 Dead. Last Wednesday night, I was playing the "Blood Harvest" campaign with Chris and Michael, plus a random XBL denizen to round out our crew. It's fair to say that we weren't the most adroit zombie slayers you'll ever meet, but we stuck together, were generous with our health packs, and plowed our way through to the final chapter without too much trouble.
We just couldn't crack the last stand. Every campaign ends with a sustained siege by the infected against a fortified location. If you can withstand the attack long enough, a rescue vehicle arrives. We tried this one 5 or 6 times, barricading ourselves in a secluded farmhouse over and over, and nobody ever made it to the evac. Only twice, in fact, did we even survive long enough for transport to show up, and both times nobody made it from the house to the vehicle.
So what happened? I'd played a public game with strangers earlier that day -- the "No Mercy" campaign -- and all 4 of us had gotten to the chopper without much trouble. I would have expected it to be easier when I was actually communicating with people and, you know, participating fully in the game.
There were a few problems, all with the same root cause. We didn't fail every time our unit integrity broke down, but every time we did fail, that was why. Our silent fourth player was the only one who wouldn't share his health packs. At one point during the siege, I had about 10 health points, while my three teammates were all safely in the green. Either Michael or Chris would have healed me if he could have, I'm sure, but this stranger was holding onto the only one, and refused to share. A couple of us mentioned it. I ran next to him to make it easy for him. He wouldn't do it. So what happened? I died in the next wave of attacks, and my teammates lost cover on their flank. Worst of all, it was friendly fire from this same teammate that did me in.
Not to put all the blame on that guy. I made my own mistakes. At one point, only Chris and I remained alive, and I heard the rescue vehicle lumbering outside. I should have followed him down the stairs and stuck close on the short trip from the house to the vehicle. Instead, I jumped out a second-story window, sure I could close the gap before any infected got to me. You can guess how this story ends. I got ensnared, and was dragged to the ground about ten feet from the vehicle. I was looking into its open door. I tried to tell Chris to forget about me and get out of there (how noble), but they got to him, too, and we both died spitting distance from our salvation.
Somehow, after all this, the game only got harder. I didn't realize the Director was such a sadist. Dispirited, we gave up.
We could have done a few things differently. First, we should have made the effort to close all the doors in the farmhouse. It doesn't hold back the infected for too long, but every second counts in that situation.
Second, we should have been smarter about our defensive positions. We actually got a pretty decent setup going by the end. The second floor has a staircase, three bedrooms, and a closet. With one person at the top of the stairs, two people at the doors of the far bedrooms, and a fourth person in the closet, covering the middle bedroom, you essentially have everyone's back covered. Why we didn't make more of an effort to stick to this, I don't know. It might have worked.
Finally, and most important, whoever was left when the vehicle showed up should have maintained cohesion for as long as possible on the way out. But if that failed, I think it would have been okay if only one person got out alive. I would have been perfectly happy watching my teammate get away safely as the evac kicked up dust all over my gnawed corpse. That's just the kind of guy I am.