Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thanksgiving leftovers: Left 4 Dead

Above: My family treats Thanksgiving dinner the same way.

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.


Nels Anderson said...

Probably didn't help that Blood Harvest (and Dead Air) have last stands are quite a bit harder than Death Toll or No Mercy, IMO. With the latter, it's pretty easy to position yourself so the Infected are coming in from only 180 degrees or so.

Being totally surrounded in Blood Harvest and Dead Air means everyone has to be at the top of their game all the time. As you noted, once one flank falls, it's really hard to recover.

Mitch Krpata said...

That would make a lot of sense. Maybe I'll try Death Toll tonight, in that case.

Another thing I forgot to mention is that next time I'll make sure to hang onto a pipe bomb to clear a path for that final dash to the truck.

Anonymous said...

That was so much fun, and so taxing. I still can't play more than one campaign a night of this.

Two things I noticed:

- The anonymous XBox match-up we got was indeed, not helpful. But I also noticed he didn't have a headset on. It would've been really hard for him/her to ignore us or blow us off if we were all talking together. Maybe the matchmaking should offer the chance to require that everyone has a headset coming in.

- Another thing I noticed is that each time we retried the finale, it actually got HARDER. By the third time, we ran into the witch, a hunter and then just for yuks, a smoker, right on top of each other! I'm just going to assume the Director did that for a reason, which was, to totally fuck with us.

And Nelsormensch, thanks for the tip on the difficulty.

Mitch Krpata said...

Once we lost the ability even to make it to the farmhouse, our goose was cooked. That last one was ridiculous: With two people left alive, one guy got grabbed by a smoker, and when I ran after him, I got jumped by a hunter. Ugh.

Yep, this is the kind of game where you later retell your experiences in the most intimate detail, regardless of whether or not anybody cares.

Nels Anderson said...

No worries, I'd offer to shoot some Zeds with y'all if you need a fourth that's not an anonymous Internet mouth-breather, but I'm on the Steam version.

Amusingly, me and other folks in the studio have taken to telling L4D "war stories." Just wait for the first time a Tank punches you off the top of Mercy Hospital. No chance of being saved on that one.

Etelmik said...

Nelsor: I once punched three people off myself. That was fun.

Yeah, I don't get the console love. Ugh; superior crowd/scene/gameplay on the PC, but this is an old platform issue rather than anything having to do with L4D.

If I'd known about the 4 for 150, I'd have totally gone in on it with anyone willing. Playing with people you know is great.

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem with the last stand in Blood Harvest as opposed to Death Toll or No Mercy, as I see it.

With No Mercy you can defend the stairwell very easily, run ten steps to restock on ammo, and then get back in position. When the tank shows up, everyone can bug out, kite it, and then get back in place. With Death Toll, the house is built in such a way that you can start killing zombies as they approach, keep a good eye on the overall situation, and maneuver to new positions as necessary.

Blood Harvest has none of these advantages. The farmhouse is too big, so trying to hold the first flood is suicide, because the infected can enter from more points than you can cover. However, the only holding position in the farmhouse is the stairwell, and everyone needs to be on their game. How often does that happen?

Besides which, in between waves you have to race down to the kitchen and get more ammo. That's an easy place to get cut off or pinned by a special infected.

Then, when the tank shows up, the farmhouse itself becomes a problem. It's so big that it's tough for the players to keep fire on it at all times, so people end up fleeing the farmhouse in panic or getting trapped inside it, but either way the team stops supporting itself.

However, don't overlook the sprint through the cornfield as a potential problem in your approach. Here's the deal: if you lose a lot of health making the trip to the farmhouse, you'll probably get wiped out. There's too few health packs. You want everyone to be relatively healthy when they reach the farmhouse.

So here's how I approach the cornfield: keep the team up on the hill that overlooks the field. Send one person into the corn to trigger the zombie rush. That way, the team can engage as a unit, and with clear lines of site.

Just saying "run for it" and making for the farm or the combine is going to lose you way more health than necessary.

Sorry, once you get me talking about this game, I have a hard time stopping...

Mitch Krpata said...

Rob, excellent stuff. I definitely died more than once by following the "Oh hell, let's just make a run for it" course of action. If we can just make it into the farmhouse...

Definitely a hard game to stop talking about. The dynamic and unpredictable nature of it makes that a guarantee.

gcacho said...

Blood Harvest has the toughest last stands in the game. I was in a similar position except I had a full team and eventually after a couple of fails, they all dropped out.

But there are two ways to hold the house. You can head up to the second stairs and guard the doors and all exit the second floor window or you can stay in the room with the radio and more importantly the supplies.

Anonymous said...

I'm really dying to try this game... as soon as my 360 gets back from the repair center, I'm on it.

Send me your gamertag if you're interested in trying to team up!

Matthew Gallant said...

Funny, I've had the exactly opposite experience in terms of difficulty. I found the Blood Harvest last stand was by far the easiest because, as you said, there are only 4 doors to guard on the second floor. By contrast, the other last stand locations leave you wide open to flanking.

I have yet to finish the No Mercy last stand without resorting to lowering the difficulty.

Anonymous said...

Matthew, maybe you're not trying to defend correctly. I got stuck on the No Mercy finale and never beat it when I was trying to hold the rooftops. However, as is so often the case with this game, the obvious defense is not the best one. A friend showed me the way to handle it. If you haven't tried it, give it a shot.

Forget the minigun and that triangle of connected rooftops. The only place I've had luck is in the stairwell leading from the radio room up to the roof. With two guys on the top door, and two guys on the bottom, it's actually pretty easy to hold out. It gets a little tricky when the tank shows up, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Ben Abraham said...

Just a random tip for Blood Harvest - the 2nd floor of the barn out the side of the house is actually a better position to defend than the house itself. Everything has to climb to get to you (and there's still an ammo stash in there!).

I've found a few times that the pro's I've seen play will actually defend alternative positions. I.E. outside the elevator in No Mercy, I saw one group run all the way to the far end of the hall that the elevator looks into and hole up in a room with only 1 entrance. Sheer genius!

Incidentally, that team TOTALLY massacred the rest of us and we weren't exactly wet behind the ears or anything.

Mitch Krpata said...

Ben, that sounds like how we eventually cleared Dead Air last night. We struggled for a bit, and in a down moment I consulted GameFAQs to find that there's a small, closet-like room at the far end of one runway. You can open the doors outward and kind of funnel everything right to you. We holed up in there and cleared it easily, making only two supply runs to the truck.

It strikes me that the minigun is basically a fishook, and players are the bait.

Greg Tannahill said...

Probably well past the point where it's useful, but yes, the farmhouse in Blood Harvest is a trap. Head for the 2nd floor of the barn - infected can only come up the ladder, or through the hole in the side of the barn. Back into the corner near the haystacks and you cover both approaches and have ammo within mere pixels of you. Plus you're about two metres from the vehicle when it arrives. This is a good place to get the "Untouchables" achievement.

Mitch Krpata said...

Oh, it's still useful.