E3 highlights: Left 4 Dead

While I’m unfortunately too unimportant and poor to actually attend E3, I can scour the web as well as the next person in search of juicy tidbits. Going in, there was only really one game that I was anxious to hear more about: Left 4 Dead. All the way back from its initial announcement onwards, this game has never put a foot wrong – other than the annoying number-in-title gimmick. A few other games have now caught my attention as well, including the new, arty Prince of Persia, Bioware’s latest sort-of RPG and the intriguing Mirror’s Edge.

But for starters…

Preview: Left 4 Dead

I’ve forgotten when exactly this game was first announced – was it around the release of Episode 2, or perhaps even earlier? Regardless, it’s been consistently impressive in every showing, with even the most jaded preview writers seemingly dispensing with the usual copy-and-paste press release technique in order to froth at the mouth with genuine excitement.

There are certain games that are so obvious, so desperately crying out to be made, that nobody dares even attempt them: A co-op zombie survival game is one such example. Sure, there’s been a few vague attempts on consoles and we had the superb Alien Vs Predator¬† games a good few years back, but Left 4 Dead seems to be the first time someone’s properly understood the idea’s potential. No surprise, then, that it’s coming from Valve, who seem to have an innate understanding of action and narrative gaming that is sorely missing from most developers.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of L4D – other than the core co-op gameplay – is the surprising focus on narrative cohesion. The player characters automatically chatter to each other, warning of attacks, shouting during reloading, pointing out where to go and their current state of health. It’s reminscent of the interactions with Alyx in Half Life 2, except these are real humans you’re playing alongside. It cleverly bridges the immersion gap full voicechat and typed communications – the latter of which costs too much time, while the former never fails to break the atmosphere when you realise you’re playing alongside a sweary, American, 15 year old boy rather than a grizzled war vet.

The character chat mixed with the AI director system promises a co-op multiplayer game that could have all the atmosphere and emotional impact of a story-based single player game: something of a holy grail for online gaming. MMOGs could do to take note, I suspect.

Anyway, here’s Gabe Newell’s presentation from E3. Be warned: he lulls you into a false sense of security before showing off.

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2 thoughts on “E3 highlights: Left 4 Dead

  1. Really looking forward to L4D and this certainly explains some of it’s selling points. I think this is going to be a great game but how long will the ‘un-expected’ zombie attacks and levels remain fun? I hope this is going to be a game I can play over and over.

  2. Yeah, that’s always the trick with multiplayer games. Single player games can get away with a lot more if they also have a good story, so that even when the gameplay becomes tiresome you can carry on regardless just to find out ‘what happens next’.

    Multiplayer games, on the other hand, live and die purely on their gameplay. Although Valve seem to be talking about getting a single player ‘feel’ into the game, in the end it’s still going to be the same running-away-from-zombies style everytime. It all hinges on just how ‘different’ the AI Director thing can make each session feel, and how much variety in terms of tactics the game allows.

    Then again, the Aliens vs Predator multiplayer games are still fantastic, as are some of the Battlefield games. In some ways L4D is the spiritual successor to the AvP games, so fingers crossed.

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