The Left 4 Dead Effect, pt 2


A little over a year ago, I wrote an article titled The Left 4 Dead Effect.  It explored the awesomeness of the Left 4 Dead franchise and why it resonated so well with gamers.  In an industry of true-to-life (or attempting to be) graphics, massively online multiplayer and soul-crushing plots, what makes a quirky game like Left 4 Dead so appealing?  Even though it has hardly any of those features?  I couldn’t quite pin it down before, so I just left it at the unexplainable Left 4 Dead Effect.

Yeah, I get it.  A lot of people are hoping for Half Life 3 over Left 4 Dead 3.  I totally understand that, but I’m still more excited for a new Left 4 Dead than anything else (except for maybe The Walking Dead: Season Two).  In light of the recent “leaks” surrounding the project and the very real possibility of Left 4 Dead 3, here’s a revisit to what makes the series great, and what I hope that Valve will continue to build upon should the series continue.

As a fun easter egg, if you happen to visit the Left 4 Dead 3 countdown page that I mentioned before, the Tank theme is now playing on a loop if you enable sound.  The page has also updated to show Steam Box support.  Now real or not, that’s just awesome.

Keep it simple, stupid

The Left 4 Dead series has never been all that complex. From the very straightforward objectives, to the rather simple game mechanics themselves. Click the left mouse button and your gun shoots. Keep doing that. Hey, need ammo? Find more guns. Ooh, a throwable item! Select it and hit the same button. Left 4 Dead is a game that you can pick up and play without being a first-person shooter veteran, which is probably why so many people who don’t play any other shooters still play Left 4 Dead.  It’s accessible.

This is a refreshing twist on games with objectives that have become increasingly murky and mind-boggling control schemes. Even the levels are straightforward. Go from here to here and don’t die in the middle of it. If you do, you have to start back at the beginning of the level, none of this instant checkpoint bullshit.

While maintaining a challenge

Anyone who has played one of the Left 4 Dead games can tell you that as simple as they are to pick up and play, they can be excruciatingly challenging. On higher-level difficulties, where the common infected can obliterate your health bar in a matter of seconds, where special infected can take out two team members easily or the Tank , who can wipe out your entire team’s progress and send you back to the start.  Generally by actually knocking you back to the start.

These guys will fuck up your shit. A lot.

Even the sheer number of enemies can make what seems like an ordinary playthrough of a game difficult.  Ever been mobbed by general infected all around you and you have only a melee weapon?  Yeah.  Sucks.

Work together, now

The single player campaign in Left 4 Dead is pretty easy. You’re paired up with not just one, but four other aimbots. They never miss their target and are right there to pick you up should you miss yours. Multiplayer is a different story entirely.

Say you have someone on your team who thinks he’s the shit and decides “screw you guys, I’m going for the goal without you.” He’s the number one cause of friendly fire and just to be a masochist, you haven’t booted him out of the game. Well the game itself will make that douche want to quit.

The Director (the game’s engine of sorts) will throw more infected and special infected at him, making the experience much more difficult for that asshole. If he’s not careful, he’ll have to wait for you to help him. And after all of those times he’s taken all the health kits, used up all the good thrown weapons and “friendly”-fired half of his clip on you, would you be so inclined to do so? Additionally, if he’s cheating, the game will spawn enemies to kill him for being outside of the map or cheating by other means.

Of course, those extremely skilled players can get through these little ploys from the director, but screw them anyway. It’s a team-based game, and nobody likes a spoil sport.

The game adapts to how you play

The Director ensures that every playthrough of a level in Left 4 Dead is a unique one. Instead of having regular, predictable spawn points for common and special infected, all of it is left up to the Director. The Director also adapts to how you play the game, even changing the levels themselves to be cruel or kind, depending on your skill level.

The Director is also responsible for item spawns, music build-up and character speech.  This results in hours of play, and still not fully knowing all of the stuff your character will say, or how they will react to other characters.  All in all, this allows for increased playtime.  You can’t say that for too many games, years after their initial release.

Continued Support

Valve supports their games and has been very good about keeping content updated. There’s no reason to suggest that this would ever change. In addition to the developers themselves continuing support for the game, you can bet that if it’s a PC game, there will be plenty of mods available for it. From retextures of simple items to entire campaigns. All of them differ in difficulty and quality, but through DLC, bug fixes and even community mods, Left 4 Dead is a game that you can buy and keep playing for years to come.

Not only do the mods exist, Valve encourages them to be made and makes it easy to install and use them in the game. While not every mod works for every game mode, that’s still pretty awesome. Through the Steam Workshop, you can easily find and install mods.

Now why would you want to do that?

Why so Serious?

With all of the dark, super serious zombie games out there, finding one that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself every once in a while is a treat.  While Left 4 Dead may never be completely over the top hilarious like Saints Row to Grand Theft Auto, the humour in Left 4 Dead is signature Valve stuff.  Whether you prefer the original set of survivors or their southern counterparts, there’s always something thrown in to let you know to lighten up a bit.

After all, it’s only the apocalypse.

Whether or not Valve actually announces Left 4 Dead 3 at Gamescom or not (fingers crossed) these are all things that I’m hoping they will continue to add and improve upon within the series.  I can’t help but feel a cold sweat coming on as that countdown timer whittles away though.  What are some of your favourite things about Left 4 Dead?  Sound off in the comments section!

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