RPS-ish At-ish E3: Day 2, Part 1 – Valve

By Mathew Kumar on July 16th, 2008 at 8:51 am.

Two things were delightful about dropping by Valve’s meeting room today. First was the chance to (finally!) get some hands-on time with Left 4 Dead, and the other was that I got to play it with Chet Faliszek, who you may know (should know) as one of the men behind Old Man Murray. Thankfully he was so nice (graciously accepting my stuttering adulation) that I didn’t have the heart to bring up that the start to crate time for Left 4 Dead was literally zero.*

Of course, who cares? It’s an FPS with zombies! So I can live with the crates. The word on the internet, I’ve seen, is similarly unconcerned about crates but deeply unimpressed by the redesigned characters, with people by and large disliking them. I’m going to disagree with this and say I absolutely love them.

Particularly the girl, who has improved a thousand fold. I think I like her more now than Alyx! It’s probably because we’ve both got the same American Apparel track jacket in cranberry. I bought mine, where I imagine she scavenged hers from a store overrun with horrifying hipster zombies.

Anyway. I went as said girl, natch. Characters don’t have any individual traits – it’s going to be up to each group to create their own roles as they play – and I instantly fell into the role of the “mentalist who runs directly at the zombies with a shotgun blazing” while the rest of my team stuck to the far safer “stick together and use automatic weapons.”

Of course, fortune favours the bold, and while my team mates managed to shoot me in the back more than I would have liked (and the friendly fire is a constant, and very real, danger) there was more than enough glorious gibbage to make it all worthwhile. It’s nearly as fun as Dead Rising, and for any pedants who want to note that I said gore was passé yesterday, well, that never counts for zombies. I’ll let zombies away with anything (I forgave Dead Rising its save system, for one.)

We played one of the early scenarios from Left 4 Dead where our team was attempting to get to a hospital in order to get airlifted out of the city, and Chet let me know that the chapters will form a progressive gameplay narrative (so they’re more meaningful played in order.) Levels seem cleverly designed, as although you’re forced down a mostly linear “path” to the exit, each location has enough entrances and exits (and ways to approach) there are a variety of ways to experience the path. In fact, I was surprised that I found my team so naturally managing to progress steadily towards our goal without ever hitting dead ends, getting confused or feeling constrained by the level design. It just works.

We managed to fight our way through several buildings, both residential and office (and at least once warehouse) with one location (some kind of factory, I guess) highlighting the rhythm of the game – moments of calm followed by shocking and overwhelming violence from the unstoppable zombie hordes – as the game gave warning that once we opened the next door we would be attacked from all sides. My gung ho tendencies found me manning a nearby minigun (tremendously satisfying) even though my team mates (Chet included, sadly) managed to completely forget to cover my exposed back.

Repeatedly nibbled on and finally vomited upon (which sends all local zombies insane and on a straight beeline for you) I barely managed to survive to the next section with the help of a few molotov cocktails, which formed a flame barrier the zombies weren’t too keen on. In the next section, unfortunately, my urge to force onwards (no reason to hang around in zombietown) led to my ignoble death being pounded against a wall by a Tank zombie in a room miles away from help.

So it goes.

What I saw of Left 4 Dead was superb – weapons are meaty, movement smooth, locations are fun and the zombies are terrifying – but it is of course what I didn’t see that still holds the key to the future success of the title. How fun is it really gong to be with AI or a bunch of randoms on the internet? How fun is it to play as the infected (or against player controlled infected)? And how much is the dynamic difficulty is going to change the game each time?

Still, at least my early, early reservations about the decision to use fast zombies (I hated 28 Days Later) are now completely gone. They work brilliantly, forcing the team to work together in a way (I suspect) slow zombies wouldn’t.

And I got to meet Chet, too. Yay! (Stop it, Kumar. – Ed)

*I am completely aware that referencing Start to Crate when talking about Old Man Murray alumni is unbelievably trite. And yet I couldn’t resist. Forgive me.

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41 Comments »

  1. Duoae says:

    You like the girl more than the original? I mean, i think the black guy is cool but all four of the new designs are basically cut and paste from the ‘Dead’ movies. It’s unoriginal and i was looking forward to a more Alyx-looking character than a spoilt rich kid in kooky wear along with the other characters which at least looked like they were thought of by the team.

    I’m still trying to work out this change. IMO, it’s aimed squarely at a US audience where these ‘memes’ are strongest whereas the character art direction before was more universal.

  2. Smee says:

    It looks great and all, but I’m seriously irritated by the new guy’s shirt and tie combo. I mean, come on. A tie? Please. Haven’t Valve read Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide? The girl should have shaved her head, too.

    Tsk tsk tsk. Whatever happened to realism in games?

  3. RichPowers says:

    If you’re worried about playing against human-controlled infected, I’m pretty sure Valve added a pure co-op mode, something I’m really excited about. Sounds like an amazing game.

  4. Taximan says:

    Eh? What’s that?
    2 player split-screen! Hurray for same-pc co-op! T’was fun in Kane & Lynch and Serious Sam, should be fun here too!
    *Applause*
    *Adds one notch further to interest-o-metre*

  5. FringeRock says:

    @ Taximan:

    Surely that’s just the 360 version…

  6. Feet says:

    I am thoroughly looking forward to this. I like the office worker guy, but I miss the bearded grizzled veteren compared to the beret wearing moron who replaced him.

    Certainly the new batch are perhaps more “hip” than the original designs, which generally speaking I count against them. But it makes no matter, it’s just a model after all.

  7. Lightbulb says:

    @FringeRock

    I thought thats probably it too. :( Shame.

    Maybe, just maybe if you used a controller it could work. Very doubtful though.

  8. derFeef says:

    @ Smee
    Well, I think you dont have time to shave your head and put on other clothes if Infected are rushing your office.

    Have you seen Shaun Of The Dead? Shaun wears a tie and a white shirt almost the complete movie ;)

  9. Commando says:

    The direction they went with the character designs is pretty clear, less grungey a bit more mainstream.

    They look like they should be a bit more distinctive as well, the old designs were pretty dark: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/46/L4DP.JPG

  10. itsallcrap says:

    I’m worried about the combination of friendly fire and Internet play.

    Teamkilling for the sake of it very commonly ruins pretty much any multiplayer FPS that allows it. Did anyone used to play Halo online? You were lucky to get through an hour of play without someone TKing their whole team just to get a reaction.

  11. AbyssUK says:

    @itsallcrap

    luckily we don’t use xbox live on pc so we can easily kick/ban people at the push of a button :)

  12. Ray says:

    I’m wondering if Valve are using these new character models because they’re lighter and easier to see, which should help reduce friendly fire. The old characters were pretty dark, and I imagine hard to see sometimes while playing. After all, didn’t they say the model design in TF2 was used for a similar purpose, to allow people to easily identify what class they were looking at?

  13. Ginger Yellow says:

    “the rest of my team stuck to the far safer “stick together and use automatic weapons.””

    ” I barely managed to survive to the next section with the help of a few molotov cocktails, which formed a flame barrier the zombies weren’t too keen on”

    Canon fetishists aren’t going to like this game. Sounds like it violates every lesson learned from World War Z.

    Me, I think it sounds awesome.

  14. matte_k says:

    Oh, shame. I liked the original character design, made me think of World of Darkness style people. Two of the new ones don’t look like they’ve been fighting zombies for very long…

    Still, a minor niggle, gameplay looks pacier, escalation of encounters looks interesting, so hopes are still high.

    Valve to the rescue once more…

  15. Frank says:

    I liked the Steve-Earle-alike biker dude they had before, but figure Ray’s probably right: they don’t blend in with the zombies as much now.

  16. Mark Stephenson says:

    All this talk of Zombies is tedious!

    What’s more important is that Mathew posted as himself not RPS.

    Gratz Dude! I’m sure this doesn’t make you an equal with Meer, Walker, Gillsie and Lil’ Jim … more an under the stairs illegitmate Stone type but good work for being our man at E3 :)

  17. Bobsy says:

    To be honest, playing with randoms and difficulties therein doesn’t bother me at all. Steam = friends list.

  18. mrrobsa says:

    I like the updated character designs, but does anyone else get what I mean when I say they sorta have ‘TF2 eyes’.

  19. Jamie says:

    The new gameplay shown blew my mind, the graphics are crazy good. Holy shit

  20. Nimic says:

    That explosion bit was fantastic.

  21. Lu-Tze says:

    The shirt and tie just reminds me of Brad Garrison from Dead Rising.

  22. Martin says:

    Gabe Newell said himself in the E3 presentation that they learned a lot from how the TF2 characters worked and applied that knowledge to the L4D characters.

    It’s not about appealing to US memes or whatnot (at least not in the first place), it’s about improving the game.

  23. Duoae says:

    “I’m worried about the combination of friendly fire and Internet play.”

    The amount of damage you take from friendly fire depends on how well your team is doing and how low on health you are. If your team is doing badly then team damage is reduced to almost zero. The same thing applies with decreasing health. I think it’s a good system.

    “It’s not about appealing to US memes or whatnot (at least not in the first place), it’s about improving the game.”

    You don’t think the new designs have a distinctly american feel to them? At least two of them are common US TV/film stereotypes seen in lots of series whereas the older, darker types didn’t seem to be so ever-present in the current media.
    The stylistic changes apply more to the ‘filmic effect’ which is on that same slide as ‘read hierarchy’ which is a posh way of saying they make the characters easily distinguishable from the environment and enemies – which they could have just done by improving the colour of the costumes…

  24. Tom says:

    Oh fod i can’t wait
    Anyone who wants a kinda/almost/vague taste of what it might be like should try out the Zombie mod servers use The Specialist for HL1. Stupid amounts of but the only servers available are USA hosted, so pings suffers – doesn’t seam to matter too much though, apart from the occasional ping to high kick.

  25. Subcommander says:

    @mrrobsa

    I noticed the TF2 eyes as well…

  26. RandomEngy says:

    How well will this play with random people on the internet? Friendly fire is on, so, horribly. I’ve long since learned to avoid games where strangers can ruin my day. If I play this game, it’s going to have to be with people I know and trust.

  27. Garl says:

    Wait, are these not the characters anymore?

    http://www.l4d.com/img/screens/01.jpg

  28. Garl says:

    Just watched the video, which proves that those are the old character designs. The new designs absolutely suck ass.

  29. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    I can’t say I noticed the old designs at all – not sure what all the fuss is about. Maybe i’m just unobservant! The guy with the tie looks haxing paxing tbqfh.

  30. Saflo says:

    I hope the zombie overload of this game will inspire Valve to leave them out of Episode 3.

  31. Piratepete says:

    I think the models are an improvement on the old one.

    I for one cannot wait for this game.

  32. mataglap says:

    I miss Old Man Murray!

  33. sinister agent says:

    Split screen?

    Man, I am having to work so hard to find reasons to hate this. Do me a favour Valve, and have the woman shoving six inches of cleavage in the camera every twelve seconds for no reason. I need something to be negative about, damn you.

  34. Skalpadda says:

    I don’t quite see what all the complaints about the models are about. I do think the old ones looked cooler, but these aren’t bad and there’s at least a proper reason for changing them. In the end it’s a relatively small cosmetic change and from what it looks like, you’ll be too knee-deep in action and scary zombies to let it bother you anyway ;)

  35. Nick Halme says:

    This is one of those games I’m going to have to buy for the PC and the 360…because everyone I know will be playing this in the Fall.

  36. Smee says:

    I still think the idea that these four same people would find themselves in all these different scenarios, all ending in them being *rescued*, is a little hard to believe.

    Yes I know that’s extremely pedantic, only models, no effect on gameplay, etc. But surely the characters involved should tell a story just by their appearance? How do these four people know each other, why have they decided to band together? I’d like to see campaign-specific player characters with obvious relationships in the future. It would make the proceedings appear more realistic (there’s that word again).

    I don’t want to imagine the sort of time and money that goes into creating even one new player character as I’m sure it’s a huge amount, but Counter-Strike managed it quite easily, no? Oh whatever, I’m just talking to myself anyway.

  37. yutt says:

    I still think the idea that these four same people would find themselves all in these different scenarios, all involving them being attacked by hordes of undead humans, is a little hard to believe.

    Zombies? Psh. I expected better, Valve.

  38. sinister agent says:

    The motivations of the undead horde are an untapped dramatic resource, clearly.

  39. bonuswavepilot says:

    Sinister agent: I’ve always preferred it that way. The ‘smart’ zombies in Land of the Dead irritated me somehow… I think that it is because having the zombies have any motivation beyond the traditional “braaiiiiins” one (and to spread the infection, I s’pose) changes the whole nature of the scenario.

    Once they start to reason, reasoning with them becomes an option, and the beauty of zombies for me is the single-minded force-of-nature feel they have. The very ghoulish charm of zombies is the fact they used to be us, but now they are mindless hungry monsters. Granted, it is a common zombie-film trope to have a zombie which was originally a friend or loved one show up, and perhaps react differently, but even this ruins things when it is overused. Was one of the worst things about 28 weeks later, I thought – the regularity with which Robert Carlyle’s zombie character showed up throughout the film.

  40. Raptornas says:

    Slaughterhouse 5 references get big bonus points in my book, sounds dead good to be honest and I’m not even that much of a fan of Zombie games.

    Saying that give me a good shotgun and I’ll forget about almost any faults in a game and everyone knows shotgun + zombies = awesome.

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