RPS Exclusive: Left 4 Dead’s Dead Air Campaign

By RPS on November 10th, 2008 at 3:20 pm.

So far you’ll have seen details of two of Left 4 Dead’s four campaigns, No Mercy and Blood Harvest. Today we have a world exclusive first look at a third campaign, Dead Air. What follows is a detailed photo “essay” (using that term loosely) of our experience in the campaign – reveling and revealing details from its quiet beginnings to its climactic conclusion (i.e. SPOILERZ). It’s a terrifying journey through a town complex to reach the airport and escape the city. It starts in a shattered commercial greenhouse with a plane going overhead. The team decides to set out and try to get picked up by the military craft…

Greenhouse

Jim: We begin this session, like every other, by saying “Oh my God, I think there a zombie here!” Everyone looks mock-startled? “What? Zombies!” Once up out of the greenhouses we start clambering through the wreck of the city. Valve are obviously enjoying creating ruined environments – as if the Half-Life episodes haven’t already given them enough practice.

John: The large greenhouse makes for an immediate broad battle (should the Director wish it so). Standing on the wall above the main building is a way to pick them off, but it doesn’t stop them surprising you by pouring in from behind. Erk.

Alec: This reminded me of the climactic setpiece in Pineapple Express, the gunfight in the cannabis greenhouse. I didn’t like that film much, so I’m disappointed with myself for not having a smarter reference.

Kieron: During the greenhouse bit, rather than holding our ground with the rest, I ran around the back and went crazy with my shotgun. Yeah, keeping close to the group is essential, but the infected can be one-minded beasts so that sort of skirting-around-the-edge manouvere can pay dividends. By which I mean allow you to kill more people than your team-mates. I’m not very good at this co-operative thing, me.

Jim: These moments – when you look down on a street you just know is going to be a mass kill-zone – provide fun moments of tension. Although our plans were somewhat thwarted when a flood of zombies started pouring out of the windows behind us once we’d got down into the street.

John: That red splurge in by the hotel is a pipe bomb exploding. These are invariably my favourite moments in the game.

Kieron: I actually remember this one – John’s lobbed his down, and it actually got caught on the car so only a few infected were in its blast zone. So while we got a lot of splendid goo, there was only a few casualties. I then lobbed mine, which took down the rest. Tip: Don’t throw pipe-bombs at cars.

Alec: It’s really hard to resist lobbing some manner of explosive into a scene like this. The trouble being it tends to set off a car alarm or six, which results in a swarm of hyper-fast, hyper-angry deadheads. Curse my pyromania.

Offices

Jim: Like every other campaign, Dead Air has little “Get Ready For the Horde!” moments where a task must be performed (using a crane in this case) where baddies just surge in from nearby streets, rooftops and windows. Back to back fighting is pretty useful – also crouching. People really can benefit from firing over your head, while you benefit from increased accuracy.

John: Please note that Alec (BAMBAMBAMBAM) is currently dead. Weak.

Alec: I’m only having a lie down. And anyway, I can almost guarantee I’m dead because Kieron shot me in the back AGAIN.

Kieron: Or that he’s disturbed the Witch. Again. Oh – can I note that the zombie at the front is the spitting image for the old PC Gamer art guy, Andrew “the Beast” Hind.

Jim: We head into the offices and the great piles of corpses from charging zombies do not block doorways, but nor can they be kicked about after death a la Dead Space. What a shame.

Alec: This is so similar to the scene I often fantasised about during the final, miserable months of my last job that it scares me.

Jim: As the gang moves across the tower-block we end up charging through a number of cubicled open-plans. Office dwellers will see little difference between these environments and the shambling horrors of their everyday working lives… (Except the zombies move faster than office workers.)

John: I primarily enjoyed jumping on the desks, and then over the barriers of each cubical, which is how I’d ideally like to cross real offices. Stupid complaining people and their stupid precious staplers.

Alec: Notice all the funny/sad/mad little messages written on walls. This is a theme throughout L4D – evoking Portal quite a bit – and I suspect there’ll be a terrifyingly exhaustive wiki page somewhere documenting each and every one of them before too long.

Kieron: I really can’t get enough of Left 4 Dead’s blood and vomit. I had to regularly stop to take screenshots of friends whenever they’ve been totally covered with pus and blood.

Jim: The capacity of the zombies to climb means that they can enter the level from convincing “out of sight” reinforcement zones. Meaning you never really see them pop into existence.

Alec: Which is a relief, after Ravenholm’s Magic Zombie Holes.

Garage

Jim: For some reason videogames seem to lead us into alleyways more than you’d expect from real life. It’s not often RPS ends up in an alleyway, late at night, covered in blood. No sir.

John: This time please note that the others are all but dead, while I, the green on the right, am healthy as chops. I am best.

Alec: OMG HAX

Kieron: Worth noting that John has just used his last health pack, while Jim is still packing his. John Walker is a terrible healer.

John: Actually, Kieron, you bumface liar, you can see in the screenshot that I still have my medkit in my inventory. And your mum is a terrible healer.

Kieron: Man! I totally misread that screenshot.

Jim: Anyway, zombies get shot as things explode, and Jim generally gets dragged away by a smoker for lagging behind. I’m pretty sure that happened five times in this alley alone.

Kieron: I’d like to take a second to direct you at the Zombie’s teeth. The state of dentistry is in sad decline.

Jim: BAMBAMBAMBAM, in case you were wondering, is Alec. He did startle the Witch. Several times.

John: I found myself strangely reluctant to help someone up after they’d startled the Witch. It seemed somewhat deserved. Alec should tell you all about how he stood next to a Witch and waited for it to attack him.

Alec: It’s only because ladies love me. Dead-eyed, crying, betaloned, diseased, mad ladies, admittedly.

Kieron: My favourite thing about Alec’s Witch-problem was that it was a classic example of a negative feedback loop. He wakes one up, and then every single time we come across one, he wants to have a crack. Because this time – oh, yes, this time – he’ll finish them off. Except he never did.

I just stayed well clear of the crazy bints.

Jim: Finally, with several hundred zombie corpses under our belts, we reach the airport itself. We bust our way inside the terminal building. Less Heathrow Terminal 5, more Luton Airport, this is a tiny regional airport, albeit with a decent number of commercial airliners burning in wreckage across the front parking lot.

John: This is something I love about Left 4 Dead: familiarity. This is an airport. And it’s such a drastically different location compared with, say, a farmhouse or a hospital. There’s an amazing sense of place.

Alec: Best game airport after Tony Hawk’s 2 (or 3, I forget). I yearned for a skateboard here.

Kieron: Yeah, was awesome. All the zombies modeled after the luggage handlers were splendid. It’s probably worth noting that there’s an impressive variety of infected, varying from zone to zone. The open-backed-gown hospital patients were a joy with their vile buttocks.

Terminal

Jim: Throughout Left 4 Dead the walls are littered with conversations via graffiti, which is actually something we’ve not seen done since the walls of the school toilet when we were 15.

John: Like it says above, conversational graffiti is one of real life’s best things, but games never get past the monologue scrawl, generally repeated fifty-seven times in the level. Not so here. In fact, you get most of the story from the writing on the walls.

Kieron: There’s also hints written on the wall. Believing all the hints isn’t exactly recommended.

Jim: The Terminal’s wide-open spaces allow ample opportunity to use the pipe-bomb. Zombies sure do love that bleeping fella – just don’t throw it where they can’t get to it.

John: I think the completely huge arenas will surprise stupid-faced Source sceptics.

Alec: As will the sheer number of zombies it throws at you. Clearly, it’s cheating a little – constantly reinforcing the undead ranks rather than throwing ungodly amounts at you at once – but it really does nail the sense of swarm. You can tell it’s a Source game if you look closely (or foolishly attempt to alt-tab), but it really feels so different this time around that it’s not immediately obvious as it was with, say, Portal.

Kieron: Graphicability? High!

Jim: Pipebombs are efficient, but they’re also 100% less fun that the molotov, which spews fires all over the joint. Here we are on fire.

Kieron: I actually prefer the pipebombs, because you get a chance to see the silly desperate scampering of the zombies after the bleeping thing – kind of the sort of thrill you get by throwing a stick off a cliff when a yappy dog is passing.

Jim: The airport itself a complete mess, thanks to having been hit by falling aircraft. It seems that zombie passengers didn’t understand the seatbelt sign. Or perhaps they all left their mobile phones on.

John: Sigh! Atlas carried the heavens on his shoulders, not the Earth! I take back everything good I’ve said about this game!

Kieron: There’s lots of statues of Atlas carrying the earth, man.

Runway

Jim: Once the final saferoom has been breached, we’re heading out onto the runway, where a military transport plane is waiting. Zombies have seen it too, and come a-running.

John: This was an amazing moment. Kieron called out, “Is that plane landing? Or crashing?” And we all stood still and watched the distant aeroplane come toward us. It was a sign of hope, of other survivors, someone to rescue us. And then it became horribly clear it was out of control.

Alec: Me! Me! It was me what spotted it! The rest of you were all blind idiots until I pointed it out.

Kieron: We were probably just ignoring you.

Jim: The runway is wide-open, but provides plenty of cover for smokers and hunters to lay their traps. Ghastly fates await us.

John: Of course, we weren’t spared zombie attacks for the spectacle of the plane crash.

Jim: We watch a plane arc in from miles away, before crashing into the runway, exploding, and sliding to a halt just short of where we are standing. Spectacular stuff.

John: Just completely amazing. A real moment of loss and panic.

Alec: This is hands-down one of the most cinematic games I’ve ever played – though I do worry a little about the diminished impact second, third and three hundred and forty-seventh time around.

Kieron: Next time I play, I’m totally going to see if I can get splatted by the plane. Or if I’m playing Versus as a smoker, try and drag one of the survivors into its way.

Jim: The final battle sees us man the minigun to fend off endless waves of enemies, as we slowly refuel the plane from a nearby fuel-truck. Not as tough as the end of Blood Harvest, or as thrilling as the helicopter rescue at the end of No Mercy, but an awesome conclusion nonetheless.

John: This was my favourite ending. It definitely wasn’t as exciting a battle as No Mercy or Blood Harvest thanks to the area being slightly too open. But the rush of the plane crash, combined with the spooky familiarity of an airfield, just made it all the more frantic and real to me.

Alec: I do adore the minigun. Normally mounted turret sections turn me right off an FPS, but here it’s very much a reward for all that constantly endangered slog. Of course, the minigun’s no use whatsoever if someone else isn’t guarding your back. Also, one of the campaigns’ climaxes has no minigun, at least not that we could find. It was dramatically harder for it – and I suspect there’ll soon be mods or options to remove them from the other campaigns in order to please the more hardcore players.

Kieron: What I most liked about them was the amount of feedback you get from the use – the slow gradual heating up of the barrel, before smoke drifts off it… I’ve never actually carried on past that point, because the gun was clearly in such a terrible state that I feared it was about to blow up any second. I stress – I have no idea whether it actually can blow up, but it worried me enough to take precautions.

For this ending I just stuck with my autoshotgun.

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102 Comments »

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  1. Magic Toast says:

    God bless you RPS :D

  2. Feet says:

    “I miss the Internet :(”

    ^_^ Bwahaha. Also – ACK SPOLIERS! :(

  3. hungSolo says:

    Plane … landing … spoiled! Oh, well.

  4. shon says:

    I could be utterly wrong, but I swore that one time I kept firing the minigun till it was glowing bright red and I started to take damage from it. I can’t be sure because heck, you’re under attack constantly so you never know what exactly hurt you.

  5. greeneggsnsam says:

    Autoshotty for the win.

  6. Chris Evans says:

    Oooh very very nice :D

    Can’t wait for that Airport battle. Those wall messages seem good too, noticed a few of them in the demo and am getting intrigued already :D

  7. Deadpan says:

    I can only hope we see more variety in characters.
    Not that I don’t like the current ones, but still.

    Also… they really could stand to license a certain J. Coulton song….

  8. Nimic says:

    Must.. have.. game!

    Thank fuck it’s released the 18th, the day after my massive 6-hour exam. Granted, I’ve got a couple exams in early December, but they’re merely 3-hour exams, I can handle it!

  9. cyrenic says:

    The 4th campaign interests me now. Where will we go after we get on that plane!

    I can’t wait to play full campaigns. The fact so many of us have gotten so many hours out of one and a half levels says a lot about this game.

  10. Dante says:

    Playing the demo Ludo and I quickly realised that having one man kneeling down (preferably with a shotgun) while another fires over his head is extremely handy, especially in some of the narrower corridor sections.

    For added effect you can do a Zulu-esque shout of “First rank… Fire! Second rank… Fire!”

  11. fishmitten says:

    *Pisses pants

    Could have done without the plane crash being spoiled, but it was worth it for the rest of the preview! Good work chaps!

  12. Magic Toast says:

    “I found myself strangely reluctant to help someone up after they’d startled the Witch. It seemed somewhat deserved.”

    Priceless

  13. Premium User Badge

    MonkeyMonster says:

    The mini gun stops working once it gets too red and has to be allowed to rest and cool down. That damage I suspect was zombie supplied from behind. Tis an awesome game and bar the one time I didn’t notice the witch was at the top of the right hand escalator (in between the two) hiding and I walked literally into her… Oops – I too feel the same way when people walk right up, in the middle of an open area and poke her – just don’t do it. That’s like stealing the tanks lunchbox and expecting him to not ask for it back.

  14. Tom says:

    Guys, you really did just wreck the plane crash.
    A spoiler’s a spoiler, and pre-warned it’s ok, but what you just spoiled was a climatic ending! For the love of god!

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    “What follows is a detailed photo “essay” (using that term loosely) of our experience in the campaign.”

    KG

  16. Pags says:

    In regards to the spoilerz: I’m just going to do what I do every christmas and pretend I didn’t see the present as it was being wrapped.

  17. jonfitt says:

    Liked your comments on your play-through, and the graffiti was hilarious, but I’m quite sad the plane crash has now been spoiled as a surprise ending.
    Could have done without that really.

  18. Pags says:

    I’m curious as to why people read the article if they didn’t want to know what was going happen? You could argue that you weren’t set up for spoilerz, but being that the entire article took you through everything in some detail… well, it’s difficult to see why you didn’t see it coming.

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’ve rewritten the article to double stress in the opening, but the article is what it is.

    KG

  20. Ian says:

    Spoilers? In a detailed walkthrough!?

    I’ve never heard the like!

  21. jonfitt says:

    Did you just edit that entry with the spoiler notice?

    Too late I’m afraid.
    It wasn’t really obvious, your previous entries have not gone in to quite so much detail about the climactic moments. You just mentioned them in broad terms. (Holed up in a house etc.)
    This one ends with 3 screenshots showing it in process, and then a long part about how surprised you all were.
    Doh!

  22. Pags says:

    @jonfitt:

    Bawwwwwwwwww.

    I’m so weak.

  23. Kieron Gillen says:

    Jonfitt: It was originally “What follows is a detailed photo “essay” (using that term loosely) of our experience in the campaign.”. Just added some more to doubly make it clear that this is a total dissection.

    KG

  24. Bhazor says:

    Reply to KG

    Yep, the key word there is “experience”, as in “impression” “reflection” “commentary” “review”.

    When really the word you should have used is “spoiler” or just “plotsynopsisandsystematicbreakdownanalysisofeverymajoreventintheentirecampaign”

    Though that doesn’t scan as well.

  25. Deadpan says:

    I was expecting ‘dead air’ to be based around a TV or radio station.

  26. hungSolo says:

    It’s OK guys. We won’t hate you foreverz. Or at least I won’t, but I’m less sensitive about such matters.

  27. jonfitt says:

    Ah well, nevermind. Worse things happen at sea.

    (Like when the Titanic sank! Ha! Spoiled that for ya. :) )

    One of my favourite things so far is Valve’s context sensitive speech (seen in TF2 and maybe Ep2, but really used well here).
    The characters really seem involved with the world, it doesn’t seem like predictable soundbites, or just random speech, they really seem to talk about what’s currently going on.

  28. jonfitt says:

    (It does mean that randomly matched people are going to need to learn their character names when they play with me though, on voice chat I keep referring to them as Zoey etc. rather than MisterBong411)

  29. Radiant says:

    It’s like going to gamefaqs and being shocked that someone has spoiled the entire game in a text document called “Walkthrough”.

    Does the why and hows of the zombie apocalypse ever get fully explained to you?
    Is there much story to L4D?
    I know no zombie movie ever tells you how ‘it’ happened but it would be nice to know….
    Especially if it’s set in Blighty; Dead Set I’m looking at you.

  30. francisco says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. For one part I loved the way your walkthroughs work but I am sad about the Airplane part. I think you could have posted a big WARNING=AWESOME SPOILERS= before that part.

  31. Chris R says:

    I too was really impressed by the context sensitive speech while playing through the game. So many times I’ve been notified about a hunter, or a boomer, etc, etc, by hearing the characters mention it.

    Also, has ANYONE managed to sneak by a witch without startling her? Every single time my friends and I try to sneak by her (“Turn off your flash lights! Everyone hold shift to walk by her!!!”) the AI Director decides to mix things up by sending a swarm at us, RIGHT NEXT TO THE WITCH. It makes for funny moments, but damnit Director! At least let us sneak by once! :)

    Also, the hardest difficulty is really where the game is at it’s finest. We die SO much, but it’s really worth it when you manage to make it to the next safehouse with 10 health and a tank right on your ass.

  32. Bhazor says:

    But why tell us about it in such specific detail when it isn’t even out yet? Shouldn’t this have been released in about a month when we have actually had a chance to play it? That’s my point.

  33. Alec Meer says:

    Though we perhaps should have been clearer that our complete photo walkthrough was a complete photo walkthrough, I suspect you lot’ll realise why we didn’t think to /spoiler the plane bit when you get to it. It’s really just an “oh that’s cool” incidental moment, not “OH MY GOD!!!!!!!”

  34. MacBeth says:

    Unfortunately the plane crash had already been ‘spoiled’ for me by a gameplay video on another, far inferior (i.e. any other) gaming site which made no mention of spoilerz at all. I was more than a bit annoyed.

    Still, it’s going to be quite different seeing it in play.

    Autoshottie FTW +1. Deeply satisfying to take down a whole horderush with it (though a good red cloud from a well-received pipebomb is still better). Ensure everyone knows you can tap fire to shoot faster than holding down the button. Also ensure everyone knows you can reload while melee-ing so you empty the magazine, hit reload, then club away like a Canadian seal molester while the magazine refills, then go crazy with the fire button again.

    Oh and not knowing why the zombie apocalypse has occurred is genre-essential. I’d be very disappointed if there was an explanation.

  35. Tei says:

    You guys are monsters.
    No, you are not.
    I am a idiot.
    I think I am already dead…BRAAAAAAAAINSSS.

  36. jonfitt says:

    @Chris R
    Yeah, I haven’t yet got the telltale noises for all the boss infected memorised, or don’t hear them; so it’s really useful when one of the survivors says “I hear a Hunter”.

    We almost always get a Witch right underneath the end of the demo in the dark, and usually she’s way off in the distance so we scuttle past, but once the director popped her outside the door to the last encounter room, and there was no way past her without setting her off. On Expert it’s a guaranteed knockdown for at least one person.

    Have you come across many Tanks? I’ve only seen one on Expert in the subway station, it was game over man, for us.

  37. MacBeth says:

    Oh and I’ve sneaked past the witch many times, on Expert or otherwise. Not that tricky if she’s not *right* where you need to go.

    Expert is unquestionably the way to play, as it leads to the most horrific/hilarious situations – like all but one player dead due to a tank, and the remaining player desperately trying to survive… heroically downing the tank… and then getting Smoked inches from the closet door that would have released the other players

    Also, get everyone to trigger their character’s laughter as they run around (X and forward under the default controls) as it makes things even more hilariously creepy when it sounds like the survivors have completely lost it and cracked under the pressure.

  38. jonfitt says:

    @MacBeth
    There’s usually some sort of “We think it was a Meteorite”, or “Created in a lab”, type half-explanation, but you’re right it must never be fully described, or even worse, cured!

  39. Radiant says:

    MacBeth says:

    Oh and not knowing why the zombie apocalypse has occurred is genre-essential. I’d be very disappointed if there was an explanation.

    I’m not saying we always need a videogame’s usual 5 minute over wrought exposition.
    But it’d be great to see a really good Zombie Apocalypse “Damn you all to hell!” moment.

  40. The Hammer says:

    Haha, that graffiti is a lovely touch.

    Nice article, RPS!

  41. cyrenic says:

    @jonfitt

    On expert I think I’ve run into a tank every time on the 2nd level of the demo at some point. We’ve gotten to where it kills us maybe half the time now :D.

  42. Tei says:

    Is that a instaclassic? because is only getting better and better. I don’t know, because It don’t feel like a instaclassic.But It has this thing: infinite streams of monster…. that feel unique.

    I say L4D is a Gaunlet re-make.

    Gauntlet

  43. Kieron Gillen says:

    Tei: As I was just berating the RPS Writers Chatroom in a silly argument about L4D: “Didn’t any of you lot ever play Gauntlet?!?!”

    KG

  44. John Walker says:

    It’s true – the plane crash is really just a background detail that looks pretty cool. It’s not an OMGSPOILERZ. The point of this game is the OMG moments are unique to each play-through.

  45. shon says:

    @Tei the first time Louis hit the car alarm, I laughed at the text message in bright yellow letters. There is no voice for the Directer but that would have been a great Gauntlet moment.

  46. Oddtwang says:

    Only Witch I’ve snuck round so far was on the far side of the subway trains, which was actually very scary – dealing with boomers and smokers in and on the train and worrying about disturbing her was pretty nervewracking.
    Biggest problem I’ve had so far (other than the crappy matchmaking) has been people running off on their own, then moaning when it takes ages to save them from a Hunter. More interesting than taking your time getting hundreds of headshots with the pistols though.
    Most unnerving moment so far was entering the car park and finding it totally deserted for a change – turned out there was a tank right at the top of the staircase. Cue everyone running back into the carpark and trying to dodge the massive chunks of the concrete supporting pillars he chucked at us :)

  47. Down Rodeo says:

    Oh, wow. This game is turning out even more special. That’s such a nice touch – and hell, I figure they’ll have stuck in some more cool things in other levels.

  48. x25killa says:

    Kieron: I actually prefer the pipebombs, because you get a chance to see the silly desperate scampering of the zombies after the bleeping thing – kind of the sort of thrill you get by throwing a stick off a cliff when a yappy dog is passing.

    Enough said. Is there a game about for chucking sticks into cliffs in front of yappy dogs?

  49. terry says:

    I thoroughly approve of this game/article. But Alec needs to stop agitating witches :(

    The shotgun is one of the best shotguns since Doom 2’s visceral “BOOOOOMMF-CLUNK-CLUNK” double barrelled beast. That said, other team players need to learn to crouch more :(

    Re: toilet graffiti – the best I saw was in Wolverhampton station’s gents toilets (not an area i usually frequent) and saw a bold “i am late!” in red crayon scrawled above a urinal, followed by “follow the brown rabbit” in, well, a more natural substance :O

  50. Nero says:

    So very close to release now. This is the first game (demo) that I most of the time use a mic with. Always fun when the whole team uses mics. When the ground shakes and a tank is incoming everyone goes crazy, love that. Also don’t know if it has been mentioned, but at which difficulty did you guys play it on?