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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.