RPS Exclusive: Left 4 Dead’s Dead Air Campaign

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.


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.


  1. Vanderdecken says:

    Heya Tom it’s Bob, from the baggage handling crew. Good to see you buddy, how’ve ya been?

    I actually stuck my entire WMP library on random 10 minutes before my first play of the L4D demo and that was the first song on the list. Live as well, with more convincing zombies.

  2. Pags says:

    @terry: I’ve never seen it myself, but my friend in Imperial College London has told me about how in the Physics department there’s a toilet cubicle where people seem to have filled most of the tiny gaps between the tiles (the grout) with random phrases, superimposing the word “grout” wherever possible.


    “grout expectations”
    “intergrout by parts”
    “this is my creative groutlet”
    “groutian distribution”
    “with grout power comes grout responsibility”
    “the grout depression ->” (with the arrow pointing to an area of tiling not yet filled with writing)

  3. Leeks! says:

    I do so hope that the graffiti conversation depicted here is a jab at the stupid, stupid ending of The Walking Dead book #4.

  4. Dorsch says:

    Actually, many pieces of zombie fiction used the stupid “Maybe we’re the real monsters” twist that beats you over the head with stupid morality. I blame the original night of the dead.

  5. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Graffiti conversations. Kind of like blog comments, sho’ nuff.

  6. jonfitt says:

    @Tei: But if you stand still for long enough do all the walls turn into safe rooms?

    Zoey needs pills, badly!

  7. MaximusPM says:

    “I miss the Internet”

    probably the best graffiti I’ve seen till now, LoL

    someone said there is a ‘freeman was here’ in the subway on No Mercy somewhere, but I couldn’t find it

  8. Leeks! says:

    I suppose that’s true. I think I just picked the piece of zombie fiction I’ve absorbed most recently to lash out on. Speaking of, anyone read World War Z?

  9. braiiins says:


  10. John Walker says:

    I want it to be known that the Witch’s song is now my ringtone.

    It’s scary when people call me!

  11. shon says:

    I had a Witch sitting right by the minigun in my last game. I thought “well, shes going to get mad anyway” so I opened fire on her. She wasted me and my fellow survivors just laughed.

  12. qrter says:

    Actually, many pieces of zombie fiction used the stupid “Maybe we’re the real monsters” twist that beats you over the head with stupid morality. I blame the original night of the dead.

    I think you could go back to Mary Shelley for that one, in a sense. Also, it’s the main theme of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which predates NotLD by more than 10 years (granted, that was about a form of vampires, but still..).

    Oops. I just had a little nerd-out.

  13. Arathain says:

    I’ve met the Tank a couple of times (and survived both times!). He only tends to show up in the demo when you’re doing pretty well, I think. I also haven’t had much trouble with the Witch. Been lucky with her spawns, I guess.

    The difficulty setting is kind of interesting, because how things will go is so heavily dependent on your team. I’ve had Expert runs go by easily and Normal runs be a consistent disaster.

  14. Funky Badger says:

    The thing about I Am Legend (the book, that is) is its brilliant – can’t really accuse the instigator of cliche…

  15. Captain Bland says:

    Did any of you ever use the Old Hunting Rifle? In all the videos I’ve seen it looks too hectic to aim properly with a scope, but i imagine headshotting zombies with it would be satisfying.

  16. Nick says:

    It’s my own fault, but I wish I hadn’t read that. Damn me.

  17. Nimic says:

    In one game the Witch was sitting literally right where we had to go. I think it was one of the trains you have to go through, the last one or something. Quite a convenient spot to sit if you want to avoid people bothering you.

    Stupid Witch :(

  18. fishmitten says:

    “Did any of you ever use the Old Hunting Rifle? In all the videos I’ve seen it looks too hectic to aim properly with a scope, but i imagine headshotting zombies with it would be satisfying.”

    The hunting rifle is actually pretty good… It’s one-shot-kills (as far as I could tell) and headshots are super-satisfying with or without the scope.

  19. Saul says:

    Apparently the Hunting Rifle has mad penetration, so you can actually shoot multiple deadies with a single shot, a la the Quake Railgun, if you can get them lined up. I haven’t tried it myself yet.

    Also: this is the game I’ve been waiting for since Doom. It’s been a long fifteen years.

  20. Nick says:

    Yes, the hunting rifle can kill multiple chaps in a line, is a 1 shot kill and fires respectably fast. It’s actually really quite good.

  21. unique_identifier says:

    regarding the hunting rifle, i was suspicious of it at first, but – it’s good. really.

    its like the pistol in terms of fire rate and clip size, but with far better damage, penetration, accuracy (both crouched and standing), and a scope.

    it makes very short work of hordes that rush down some narrow passageway

    re: SPOILERZ – i think Walker hits the nail on the head. The whole point of this game is the unique experiences you’ll have each time you play it, and the plane crash is just some static background detail, like the level geometry. it’ll be the same every time (i assume – if not, that’d be bloody awesome). get over it.

  22. qrter says:

    The thing about I Am Legend (the book, that is) is its brilliant – can’t really accuse the instigator of cliche…

    You’re right about it being brilliant – something only really becomes a cliché when it’s used without thought, which certainly isn’t what Matheson did.

    Anyway, I’m sure the “who are the real monsters here” thing has popped up before in literature/storytelling long, long ago.

  23. manintheshack says:

    Well, only one week to go now. Any ideas as to why they’re releasing it on a Tuesday? I’d much prefer this Friday. Really, it’s just more convenient for me…

    It’s a testament to this game’s brilliance that the demo’s 1.5 levels has taken my attention away from Far Cry 2 and a Oblivion 2 since it’s release. I could certainly list more brilliant things about this 15 minute romp than I’ve experienced in those 2 games.

    And no. Mention of the plane crash hasn’t spoiled anything. You need to blame your own curiousity if you’re offended by it.

  24. Catastrophe says:

    I had read some where that its released 18th November in USA and 21st November in EU. Please tell me this is incorrect?

  25. qrter says:

    I had read some where that its released 18th November in USA and 21st November in EU. Please tell me this is incorrect?

    You’re partly right – only regarding retail copies for the PC and 360 is it the 18th for the US and the 21st for the EU.

    The downloaded Steam version for PC is the 18th for the whole world.

  26. Malagate says:

    Graffiti conversations. Kind of like blog comments, sho’ nuff.

    That’s exactly where the “I miss the Internet” graffiti just below it is so hilarious.

    Also I was expecting something a little different from Dead Air, such as fighting off zombie hordes whilst riding in a dirigible/blimp. In my mind zombies + flying machine = awesome, but probably impracticle. Also the whole plane crashing thing is hardly a surprise or a spoiler, especially if you’ve seen the achivement list.
    For instance, I didn’t know you could headshot the Witch until I checked the achievements, that’s probably a bigger spoiler than the Dead Air achievement picture of a plane on fire.

  27. Kieron Gillen says:

    Thanks. Fixed!


  28. Grandstone says:

    Apropos of nothing, has anyone who didn’t pre-order the game tried to download the demo today? I’ve tried clicking the “Install Demo” button, but the window blinks when I do that and nothing else happens. Is this a problem on my end, or is this Valve Time working its magic once again?

  29. sigma83 says:

    Valve Time. :P

  30. Grandstone says:

    Hey, better Valve Time than any problems on my end. I can wait.

  31. sigma83 says:

    My comment _should_ be 32 minutes past the hour. Therefore at the time I write this the demo will be released in 28 minutes based on info I’ve been getting on the steam forums and stuff

  32. Grandstone says:

    Now the question is if can I wait 15 minutes.

  33. sigma83 says:

    And if Valve time doesn’t continue to wreck our hopes and dreams :(

  34. Catastrophe says:

    Thanks qrter, that makes me smile :)

  35. Tei says:

    pedantic on
    About “I Am Legend” book, is about a “reverse” dracula. Dracula is a guy that kill people at night. And the character of “I am legend” is a guy that kill people at day. His troughts where about “I am destroying evilness”, and “I am saving people… somehow”. Then he realize these that he was kilng where the New Real People, and he was the evil now. Society define evilness (and crazyness). And he was defined as a monster, a “inverse-dracula”, by the vampires.
    pedantic off

  36. thefanciestofpants says:

    Having serious fun in the demo, pretty much exactly what I was expecting(awesomeness). Can’t wait to play all the other campaigns.

    I do hope they get rid of the retardo matchmaking though.

  37. Grandstone says:

    thefanciestofpants, tell me you pre-ordered. The wait is nigh unbearable and I should probably be doing something productive right now anyway.

  38. Herman says:

    ACHTUNG. Public demo ist delay.

  39. Andy says:

    Should the public demo be out now? I can get on the page for it in Steam but when I click “Install Demo” it just refreshes the page… rather frustrating.

  40. Little Green Man says:


  41. Funky Badger says:

    Tei: isn’t that what was said earlier, but longer? Anyhoo, best foreshadowing title evah (followed not particularly closely by Only Forward…)

  42. Siwongo says:

    Great article, really nice read. Thanks :)

  43. gotta left4dead says:

    very nice article
    I actually enjoy reading and can’t wait to download the demo.

  44. shanks`` says:

    i wish they would change that chain gun mont to somthing more commonly found -3- seems alittle over the top to me

  45. Big G says:

    (SPOILER-ISH!!!) This is a brilliant game! The demo really allows the player a foretaste of what to expect. I wasn’t even aware of the game until the 12th November, and it comes out on the 18th.

    The game itself is very exhilarating, action-packed and well-paced, with rhythm and tempo set differently each time you play…the quiet moments are a welcome respite, and you DO need them!

    The character crosstalk is limited but essentially about right, and the ‘bosses’ each present their own particular cross to bea for the player. The Witch is best left alone to sob and wail in her own tragedy, whilst the Tank requires all characters to engage it as one for a relative rapid knockdown. The other 3…Smoker, Hunter, and Boomer, will be engaged on a regular basis, with both the Smoke and Hunter requiring aid from your buddies.

    Really looking forward to purchasing the game and playing the full campaigns. Another good one from Valve.

  46. Fat Zombie says:

    Also, this game has the best feedback for headshots ever. A special noise or announcement? Bah. How about a zom’s head popping open like a busted tomato, blood and bits of skull going everywhere in a splatter of viscera. Disgusting but awesome.

    This game has made sniping fun for me.

  47. Erlam says:

    I’ve been playing the Demo, and wow, do I hate the A.I. I can’t count the number of times my walking through a subway car was their queue to go back, into the other tunnel, and stand there ‘beside’ where I’d be if I had, you know, gone a different way.

    Not to mention, the A.I. director is just a total ass. In the second hardest difficulty, and I made it through the entire demo, and once had my health drop as far as 30% (and that was at the end, when the NPC’s neglected to fire for some reason.) On the hardest difficulty, I haven’t even made it to the end with the A.I. – the ‘director’ seems to think that a boomer attack, smoker/hunter combo, two waves of zombies, then a tank when two of the survivors are down, is a good idea.

    I really need to play this with a friend, because jesus are the NPC’s awful.

  48. JustDave says:

    I realise i’m a bit late with this, but the line ‘The open-backed-gown hospital patients were a joy with their vile buttocks.’ had me cracking up. Genius. I now have to get this game just to make sure the buttocks are really vile, and not just merely unsightly!