Save Yourselves!: A Left 4 Dead Multiplayer Diary
Contributors: Scott Alexander, Russ Fischer, Scott Jones, Kyle Orland
I've played so much Left 4 Dead since release that I understand what the zombie gibberish means: "Hey, this isn't so bad. Sure, my wiener fell off, but I don't have to go to work tomorrow. Or pay taxes. I'm so damn hungry all the time, though! There's Bob from Accounting. He sure seems to be enjoying those brains?"
As Crispy's own Russ Fischer said in his Left 4 Dead review, Valve's first-person shooter really stands out as a multiplayer title. I decided to round up a few Game Trusters in a Versus mode session and see how we did pitting ourselves against each other. Once all the shooting and barfing stopped, we'd reflect on our shared experience. Let's call this an experiment to see how our attention-addled gamer brains process gameplay.
David Thomas -- I like to call him the Mile High Marvel -- can't join us because of broadband problems.
Only later will I realize what an omen this turns out to be. There's lots of chatter in the lobby -- no real trash-talking, but meaningful conversation in a game lobby is like trying to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" at a Metallica concert: People recognize some words, but they don't really hear enough to understand what you're saying.
After I choose the level, the assembled players pick sides. Once I yell really loudly into my headset, the game starts.
Campaign: Blood Harvest
Chapter 1: The Woods
I start as Infected. What can I say? I'm Haitian and playing as a zombie (or zonbi, as we say it in Kreyol) appeals to the Vodun in my DNA. There's lots of befuddled conversation as Jones tries to figure out the Infected attacks. "I'm a Hunter! What can I do?" We win as Infected, but it was chaos. My best moment came as a Hunter, killing an artificial-intelligence Francis. I didn't expect to slay a computer character, so I'm feeling pretty cocky.
Sides switch and we're the Survivors now. Our plan is to move quickly through the level, so as not to give the Infected a chance to spawn in optimal conditions. And that plan works! We win as humans, despite a bold last-minute stand by our opponents. We get pounced on and ensnared, but the Safe House's right behind us. The door closes and panic turns into elation. I wouldn't say there's a leader yet, but when you're this good, who needs one?
Chapter 2: The Tunnel
We start off as the undead again, and I spawn as Boomer. Scott Alexander notes that the advantage of starting a round as Infected is that you get to do reconnaissance and pick your spots. I do just that, and projectile-puke on Mr. Orland. Where's your Press Pass now, big man?! I rack up 20-some-odd assists before my corpulence gets blown to chunks.
I say to my teammates that I'm going to respawn behind the Survivors. Jones giggles, "Spawn in the back room, that what's she said!"
My friend Marc Bernardin jumps into the other team about halfway through the level and promptly kills me as I pounce around like a circus tiger. Someone on their team startles a Witch, I think.
We immediately take advantage of their chaos. I have a nice bit as a stealthy Boomer, successfully retching once and hiding until my bile replenishes to do it again. Then ? "You are about to become the Tank." Best news I've gotten all day. Get ready for Narcisse Smash, fools!
And ? this Tank shoots nothing but blanks, apparently. I didn't even get one hit in! How come Tanks are so fearsome when the AI controls them? I'll need to talk about this with my clergyman on Sunday. I do a bit more Boomer ballet, prancing around as much as my bile-filled belly will allow. Jones remarks, "You're very spry for a Boomer." Then, of course, I get shotgunned out of existence.
This guy really wanted to be the one to kill Russ Fischer. Varsity Jacket Zombie will have his revenge on thee, Scott Alexander!
Jones and I both reincarnate as Hunters. We unconsciously tag-team the Survivors. It's like a college co-ed's worst frat house nightmare: Once you get rid of the guy on top of you, there's another slavering monster ready to take his place. I pounce on Russ Fischer and then Marc, and kill both in rapid succession to help win the round. I should have this kind of bloodlust when I do my grocery shopping. "That's my avocado, lady!"
Chapter 3: The Bridge
It's our turn to be human again. (I'm sure my girlfriend has said that to me before?) I admit to being nervous, thinking that after the thrashing Team Fischer took, they'll be wanting serious payback.
The best part of being undead? The commute. You can totally walk to work from here. Or shamble, as the case may be.
Jones barks at me, drill sergeant-style: "Don't say such piffle! We'll just power through the level and we'll be fine." So far, we're the only ones to survive a chapter, Alexander observes, so we know what we're doing. I take point, still thinking to myself that this is not gonna be easy. I think it's at this point that Jeremy, a friend of Scott Alexander's, joins us. He gets incapacitated in a Horde rush and I help him up.
Caught unawares, I get pounced on by, I think, Fischer. The mocking skull appears underneath my Gamertag. I'm dead after saving someone. The cruel irony burns. I watch and hear the remaining Survivors try to soldier through. Jones sums it up best: "It's like that first night in Shawshank!" Black screen.
Put yourself in her shoes. Would you want anybody seeing you in granny panties and desperately unmanicured fingernails?
We do pretty well as Infected. I bounce between Boomer and Hunter, performing better as the feral zombie. As we're stalking Team Fischer, I hear Scott Alexander say to someone, "Have you ever thought about writing poetry?" I can't imagine what context made that comment make sense. It's a complete non-sequitur.
Poetry may not come out of my mouth, but puke does. I spray three Survivors with bile and whoop loudly. Go ahead and shoot me; you've still gotta deal with dozens of my friends coming to rip y'all to shreds. Now, just two remain; and yes, we end their pitiful red-tinged existences. Quickly.
Our turn as Survivors goes to hell super-quick. We're barely out of the Safe House when it all goes pear-shaped. I die first, and stare at the crotch of a nameless AI zombie as he paws at me. (This whole not-having-a-leader thing ain't working out.) Time for revenge.
Chapter 4: The Train Station
As the next chapter loads, I realize a vital but merciless fact: We can't help each other as much as we want to. I blurt it out but don't think anyone hears me. In fact, when I get incapacitated, I yell to my teammates to go on without me. Just go and find me when I re-spawn, I plead.
An alert, coordinated hustle like this becomes tough to pull off when it's humans controlling the Survivors.
Problem is, everybody else is down and whoever's reviving me ain't trying to do this solo. But, since we're all hurt, we go down fast, like consumer spending in a recession. (Who says this isn't the Crispy Gamer Age of Financial Analysis? Peace to Stan Lee!) I'm not keeping track of score, but I can't help but sense things are grim. During our Infected rounds, I notice that we're all going after the humans at once, which leads to getting killed and having to wait to re-spawn all at the same time. "Pace out our attacks!" I yell. Still, there's no more coordination than that, and we ruefully watch Team Fischer close the Safe House door. I'm pretty sure I heard the orgasmic moan of Kyle Orland healing himself, but that could just be the shell-shock talking.
Chapter 5: Farmhouse Finale
Jones mutters, "They're working very well together," with a mix of envy and admiration. Well, why don't you go join their team, Scott?! I don't say that, but I think it. Loudly. Jones then tries to rally the troops. "This is our dignity on the line," he implores. Uh, does he know I haven't showered all day? I am a freelancer, after all?
I redeem my earlier poor showing as the Tank by putting some serious hurt on Marc. Despite the fact that Jones and I lay in wait as Hunters inside the armed transport that's come to save the Survivors, we watch the three remaining members of Team Fischer ride off into the sunset. In between rounds, I munch on a pork chop that's gone cold. Now, I'm a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself. I season, I marinate, and I rarely burn dishes. But, now? Now, all I can taste is bitterness.
For our last go-around as Survivors, we decide to actually strategize before we scamper out of the Safe House.
Sorry, Zoey. Since Scott Jones is playing as you, you won't be making it to be rescued. Then again, none of us will.
It's agreed that I'll lead, blazing a trail but not bolting too far ahead. "I'll take rear, as is my way," Alexander offers. The man works at Playboy. He can get away with saying things like that. I get us lost in the cornfields. Now, I always get lost in the cornfields. I was born in Brooklyn, New York. I've never even been in a cornfield! If you need to know where the nearest bodega is, I can just close my eyes and point in the right direction. But, cornfields? Not so much. Lost and presumably afraid, Jones dies in the agricultural wasteland. Just before his kernels get popped, I see his status go idle. Maybe he's put the controller down to go relieve his bladder. Or, to weep.
Without him, Team Narcisse limps to the farmhouse as the AI takes over. Spirits lift. Ok, we've got ammo and we've got health. We three can hold out, right? No, we can't.
Scott Alexander bitterly curses Jones' Gamertag for bailing on us.
The only solace comes from dying in relatively short order; no one has to suffer alone for too long.
Team Fischer wins: 1693 to 1340
During the fourth chapter of "Blood Harvest," I got a text from Dave Thomas railing against an apparently faulty repair that rendered his 360 unable to get online. "It's sad, really. Here I am playing alone. Stupid Xbox. Sorry, man." Little did I know how sorry it would get. After the game ends, I get a text from Jones, blaming his idleness and drop-out on faulty Internet. It sounds true, but can I really trust him? I don't think he saved me even once?!
All in all, I think our team's biggest failing wasn't so much the failure to strategize as it was the overflowing empathy. We were always saving each other, you see, and big hearts make for easy targets.