Left 4 Dead — a gateway drug?

I seem to find an FPS that I enjoy every few years. First, there was Doom 2. Subsequent games within my field of view (Quake (2), Halo) were too complicated for me in their control schemes. Crouching, jumping, aiming. Doom 2 had none of these, was still great. Playing Quake was like moving from a 3-button Sega Genesis controller to a modern XBox 360 controller. Buttons everywhere for shit I couldn’t keep track of.


Then came Elite Force, which I enjoyed, but only played for that short while. Not a lot of replayability there. Greg tried to get me a play a few other FPSes after that — Half Life (1 and 2) and Deus Ex in particular. I don’t like head crabs jumping out at me, and I found meandering through a park in Deus Ex to be boring. Plus, I think they had more complicated weapon schemes (especially the Half Life click-to-confirm thing for picking weapons).

So back to Sims 2 and Diablo 2.

Then came Left 4 Dead, and suddenly, I’m finding myself relatively adroit at FPSing. Relative to my Quake attempts, that is. I can headshot on a level with my peers, and regularly play on Advanced through campaigns. And it’s actually opening the door to me enjoying other games — Greg and I are working our way through a (heavily modded for prettiness) System Shock 2, for instance.

What’s different about L4D for me that keeps me fiending? First and foremost: difficulty and adrenaline management. Even in the beginning — playing on Easy — I could work my way up, with biggest difficulties being aiming, crowd management, and a tendency to Molotov my swarmed teammates when they become lost causes. I guess I figure they should at least take some zombies with them, if they’re going to go and die on me. I overexcite quite easily in games, to the point of jitters and (in- and out-of-game) flailing (e.g. flailing Molotovs), but L4D‘s inherent pulsating nature gives me time to recoup. (I’ve taken longer to warm up to Versus mode in part because the Survivors have less time to recoup.) Half Life had me jumping all over the place for the short while I played it.

Second, the replayability. I touched on that previously with being able to tell tales about experiences, but each time is different, even playing the same maps on the same difficulty, with the same people. It’s something I like about Versus and Survival mode more than the campaigns, but Versus almost always involves weird strangers, which I shy away from. Once you add in the custom maps being made, though, you’re in for a good (if buggy) time in any mode.

Finally, there’s marked progress. I’m not a Steam achievement whore, really, but I do enjoy both achievements and the stats between levels and at the end of a campaign. I remember having something like a 7% accuracy in my first few campaigns, and now I may be up to 25%. Still not hot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s fun watching the numbers go up, and I can choose to focus on something particular when I play through, like headshots, or careful aiming. It’s also fun to be comfortable enough in an area to be able to strategize and to see the direct effects of that — using doorways to funnel zomblies, being a Hunter and jumping around to distract the Survivors while they get belched on, etc. I think I pissed myself in happiness the first time I successfully danced around a Tank and took no damage while dishing it out with an auto shotgun. Or beat an entire campaign with just pistols; that was inspired by an achievement, yes, but hella fun nonetheless.

I’m pleased at how much carries over to other games. Reload tactics, for instance, work just as well — better even, due to a shorter reload time — in System Shock 2 as in L4D. Basic team strategies — one looking forward, one looking backward. Send out the lady with the armor and the shotgun first (that’s me!). System Shock 2 is a lot more clumsy and much slower paced than L4D, but I think I’d’ve died pretty quickly had I played it 6 months ago. Or found it boring, like I did Deus Ex.

Maybe I’ll be sick of L4D in a month. G is already suffering from battle fatigue in it, leaving me to play alone or with weird internet strangers more often than not. If a steady stream of user-created maps and campaigns starts to get produced (even just one decent one a weekend), I should be set for a while, though.

One thought on “Left 4 Dead — a gateway drug?”

  1. I learned a new word. Are you going to play L4D 2? I need to play more. Where can I mic???

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