247th played so far
A while ago, when talking about Alone in the Dark, we discussed how all survival horrors had their own second genre. We quoted that game as an adventure, Dead Rising as an FPS. It’s no surprise then that when Valve enters the genre, it’s as a shoot ‘em up.
While that’s something we partially see in other games (although the unlimited pistol ammo seems odd), a focus on pure shooting over also using stealth and avoidance is different and makes for an interesting game choice.
There are certain games where co-op play makes more sense than others. Survival Horror is perfect for it. While part of the scariness of the game is in knowing you’re on your own against a lot of enemies, having a few people around you – friends or strangers – to help you stay safe makes it more bearable. Sure, there are still large hordes and it doesn’t become that much easier, but it feels better to be a small band of small survivors, rather than to be on your own.
You do this by playing as one of four identical characters. They have their own looks and voices (including slight interaction between them), but otherwise play exactly the same. This group is part of the arc of storylines – as much as there is one – of this group trying to escape a zombie-infested location and get to civilization and safety.
To do so, your group plays through movies, made of four scenes each, which share a theme and lead from one part to the next (with safe rooms in between). The end of these movies in miniature features you making a successful cry for evacuation and waiting for the helicopter/boat to arrive. During this final section you are inundated with wave after wave of undead. While a thin story, it’s sufficient to lead you from place to place and give you a reason to stick together.
Still, even without that you’d want to. This is a game where you fight against zombies, and there’s lots of them. The game brings out swarms of them at times, and at that point you need four of you to fight off, knowing others have your back. The numbers simply wouldn’t work if you were on your own, you’d be overwhelmed. We are not talking about the slow zombies from Resident Evil but the running zombies from The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later that are apparently becoming more popular than the classic slow-walkers.
There’s more of an advantage than that. Aside from your teammates tagging you to revive you, they can help you against the elite enemies as well. While most of the zombies you face are simple normal ones, some have mutated to gain additional powers – bulk to make powerful attacks, a tongue that grabs you and doesn’t let go, and so on. In a number of these cases, you can be immobilised in some way by them. You can’t get free on your own, but your partners can help you.
One other thing that enhances the game, especially for repeat multiplayer play, is the ‘director’. It’s a system in the game that changes the levels. Based on your playing style, zombies attack at different times and you encounter different ‘bosses’, placements change and the game is different. It adds a lot to replayability (and uncertainty as to whether your least favourite boss character, aka the witch, will make an appearance), as well as to the tone of the game. You’re never entirely sure what to expect or where you’ll get attacked, adding enough tension to keep you on your toes on future replays.
This is the first survival horror game with decent graphics that managed not to freak me out entirely (yes, even Dead Rising managed to give me the creeps) and I was able to enjoy this game a lot more because of that fact. I am not one for online gaming usually but this blog has really opened my eyes to how it could be a lot of fun. First Fat Princess demonstrated how a gigantic free-for-all can be a lot of fun and now Left 4 Dead has opened my eyes to the world of online co-op gaming. Whatever next.