Left 4 Dead Versus Mode Review
There aren't many games that I still play consistently 3 years after release. These always seem to be online shooters with lots of content updates whose with big player bases to keep things always accessible. Team Fortress. Battlefield 1942. Halo 2. Halo 3. Team Fortress 2. Versus mode in Left 4 Dead 2 is almost 3 years old, and I still play it several times a week. With the Cold Stream DLC released on Xbox I thought I'd do a quick review of it.
Left 4 Dead employs an asymmetrical competitive system that rewards cooperation as survivors and infected players. One team begins as the survivors, and the opposing team begins as the infected. The survivors make it to the safe room at the other side of the level, or are killed by the infected team. The teams then switch places, and play through the level again. Weapons, items, and special infect (including the appearances of witches, and tanks) are the same on both playthroughs. This gives advantage to the team who plays the level as infected first, as they will know what to expect in terms of weapon placement, witch placement, and tank attacks.
Most infected players are paper thin (excluding the tank), and can ben killed with 1 good blast from a shotgun. To offset their physical weakness, infected players have the ability to change the path that the survivors are taking. The jockey, smoker, and charger, all have the ability to push or pull a victim in a certain direction. The hunter stops you in your tracks and stumbles your teammates standing in a certain area of effect, stunning them momentarily. The boomer blinds you with bile, and slows you down by throwing infected at you. The spitter and the witch have the ability to make you change your path to avoid massive damage. The survivors have a path in the map, and the infected goal is to take them off of that path.
Aiding you as an infected player is the map itself. After playing for a while you get a sense of seeing the level through the special infected eyes, and you begin to notice the most dangerous turns in the game. You start to notice the unavoidable ledges and the open windows on the first map of Dead Center, where a well placed charge could send a survivor to immediate death. You start paying special attention to points of no return where a well timed jockey or smoker could drag a survivor backwards leaving them hopelessly incapacitated. Or as a tank you start looking for those forklifts and cars which can be hurled into survivors. Despite how great it feels to take out a survivor with no help, your paper thin hit points means lone wolf strategy isn't very successful as the infected team. It's a lot easier when a boomer gets all 4 survivors, then the hunter and smoker occupy two, while the spitter forces the other survivors into a witch. And then the boomer comes out of hiding and explodes on everyone all over again.
There is a scoreboard for the versus team, spelled out by the amount of damage they've doled out to the survivors. Usually this is just for bragging rights, but when the survivor teams tie, the infected scoreboard settles the tiebreaker. Getting to 1,000 points without playing as a tank is considered a pretty darn good score. There are other arguments in my group however, that killing a team with the minimum amount of damage (killing the survivors before they get a chance to use their pills or health packs should be scored much higher.
Each infected character has a "song" that plays when they enter ghost mode. It's never spelled out anywhere, and it takes some time to realize that it's not just random noises or part of the soundtrack. They change from level to level, sometimes they are violins, or pianos. The smoker's song is 2 notes, sometimes it sounds like they're playing backwards. The hunter's song is 3 notes. The spitter's song 4, the boomer's is 5, charger is 6, and the jockey's frantic song is 8. This song can be heard by the survivors as soon as the infected player enters ghost mode. A skilled team of infected will know exactly which 4 infected will appear when they step outside the safe room door.
In the end, it is the survivor score that determines who is winning and who is losing. I don't want to dwell on survivor mode because it's the one most people have had experience with. I did want to point out some of the lesser known mechanics in the game: teamwork and blame.
The ability to keep a team together is the most important skill for a survivor. How well you can shoot is not as important. How fast you can get through the level, or how well you do as an infected player, neither of these are as important as keeping all 4 players together and watching each other's backs. It's amazing to me after playing years of Halo and Starcraft that Valve found a way to make "teamwork" an objective that cannot be avoided. You are constantly dependent on your team to watch your back, pick you up, point out guns and ammunition, and possibly healing your dumb ass when the time comes.
The opposite side of the teamwork mechanic is the blame mechanic. The blame mechanic is a huge part of the game. When your teammate shoots the boomer, and it explodes all over you. When your teammate shoots the only alarmed car in street. When your buddy pisses of a witch that he was sure could be crowned. Left 4 dead is full of blame, and it's not afraid to plaster the name of the offender right across the screen. The only way to keep it from affecting you is by adopting a zen-like outlook on your game. It's not his fault that the car alarm went off, share your pills with that jerk. He probably didn't want the boomer to puke on anybody, show him where he can pickup a molotov. Put your ego aside as you usher your hopeless teammates into the saferoom because their score is your score and in the end, survivor score is the only thing that matters.
Carry a molotov. Except when a tank can extinguish himself, then carry a bile jar.