Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The 31 Days of Halloween: Day 18

Halloween is the best time of the year. It's a wonderfully indulgent time, where your inner ghoul is given societal license to be put on display. To celebrate it to it's wicked fullest, the Midnight Cheese will be posting every day in October with excellent ways to enjoy the season. Whether it's horror films, video games, books or activities, check back every day for some new Halloween fun.

Left 4 Dead 2

It's not often that a horror video game can keep up with it's players. Very often we gamers interact with these virtual realities in different, unpredictable ways. The development teams can't compensate for this and thus an uneven experience in terror is digested with dissatisfaction (and perhaps a Pepcid AC). That mold is broken (and kicked around for good measure) by Left 4 Dead 2 and it's predecessor, Left 4 Dead. And while the first game is also excellent, we're going to focus on the second one today as it triumphantly builds upon what worked well in the first and adds several critical features (such as a full compliment of melee weapon options).

Each level has it's own stylized B-horror poster like this.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a zombie first person shooter. You select one of four survivors to control, ideally teaming up with three competent friends with which to ward off the teeming masses of flesh hungry monsters. If you have no friends, the game does a commendable job of controlling the other three characters in a "playing with your friends-esk manner". Though you really should play with your friends, it's better than playing with yourself on your own. The cooperative component is built into the foundation of the gameplay. If you get knocked down by some of the special infected, only a teammate can help you back up, though in some situations you can continue shooting your pistol as you bleed to death (very heroic).

Children of the rotting corn.

Here's what sets this game far above and beyond others: The Director. The director is the name given to the procedurally generated zombies. What the hell does that mean? This means that unlike nearly all video games with preplaced enemies, in this game the infected are placed randomly around the world. There are also junctions which you'll come to, where the level has been altered from the last time you played FORCING you down an unfamiliar path. If all of this was not enough, the Director is constantly measuring the progress of you and your companions. If it decides you are having too easy of a time slaughtering it's killer denizens, it increases the instances of them and may send difficult to kill, powerful special infected zombies at you. There are subtle musical clues which accompany these events, including "crescendo events" -where you're about to be overwhelmed by dozens to hundreds of the rotting meatbags.

The game world itself comes alive with little details. These shine through in helping to create a world of despair, where hope is almost irrelevant. You receive just enough sustenance (ammo, medical supplies, etc) to make seem as though you might just make it. The safe room, momentarily protected respites between levels, offer a canvas for the mythology of this outbreak to germinate in your imagination.

It's the kind of playground that any self respecting horror fan would love to find themselves in. I can't recommend it to you enough. Just writing about it is making we want to go play it again. If it any flaw it's that it cares about killing me too much.

Lock and Load.

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