November 16, 2008

Left 4 Dead!  If you haven’t played it yet, get on Steam right now and download the demo, then come back … if you can!  That is, if you somehow manage to tear yourself away from what is almost certainly going to be one of the best shooters of the year, and probably the greatest coop experience in gaming history.

The full game arrives on Tuesday (18th Nov), and will consist of four campaigns, aptly referred to as ‘movies’.  The demo, now available to all Steam users, is of the opening chapters of the first movie ‘No Mercy’.  It’s the level we’ve all seen in preview footage already, but no amount of passive viewing can prepare you for the intense bombardment on your senses when a horde of fifteen or twenty infected turn the corner, charging blindly toward you in an unrelenting torrent.

Left 4 Dead screenshot

I’ll restrain myself from talking about the game any longer—I don’t want to take anything away from my review—but it suffices to say that, barring an unprecedented and staggering decline in gameplay quality from the demo to the game proper, I won’t be scoring it any lower than 90%.

Apart from L4D, my playlist is in a state of flux.  I completed another run-through of Call of Duty 4 this morning on regular difficulty, sacrificing the challenge of higher settings for a more enjoyable thrill ride, which was nice.  Another game of Civilization IV has just got underway, this time with MozzerV12 and PigMental.  We’re in a team of three against six computer players, split into two teams.  There’s nothing to report yet—I’ve only just booted-up my fourth city—but the cluttered archipelago map type ought to facilitate some exciting developments.

Civilization IV screenshot

In retrospect, our attempt to play Company of Heroes against other players online was rather premature.  Finding a stable game was trying enough, with an assortment of connectivity issues and a scarcity of willing players with suitably low pings resulting in arduous waiting periods.

What immediately hit home in our first game was that we weren’t always going to be able to select to play as the Allies.  With some games already set up and with the Allied slots taken, we were inevitably going to have to fill the significantly less comfortable shoes of the Axis.  And as Axis, we met with disaster—utterly out-classed and with no concept of how to command a German army.

We practiced against computer opponents for a couple of weeks, but both CoH and Dawn of War have been on ice for a while now, though they’re still on the cards for casual play.  Civ IV and L4D should provide plenty of multiplayer sustenance for the holiday period, and the late release of GTA IV will provide a backup in December, if we need one.

What I need is a good single player replacement, and the question I need to answer is whether I replay a reliable classic (either Bioshock or Deus Ex) or get myself something new and fancy in the form of Far Cry 2 or Fallout 3.  I want them on Steam, but this blasted ‘credit crunch’ is screwing with the exchange rates!  I’m looking at £35+ on Steam versus £25 for a hard copy on Amazon—another unfortunate no-brainer from my perspective.

The only other title I’m considering is Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One.  I was pleasantly surpised by the demo when I played it recently, impressed not only by the trademark Penny Arcade wit, but by the level of polish, and the delightfully simple turn-based combat mode.  With Episode Two now available, I’m very tempted to dive in.

Work on my Crysis Warhead review continues apace, and with oodles of time booked off from work in the coming weeks I’m aiming to have it finished soon.

Meanwhile, play L4D! But do be on the lookout for a boomer won’t you?