Last night I discovered that Valve has released the long-awaited content for L4D, the new “Survival” gameplay mode. The premise is simple. The four of you begin at a lighthouse. For reasons never explained, your characters activate the light and fog horn. The light and sound draw zombies. All of them. Forever. Your goal, as you’ve probably guessed by now, is to survive as long as you can in the face of insurmountable odds and a highly unreliable building. The infected come, and keep coming, and keep coming, and just when you think it’s getting a little ridiculous, it will send a handful of special infected at your group. Your understanding of the game is incomplete until you’ve fought a wave of infected and two tanks. (Tanks are big, musclebound infected that absorb and dish out ridiculous levels of damage. In the other game modes, the group usually fights a single tank all by itself, with plenty of warning beforehand. And it’s still a huge challenge. But to fight one while the common infected keep coming is madness. And two at once is simply griefing on the part of the AI director.) Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to fight common infected, three smokers, two hunters, and a tank all at once? In survival mode this demented and masochistic dream of your can become a reality. (Weirdo.)
Our first attempt lasted just over two and a half minutes.
Is it good? Well, it consumed my evening, destroying precious blocks of time I desperately needed to spend making articles, comics, and posts about procedural cities. So I would have to say that the new mode is not good. It’s obnoxiously fun and infuriatingly addictive. Although, it slightly redeems itself by being a little buggy and eventually forcing me to quit playing for the night.
One amusing but benign bug – the talking cinderblock:
I don’t know what the deal was, but when we entered the game there was this chat icon over a cinderblock in front of the lighthouse. The icon suggests it is voice chatting to us, but we never did hear what wisdom the cinderblock was trying to impart. Alas.
Last weekend I purchased another server for the Twenty Sided group on Steam. I made it an eight person server, thinking we could get a game of Versus going at some point. I upgraded the server to play survival mode last night, but discovered that the updated server no longer honors the group designation. This means it was no longer a private server for our little group, but instead was a general public server, free to all the clawing unwashed masses, the beggars, and the riff-raff. I have played with dozens of you over the last few weeks, and I would say it was fun without qualification. But playing a game which requires communication and teamwork with anonymous hyperactive jerks is more or less impossible. I could find no way of keeping them out short of booting them, only to have them replaced by other people who do not speak or listen, which isn’t really so much a solution as a form of catharsis.
The other game-ending bug was the loss of survival mode itself. In attempting to correct the public-access issue, I rebooted the server and found that survival mode was no longer available. Forcing the server to use the Lighthouse survival level caused the game to start in some sort of inexplicable mode halfway between campaign and survival:
Note that in this screenshot, the playable game area is on the other side of the fence. The game was essentially spawning us backstage, walled off from the content. We could only stare longingly through the fence and the fun that sat just beyond our reach.
There were also some screwy clipping issues and the like, although I didn’t get screenshots of those at the time.
But when the game was good, it was very good. I’m particularly proud of our initial efforts. Early in the evening before the server went to hell I had a great time. Our first few rounds ended in humiliating defeat, but as we played we grew individually and as a team. Each round we saw our performance improve, demolishing our earlier impressions on what we could accomplish. The speed of the game allows for lots of experimentation, and the chaotic pressure has a bonding effect on the team. Our final round:
I really hope it takes them a nice long time to fix these bugs, or else this site is finished.
The plot of this game isn't just dumb, it's actively hostile to the player. This game hates you and thinks you are stupid.
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Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.