Left 4 Dead Brings On the Monsters

Turtle Rock's new multiplayer game, coming out this summer for the PC and Xbox 360, tests your survival skills against evil mutants. Or you can play a mutant yourself

Turtle Rock Studios, the developers of Counter-Strike: Source, will put a new spin on survival horror games with its upcoming Left 4 Dead. While horror games usually involve a great deal of solo play, forcing characters into cramped confines against endless hordes of monsters, Left 4 Dead focuses on cooperative multiplayer. Players team up with a small band of survivors in a world of "Infected" people who have caught a virulent form of rabies, which transforms them into psychotic zombie-like killers. The plague has also had a mutagenic effect on the Infected, and they will attack all non-infected on sight; bad news for those few who happen to be immune to the disease. So, players will need to work together in order to fend off the menace. The game follows a relatively simple concept: Work as a team, and they'll survive. Wander off alone, and they will die.

Playing as a survivor takes lots of patience. Characters will be relatively "classless," all starting with the same weaponry and skills. Players will pick up different weapons along the way in order to achieve any sense of individuality. All the standard fare will make an appearance, including shotguns and dual pistols, all ready to lay down some damage on the Infected. As a last resort, some of the weapons may be used for a massive melee hit, pushing enemies back and serving up some real hurt in the process. Those who want a little more "boom" in their arsenal may prefer the Molotov cocktails or pipe bombs.

On the flip side, players can also play as an Infected, which break down into specific classes like the boomer, tanker, smoker and hunter. Turtle Rock promises a completely different experience when switching over from a Survivor to Infected. Infected may not use weapons, but they have more insidious means of getting to Survivors. For example, a boomer vomits blood onto victims, which effectively marks them, drawing herds of mindless infected to their location. The smoker uses its 50-foot tongue to reach out and grab players, placing them into vulnerable positions, or even leaving them to hang. The tank will be a little more straightforward, throwing cars around and generally causing destruction.

Up to eight players can jump into a single game session: four Survivors and four Infected. Survivors make their way across five campaign maps, ranging from devastated urban landscapes to some more rural areas. Upon reaching the end of each campaign map, Survivors will need to stand off against waves of Infected while awaiting a vehicle to swoop in and pick them up. In one level, players take advantage of stationary turrets and mow down hordes of them as they come. Each map requires roughly one hour to complete, assuming players know where they're going, with randomized spawn points for the Infected. So, players will have no idea where they will be ambushed from game-to-game.

Survivors won't immediately die after taking too many hits. Instead, a "bleed-out" timer gives fellow teammates a chance to revive them. A great deal of risk and timing goes into saving a teammate. Fallen fighters can still be hurt while on the ground, and the rescuer becomes vulnerable when reviving another player. Health will become a genuine issue, since medical packs will be rather scarce, and minor boosts like pill bottles will only help temporarily. After a period of time, a player's health will degenerate back to its original point. Players' health will also steadily deteriorate if they need to be revived more than three times, making them easy targets. Death won't necessarily be the end, though. If a player dies near the end of a campaign, they will be shifted into a spectator mode, where they can watch the last stand from an afterlife's point of view until they can return on the next map. Dying near the beginning will cause the player to respawn inside a random closet somewhere on the map. All Survivors will be able to keep track of each other, even see through walls, which simplifies rescue efforts…even if it leads to jokes about getting players out of the closet.

After making a huge break with Counter-Strike, Turtle Rock certainly has its hands full creating another multiplayer shooter and strengthening the concept of team play. Left 4 Dead will be released this summer for both the PC and Xbox 360. The game will employ the latest in Source Engine graphics and AI technology, so people can really put their survival skills to work and look good doing it.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.