It’s a fairly simple setup, but it’s perfect for co-op play. With the odds so against you, you and your fellow players have no option but to work together if you’re going to succeed, and the only things you need to worry about are surviving, shooting anything that looks too pallid and making it to the end of the stage in one piece. Sometimes you’ll only encounter scattered showers of drifting flesh-eaters, but turn the wrong corner or make the wrong move and – bang – it’s raining undead men (not to mention undead women).
Watch each other’s backs, help and heal each other and there’s a chance you might win through. However, as every good zombie movie fan knows, fear, panic, selfishness and general stupidity will get in the way every time. This doesn’t matter. Left 4 Dead is an amazing game when everything goes right, and there are times where you’ll find the whole experience seems to bring out the best in you and your fellow players. All the same, it’s the bits where everything goes wrong that stick in your memory; the hideous mess where one player triggers a swarm while everyone else is still gathering ammo and healing up; the ill-considered deployment of Molotov cocktails in crowded areas; that bit where – and, yes, you didn’t mean to – you startled the witch just when it looked like you were all but home and dry. You might not hear the recriminations, but you just know what everyone is thinking, and it probably involves a rude word.
The witch – a sobbing zombie femme fatale who turns pretty nasty when aroused – is only one of the traps Left 4 Dead has in store for those with the Leeroy Jenkins approach to risk management. Car alarms and poorly timed attacks can all bring on a horde of brain-munching gourmands, as will performing certain trigger actions that are required to open up pathways through the stage. The witch is also only one of five boss zombies, the others being a Hulk-esque ‘tank’, a pouncing ‘hunter’, an exploding, chubby ‘boomer’ and a ‘smoker’ whose usual weapon is a huge, grasping ‘tongue’ that he can use to capture and then constrict his victims. With time you’ll get to know and fear them, for while it’s not long before you regard your common or garden zombie with a sort of withering contempt, it will take a while before you can hear the gurgling of a smoker or weeping of a witch without a certain trepidation.