The Left 4 Dead aficionado's strategy guide


— 3:57 PM on December 23, 2008

Steam clocks me in at 25 hours of Left 4 Dead playtime over the past two weeks, and I think that says it all about my opinion of the game. In Valve tradition, Left 4 Dead delivers almost maniacal polish, boatloads of fun, and a very unique gameplay experience.

It also goes without saying that the game's versus mode is faster-paced, more engaging, and arguably more fun than the regular co-op mode. Whereas the latter puts you in a team with three other friends (or bots) and asks you to clear a few levels of zombies, the versus mode lets four other players to fill in as the "super infected"—pretty much zombies with super-powers.

Since the bulk of my Left 4 Dead experience has revolved around the versus mode, I thought I'd offer a few tips for those who're just getting started with the game, as well as others who simply wish to beef up their existing skills.

The survivors
Let's start with a quick list of do's and don'ts for the survivors, since the odds are usually stacked against them. Well, that's the case unless those playing as super-infected are particularly incompetent, but we'll get to that in a minute.

  1. Every Left 4 Dead map stacks up four survivors—healthy humans, in other words—against a few hundred regular zombies and four constantly respawning super-infected. Health and ammo are limited resources, so a team's success depends on how quickly it can make it to the end of the level.

    Therefore, do stay well behind your teammates to gather ammo and health kits. Loot can usually be found in poorly lit rooms some distance from the main path. If you follow this strategy successfully, you may often be attacked by super-infected players, forcing the other survivors to backtrack and rescue you. But that's okay! This is where the loot you've gathered will come in handy.

  2. The game regularly supplies you with Molotov cocktails, which can set relatively large areas of the map (and anything contained therein) on fire. If you sense trouble, do throw a Molotov a few feet in front of you without warning. Your teammates might yell at you when the flames spread and incapacitate them, but they're clearly playing wrong—and besides, they should be thanking you for setting those three zombies on fire and blocking the path ahead with flames. That's the perfect occasion to reload your weapons and heal.

  3. Don't use the voice chat feature under any circumstance to provide your teammates with updates on your status, where enemies are coming from, and where they can find health or ammo. Instead, do pause and type those things down at your leisure. You get bonus points for pausing to type "lol" when a teammate yells at you for not keeping up. You get triple bonus points if a super-infected subsequently pounces on you and incapacitates you.

  4. If you just bought a new microphone and want to use voice chat anyway, do bark orders at your teammates constantly, making sure to chastise them for not following your questionable strategies to the letter. Video games are serious business, and if someone isn't being a team player, they should just get out. That online quiz did say you were a natural leader, after all.

  5. When a teammate is being strangled by a "smoker"—a super-infected zombie with a really long, prehensile tongue—do stare impotently for a few seconds, then walk past them to try and find the smoker's hiding spot. No matter what, don't use your melee attack on your teammate to free them instantly. They won't lose that much health from being slowly choked to death and clawed at by regular zombies, anyway, and you'll get more points for killing the smoker.

  6. If you fall behind and a super-infected "hunter" pins you down, don't tell your teammates. Instead, relish the moment as you fall in death's sweet embrace, your eyes gazing at the night sky and the hunter rapidly clawing a hole through your chest. By the time your teammates find out, you'll probably be dead, and they'll be sorry. Oh, they'll be sorry.

  7. Should you somehow manage to make it to the safe room at the end of the level, don't immediately run inside and close the door behind the other survivors. Instead, stand outside for a minute or two to savor your victory and perhaps type a message to taunt the other team. There's only a small chance they'll catch up and kill you.

The infected
Of course, playing as a survivor shouldn't be too difficult for rugged first-person shooter veterans. Playing as the super-infected, which each have a unique ability, requires a lot more finesse and scheming. You might do better if you stick to the tips below.

  1. As a "boomer," your job is either to vomit or explode on the survivors, spraying green bile on them. That bile attracts a horde of regular zombies, which can make their job of surviving quite difficult if you do things right. However, the survivors can also shoot and kill you pretty much instantly from a distance.

    For those reasons, do spawn well behind the survivors and awkwardly totter up to them, your character's loud gurgling sounds announcing your arrival. When one of them finally spots you and you sense imminent death, do use your vomit attack despite being 50 feet away and well out of range. That might distract them for a second. Under no circumstances should you spawn in front of the survivors and ambush them—that would be silly.

  2. Conversely, when playing as a smoker, do spawn in front of the survivors and try to use your tongue attack in plain sight. If you're lucky, you might hurry the survivors closer to the end of the level and do a couple points of damage in the process. If you're killed straight away, don't feel bad—it's all about misdirection. While the survivors laugh to themselves at your total incompetence, another more skilled player might take the opportunity to attack them from behind and do some real damage.

  3. No matter how good the survivors are, don't use voice chat to orchestrate an attack with your fellow super-infected players. Instead, do show them how it's done by randomly spawning and trying to attack the survivors when they're sticking together and paying attention. If they kill you immediately, just keep trying. You'll be back in action in just 20... 19... 18...

  4. The hunter can pounce great distances, emitting a blood-curdling scream before pushing a survivor to the ground and clawing him into a bloody pulp. When you spawn as a hunter, do announce your presence by pouncing around the survivors, repeatedly missing your target(s) and collecting bullets in the process. If you keep at it, the combination of the screams and aimless pouncing will cause the survivors to laugh and become distracted. At that point, don't use the opportunity to jump out of sight and plan another attack—pouncing on a survivor after a few tries and being killed instantly is satisfying enough.

  5. Every once in a while, someone from the super-infected team will get to play as the tank—an awesome bundle of flesh and muscle that can take (and dish out) some serious damage. This is your best shot to work with fellow infected players and take down all four survivors.

    When you're done familiarizing yourself with the controls by running around in circles and getting shot at, do make sure to assist your teammates. That means if someone playing as a hunter or smoker has a survivor pinned down, do attack the same survivor. Sure, you'll kill your teammate and allow the survivor to get back to his feet and shoot you, but what else can you do—chase the two survivors trying to make a run for the safe house? Nonsense. When you ultimately die, be sure to blame the game's AI director for making you spawn at the wrong place.

There... that's not so hard, is it? I've only covered the basics, but these tips should nonetheless help you blend in perfectly on public servers. If you get kicked out of a game, don't sweat it—you're probably too good for them.

Have you been playing Left 4 Dead too, and if so, what are your impressions? Do you prefer the excitement of the versus mode or the quieter, more cinematic feel of a co-op game? In any case, don't hesitate to sound off in the comments.

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