Have you ever asked yourself, “if the zombie apocalypse were to happen right now, what would I use to defend myself?” That’s like Left 4 Dead 2. Sure, it’s got first-person shooter gunplay at its heart, but with ammo limited, sooner or later you’re going to have to choose between a garden gnome or an electric guitar with which to smash up the undead hordes and save your frontal lobes from a trip through a zombie’s digestive tract.
Brilliantly, despite such comical situations, Left 4 Dead 2 plays it all totally straight. The atmosphere is dark and dank with a terrifying feeling of hopelessness as you and your team make it to every new safehouse in a worse state than before. It’s because of this, and much more, that it’s ranked on our list of the 100 best games of all time.
The sense of camaraderie that the situation elicits is the game’s greatest achievement. Initially, it’s tempting to go running off ahead looking for the best weapons and health pickups, but doing so spreads your team too thin, and at some point (usually within 10 seconds) you will need someone’s help to save you from a monster.
Instead, working together is of vital importance. And there’s no better way to do this than by getting together with friends. Actually, that might not be strictly true; human teammates are vital, yes, but they don’t necessarily need to be people you already know. Teaming up with random people online is brilliant, forcing you to work together with strangers like you would in a real-world survival situation. And if that means putting down a player who goes postal and starts team-killing, then so be it–such is the zombie apocalypse.
If the action ever gets too easy (which it won’t–the game is designed to adapt to how you’re doing as you play), there’s an ultra-hardcore realism mode that strips away the HUD and the ability to respawn and leaves you staring death in the face with only your headset left to co-ordinate your survival ‘attempt’. It’s so far beyond arcadey, ‘twitch’ gaming, that it’s more like a social experiment.
You really start to think about your teammates’ safety as a priority over decapitating zombies with shotguns (although the two can thankfully be combined). Hearing disgusting belches approaching in the distance instigates a lightning-fast reactionary warning of ‘Boomer!’ to your teammates, even before the survivors in the game recognize the threat and call the same. And getting covered in zombie-attracting bile from said Boomer, effectively running around blindly like a flashing beacon saying “I’m right here zombeez, come and eat ma brainz” is a moment of extreme embarrassment.