While downloading Machinarium from Steam yesterday I noticed that the long awaited Left 4 Dead 2 demo was available. Had, in fact, been available for public download since the 4th of November. Just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, Left 4 Dead is the latest first person shooter that all the craziest kids are playing; a survival horror game you can play alone or co-operatively online.
I made a mental note to grab it for three reasons:
* I love Valve. Half Life is my favourite game of all time. Apart from Portal, which actually is my favourite game of all time. And Half Life 2, which really is my favourite game of all time.
* Half Life 2: Episode 3 has been in development hell for approximately ten million years. Actually, 25 months. But it feels like ten million years – and I was jonesing bad for some first person shooting action.
* No one shuts up about Left 4 Dead on Twitter. It’s all “L4D is ground breaking this” and “mould busting that”. And, listening to all that praise? Empathising with all that rampant, second hand fun? That was difficult, because there was no way to try Left 4 Dead except to buy it. A demo was made available briefly on Steam, but withdrawn within days. In my experience forking out £25 for a game without playing a demo is a bit like meeting up with someone you found on match.com named Helga, without seeing a photo first. Unwise.
500MB of download later I’m getting ready to have me some lovely first person shooty bang bang action, in the dark, with my speakers turned up. A nicely rendered cinematic at the beginning gives you an idea what to expect. Four ordinary folk who are trapped in a zombie infested city miss out on being rescued because blah, blah, blah, hurry up and let me start killing things.
My wish was soon Valve’s command, as I chose to play a single player campaign as some dude called Cleetus or Doofus or it doesn’t really matter because within seconds, oh my giddy Aunt, there were swarms of very fast moving zombies leaping and running towards me and all I had to protect myself and my friends was a sub-machine gun which needed reloading every 30 seconds and, of course, the ability to shove individual zombies in the swarm (arms flailing, viscera splashing everywhere) back two inches by feebly right clicking on them.
HA HA HA! Ha ha! Ha.
Left 4 Dead 2 gave me the screaming ab dabs in a way that no game has managed since… oooh …the original Quake back in 1996. It’s the combination of desolation and expectation and mundanity, followed by a sudden, unbidden onslaught of horrific and dizzying violence. Again and again and again. You pick off some lone shuffling zombies, you are attacked by a horde of them, everything goes quiet, you move around a bit. If you’re lucky enough to have a health pack, you heal. Rinse and repeat. There’s little sense of progress. There’s little sense at all. But it’s utterly and terrifyingly thrilling.
Still, after an hour’s relentless, bloody assault, I couldn’t wait to return back to the tranquil and comforting whimsy of Machinarium again. And now, the bad dreams just won’t stop…