Left 4 Dead Made Vital Teamwork for the Living and Undead
Back 4 Blood will soon see players battling against persistent, dangerous undead (well, Ridden). As it’s being developed by the creators the Left 4 Dead franchise, I can’t help but be a little excited. After all, Left 4 Dead always made for tense showdowns between players and dozens of zombies. Although the zombies were often little more than distractions. It was those special playable undead – the Hunter, Smoker, Boomer, and Tank – that really caused trouble. Mainly because of how well their abilities worked in tandem to cause trouble for survivors. Especially in multiplayer, where devious players could really put them to murderous use. IF they worked together.
Teamwork was a vital part of the four-player co-op shooter. It felt good to run off, guns blazing, as a survivor. Making a dash for the safe room to get yourself out of danger as fast as possible. Between the excitement of the action and the need to survive, it was a game that made you want to run off on your own. However, you’d often find yourself staring down a dozen basic zombies if you toddled off by yourself. On lower difficulties, you might survive that. If you got caught by one of the special undead, though, you’d be in trouble. So, always stick together.
Left 4 Dead had several special creatures who could easily pick off a lone survivor. The Hunter was capable of taking long leaps from high places, dropping down from where players wouldn’t expect. If it grabbed a survivor, it would slash and claw at them relentlessly. You’d need a friend to help blast the creature off, and if one wasn’t around, you were in danger. The Smoker could also grab a player and immobilize them, using a long tongue to snag them from afar. While the Hunter would be gutting you out in the open, Smokers often used that tongue to pull you somewhere out of sight, forcing teammates to look for you.
Both of these creatures worked great at tying up a player who darted off on their own, whether ahead of the group or lagging behind. The other players would need to be paying attention to all of their teammates to find out they’d been caught. Although the screaming might give things away. If everyone stuck together, though, they could easily deal with these two threats. Often without breaking stride. While Smokers and Hunters were dangerous, they weren’t especially durable. Especially when three other players start blasting them with shotguns.
Left 4 Dead used the Boomer to deal with trigger-happy players, though. This creature would spit a gout of green goo that would not only blind players, but draw many basic zombies to them. You could shoot the thing to keep from being spat on, but Boomers exploded upon death. Anyone nearby would get covered with zombie-attracting goo, making for even more trouble. I can’t even count how many times I rounded a corner, blundered into a Boomer, and shot it without thinking. Rough times would follow. And if I started trying to be cautious of Boomers, I’d hesitate to fire, which would get me hit more often by other enemies.
Finally, you have the Tank, which is just a massive zombie that can soak up a ton of damage. And hit really hard. Hard enough to fling cars, which really hurt to get smacked by. This creature makes a ton of noise when it appears, with its own special music to make everyone aware it’s coming. Even if players were working separately before, hearing the sound of a Tank lumbering their way will definitely bring them together. Which is good because you need to blast a Tank for some time to take it down. If you can’t kill it fast, you’re in for a beating.
Now, these enemies can all be big threats on their own if players are being careless and staying apart. If the group sticks together, it was the special undead who typically died. Not even the tank handles sustained fire from four players very well. Again, teamwork is key in Left 4 Dead, and it’s also a vital part of playing as the undead as well. Fighting alone was a quick way to die on both sides. If the special could use your abilities together and work as a team, though, they stood a good chance of killing all of the survivors.
There are a handful of great tactics to use as the undead. Smokers and Hunters can grab a player and take them out of commission, but they also can’t move when they have grabbed another player. They’re easy targets. If a Boomer is around, though, you can lure players into traps. Bait them into looking for their friends and then blast them with zombie-attracting goo when they’re not looking. Then, they need to deal with zombie hordes while trying to pry the undead off of their teammate. Which will they prioritize?
Adding the Tank into the mix creates more interesting opportunities. Since all eyes will be on the Tank, players might not be watching their friends as carefully. This creates opportunities for the Smoker and Hunter to snatch someone while the other players are unaware. A Boomer can bring more undead for players to deal with. And if the team can get weakened even a bit, or distracted ever so slightly, then the Tank can just slam them freely.
The thing is, that all falls apart if the undead don’t work together. The individual special undead are threats, for sure, but not major ones when all four players are focusing on taking them down. A lone Smoker or Hunter is, at worst, a nuisance to a team that’s working together. Even a Tank has a hard time standing up against four players all strafing around it. Left 4 Dead wasn’t just about teamwork with the survivors, but also with the undead themselves. I mean, that’s always been the scary thing with zombies. They work together, and in great numbers. Singular goals, and all striving toward them. Zombies can be pretty great at teamwork.
Working together was the only way you could hope to make it to the safe room as a survivor. But teamwork was also the only way you were standing up to four people with machine guns in Left 4 Dead. The special undead were each interesting to play on their own, but their design and abilities emphasized working with your team. Their abilities were designed to be used together, which made for a compelling experience in action horror. It’s something I’m hoping Back 4 Blood can capture as well.