A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Safe Room

by Steve Bowler on November 27, 2008 · 6 comments

in general

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the safe-room in Left 4 Dead.  We kinda discovered a new way to play it.

It happened purely by uncommunicative circumstance when we were playing the Left 4 Dead demo a couple of weeks ago at work, and ever since then it’s pretty much changed how we play the game, possibly for the better, but certainly for the hilarious.

We had pretty much cake-walked our way through the first streets of No Mercy on Expert, and my buddy and I were bringing up the rear on the safe-house. The other two members of our party had already made it inside. As I approached the door, I noticed that Zoey (the buddy) had turned around and was waiting at the door for me to make it through. Just then, I heard a new hoarde rushing down the stairs at us, and realized that

  1. We could probably take them without going inside, and
  2. Zoey wasn’t going inside, instead standing and shooting at the horde

Good buddy that I am, I decided that I’d turn and fight as well.  Shoulder to shoulder we stood, pushing back the wave of the infected, allies in the war against this scourge of humanity.  Our solidarity, unbreakable.  Our resolve, steadfast.  Our aim, tru–hey wait where’d Zoey go?  Oh shi–Zoey went back inside, well, I might as well just back my way into the door while firing and–

Wait, why is there a wall here at my back where the door should be?  ZOEY CLOSED THE DOOR.  OH GOD, YOU BASTARD.  And then the horde was upon me, knocking me to the floor.  Zoey, pal that he was, “helped” by racking up his score a bit and shooting some of the horde off of me by firing through the window, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.  Even with my valiant last stand, I succumbed to their mauling (and the hilarious curb stomping), and died.

Of course, the Survivors still “won” and I was resurrected in the very room I was denied entry to.  We all laughed pretty damn hard at what had happened, and I am pretty ashamed to admit I used some language typically used by kids on Xbox Live, but for everyone who witnessed it, we realized that we had a new game on our hands.

Since we only play on Expert, we need to play as a team in order to survive.  We’re there for each other, we have each other’s backs throughout the entire stage, but man, once we know that door is within reach?  It’s every survivor for themselves.  We know that it only takes one person to make it through the door to complete the level, and now everyone wants to be the first guy through the door and lock everyone else out.  The betrayal is comically delicious, and it now seems to happen every time.

So the next time we played through the demo with that same crew, I at least knew what was going to happen at the door.  Everyone else hadn’t figured it out yet, but there went Zoey, trying to be the first one through the door.  Sure enough, as soon as he reached it, the door closed in our faces.  I didn’t even try the handle.  I could see Zoey’s head peeping out through the window, so I shot it.  With my shotgun.  This knocked Zoey to the ground, and now I could successfully open the door from the outside (you might be able to do this anyway, but I wasn’t going to take any chances).

Once we were all inside, everyone else kept trying to help Zoey back up to his feet, while I continued to shotgun Zoey to the ground ’till he was dead.  Of course, he just respawned back inside the safe-room, and we all laughed some more and continued on to what can only be described as an epic finish to the second level.

We’d never been able to finish the subway part of the No Mercy demo on Expert.  We almost always got owned by the tank that would invariably show up.  Maybe killing Zoey before the level ended made our total health low enough to keep a tank from spawning, but either way, one didn’t show up this time, and for the first time ever we were finally seeing the second floor of the electrical substation room.

My health was getting dangerously low that round, and so I grabbed the sniper rifle as I knew I was going to be “hanging back” due to my horrible limp, and wanted to still be able to help everyone else push the front.  I had no idea just how horrible that limp was going to get, and was shocked to see myself bleed out ’till I only had one hit point remaining.  Let me tell you, you’re always bringing up the rear when you’ve got only one hit point.  You.  Move.  So.  SLLLLllooooowwwwwww.

Our group was pretty haggard looking.  I don’t think there was a person not limping.  Collectively I don’t even think we had 100 health between the four of us put together.  But damn it, we were going to race to that door if it killed us.  Some folks didn’t know just how prophetic that would turn out to be.

Zoey and Francis were in the lead, gimping their way for the door, when Francis had the bright idea to blow up the gas can hanging on the wall before you round the corner to the door.  Unfortunately, he and Zoey were standing too close to it, and the resulting explosion knocked them both to the floor.  I didn’t see this happen, because I was still trying to use both hands to get my busted legs up the stairs one at a time.  As I rounded the corner, I could see that Bill had his back to me, and Zoey and Louis were still alive but on the other side of the firewall that separated us.

I don’t know what Bill was thinking.  Maybe he could feel my sniper rifle aiming at his back, my finger ever so gently squeeeeezing that trigger, maybe he knew he was the “man in the middle.”  Maybe he was just feeling desperate.  Bill just ran through the fire, and baby, he burned.  I’m not sure if he was running from me, trying to be the first through the door, or stupidly trying to save Zoey or Francis (who would have shot him had he come close enough).  Either way, Bill burned. 

Meanwhile, both Zoey and Francis bled out at the exact same moment.  Normally, I’d be pretty ecstatic right then, seeing as my Louis was about to be the only survivor.  Only I still only had the one hit point, and I had what felt like a hundred yard crawl ahead of me to make it to the door.  Even just one lone horde zombie could kill me at this point if he got in a lucky shot, and so there I was, laughing hysterically as I limped, hobbled, and dragged myself to the saferoom, and went from being the loser with one hit point in the rear, the guy “Most Likely to Die in a Horror Movie,” to the last man standing, triumphantly, in a locked safe-room.

This has become my preferred way to play L4D now, and I wish it could be a special mode.  Basically, give extra health and ammo to the guy who can successfully keep everyone else out of the safe-room at the end of a round and close the door on them.

The reason I love it so much is because it turns the game design of “stay together” on its ear, and creates this moment where your primary goal of helping your buddies is switched off and a competitive mode of “kill everyone” is switched on.  You even start thinking about it halfway through the level.  Do you really want to use your health on your buddy?  He looks like he still has half his health, and he’s just going to try and kill you when you all reach the door, anyway.  Maybe it would be better to just ignore his health request and let him die before you get to the door?  You’ll even start jockeying for position when you know the door is close.  You either want to be waaaaayyyy out front where nobody else can get you (which is in itself a dangerous place to be, since you don’t want to be alone), or you want to be in 2nd or 3rd place, so you can knock off the guy(s) in front and still get the door closed before 4th place gets there.  You typically don’t want to be in 4th place, which is almost a sure-fire place to be in if you want to be locked out, unless you know everyone has low health and will wind up incapacitating each other before anyone gets through the door.

The bottom line is it creates this sort of “Mad Mad World” self-interest greed that should be present in some small way in a group of four people all from different walks of life who are forced together out of necessity in order to stay alive.  I’m not saying that people are horrible; I love the game design of L4D that forces you to stick together, but I just love how our new game of “locking your buddies out” has created a new level of intensity to the door.  It’s created a very real fear of “not making it” that just wasn’t there for me in the game’s original inception.

And it’s certainly created quite a few laughs and water cooler recaps.

ETA:  Crap, it appears anyone outside the door can just open it.  Anyone want to start a petition to Valve to incorporate a new “Betrayal” game mode? :D