The Left 4 Dead booth proved one of the most popular locations on the PAX show floor this year, and I was lucky enough to get some hands-on time with its Xbox 360 version. Valve's Chet Faliszek ran myself and three other players through several dark, intense, and bloody maps of the same cooperative campaign mode featured in The Escapists's E3 2008 Left 4 Dead coverage.
Left 4 Dead looked and played great on the 360, and its controls seem well-tuned for its fast-paced first-person shooting. Faliszek assured me that except for some subtle auto-aim calibrations (which I didn't notice while playing), the 360 version of Left 4 Dead will play exactly like the PC game.
Faliszek took some time to explain Left 4 Dead's Versus mode, which will allow players to fight as zombies against the player-controlled human survivors from the cooperative campaign. The zombie team will fight alongside the computer-controlled zombie horde as boss-type characters with special combat abilities. At the end of each map the players on the human team will switch to the zombie team, and vice versa, for another go at the same map before the game moves on to the next. At this point Valve hasn't yet determined how many of the co-op maps will be available for Versus play at launch.
Versus mode respawns infected zombie bosses much faster than co-op mode, and Faliszek says it'll be a more intense experience for players on the human team. To keep things manageable, the computer will determine which bosses the players on the zombie team will become as they begin and respawn. Although co-op and Versus modes will both fill out the four-party human team with AI-controlled allies when necessary, in Versus mode the zombie bosses will always be controlled by human players.
One of Valve's goals for Left 4 Dead has been to prevent players from ever quitting or dropping out of matches due to frustration or anger. "No rage quit," has been their motto, says Faliszek, and they've taken it into account as they've balanced, tweaked, and polished the game's combat, death, and respawn systems.
Gamers can expect fully-functional multiplayer features from Left 4 Dead, including a lobby that will make for easy team arrangements and the means to kick undesirable players from matches. Left 4 Dead for the 360 will be playable solo, in split-screen, via system link, and online. It'll also allow players split-screening on the same console to join games with other online players. Working with Microsoft, Valve has arranged to provide and manage dedicated servers for the Xbox 360 in order to reduce connectivity issues.
Lest there be any confusion, Faliszek says there are absolutely zero plans to bring Left 4 Dead to the Playstation 3 at this point. Left 4 Dead will hit retail as a full-priced PC and Xbox 360 title.
Valve hasn't announced any specifics about downloadable content, but Faliszek says gamers can "absolutely" expect to see ongoing support for both versions, as Valve has "lots of ideas" inspired by classic zombie films. Faliszek reports that they've looked at the way Team Fortress handles stat-tracking and unlockable content as one possible way to introduce new features to Left 4 Dead. I couldn't pin him down on any specifics, but I did get him to admit that chainsaws and flamethrowers would fit in quite nicely. Pricing issues for expansion content are still up in the air, but Faliszek said any pay content will be reasonably priced.
Valve's multiplayer shooter credentials are well-established, and I'd be very surprised if Left 4 Dead didn't amass dedicated followings on both the PC and Xbox 360. How large those followings will be will depend upon how many gamers are willing to pay full-price for a multiplayer-only title. Left 4 Dead is due for release on November 18, 2008, so Valve still has plenty of time to make some firmer promises about how they plan to satisfy gamers' cravings for fresh material in the weeks and months after its launch.