As we chainsaw our way through the festive season, it’s good to think of those less fortunate than us. Those who do not have anyone. Who may be alone at Christmas. Who may be cold and hungry. Especially hungry. And angry. Hungry and angry.
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I am referring, of course, to zombies.
For zombies, Christmas is just another day – a day when they prowl abandoned cities and burned-out towns, wondering where the next meal is coming from. Will it be a human leg, or a human arm? When will they get to eat a friendly face? In short, life for a zombie is tough. And during the holidays, when families gather together, lock their doors and put aside disagreements to watch each other’s backs, life gets tougher still.
The pain is real. The hunger is real. But the hope is also real. And Valve have joined in with the festive spirit by offering Left 4 Dead 2, their 2009 cooperative zombie shooter, for free through the Steam download store. With Left 4 Dead 2 installed, players can finally give zombies the gift that they really need this holiday – the gift of lead.
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Although Left 4 Dead 2 is certainly long in the (rotting) tooth, it remains one of the most satsifying zombie killing experiences in gaming – especially when classic campaigns and characters from the original, more atmospheric if less feature-rich Left 4 Dead were reinserted into the game.
Until 10am PST on the 26 October, anyone left on the planet who has not already purchased the game is free to download it with nothing more than a Steam account. In practical terms, this has the potential to bring more consumers into the store at the height of Steam’s winter sale. Economically, Left 4 Dead 2 is effectively a spent good - the number of potential buyers left who would be interested in paying more than a nominal fee for it, when more modern shooters exist, is approaching, if not zero, then a small enough number to make the hypothetical loss of sales here nugatory. And, of course, the distance to making a purchase is significantly narrowed by rewarding a customer for navigating to the store with the promise of a free game.
Economics aside, however, what is perhaps more important is that Left 4 Dead 2 is still a really good game. In single-player mode it is a diverting, if sometimes easy, stroll through an atmospheric post-apocalypse. Until The Last of Us, Left 4 Dead 2 was arguably the most well-constructed zombie apocalypse around, a particularly impressive feat when it is primarily a setting for frenetic gunplay and exploding heads, rather than the backdrop of a BioWare RPG. From the too-little-too-late government advice posters to the arguments conducted in graffiti across the walls of safe houses, the world created by designer Mike Booth and writer Chet Faliczek is both a commendably orthodox Romero hellscape (despite the presence of fast zombies, or strictly speaking rabid “infected”) and occasionally a genuinely creepy experience. The AI “director”, which schedules zombie attacks differently from game to game, remains a best-practice example of adding replayability through randomness. And, despite its age, a modding community continues to create new content.
None of which, however, is as visceral an argument for the game as the dread and frantic discussion that ripples through a multiplayer party when the dissonant brass stab announcing the arrival of a mutant Tank is heard, or the hair-prickling tension of creeping, flashlights turned off past a sobbing, lethal Witch – or the intense satisfaction, when playing one of the Infected, of leaping onto a player in the dark, and seeing that Witch, nicked by a bullet meant for you, ploughing screaming into the survivors.
Steam’s servers are struggling with demand, but if the front page is inaccessible, it may be more profitable to go to the page of an already owned game from your library, and use the search box to get to Left 4 Dead 2 from there – or to use this link. The game is available for Mac, Linux and Microsoft Windows.
Now, shoulder your shotguns and have a peaceful, happy and hopefully uninfected holiday.