We've reached the podium positions on the countdown of my favourite games of 2008. At number three we take on the inevitable zombie apocalypse...3. Left 4 Dead (PC)
Valve has a history of implementing breathtakingly original concepts that seem so obvious in retrospect they leave you wondering why another developer hadn't thought of it sooner.
How do we provide this linear, mission-based FPS with worthwhile replay value? By closely monitoring what the players do and altering the way in which encounters arrive. On one play-through a throng of infected will come charging down that hallway; on one a second play that hall will be deathly quiet. Those who find fault in the fact the maps themselves don't change are missing the point. Caught between this familiarity and the fear of the unknown, player tension is amplified.
How do we tell a convincing story that isn't undermined by having to support a co-operative framework? By not telling a conventional FPS story. In much the same way that Portal fashioned its narrative out of allusion and environmental exploration, Left 4 Dead is content to let players soak up its ambient details and write the script via their own actions. Neither Zoe, Bill, Louis or Francis is privileged above the others yet at the same time they remain interchangeable, both important considerations in co-op. Their distinct designs and dynamic dialogue position them as strong characters, adding weight to the player-authored narrative.
The thing is, other developers have no doubt thought of and experimented with these concepts, but no one has been able to execute and then hone them to perfection in the same way that Valve manages time and time again. It's so pleasing to see a studio with the resources to invest in bold new ideas keep taking those risks and providing us with brilliantly designed and fresh experiences.