If you plan on playing Left 4 Dead's new Survival mode, get a microphone. Communication, as already noted by Valve itself, is key. And if you are new to the game, don't start with Survival.
Because the new mode is rather difficult. My first go in Survival mode, on the newly released "The Last Stand" map, lasted about 90 seconds. We were, of course, a quartet of Survival noobs, unfamiliar with the trappings of the map's abandoned lighthouse, clearly unprepared for the cycle of quickly spawning Tanks. None of us had to face three Smokers at once until now. Few of the game's maps are as exposed (and obviously unfamiliar) as "The Last Stand," adding to the challenge.
By the end of our first session, with players scattered across the country, we'd valiantly held out for an epic three minutes, fifty-three seconds.
By the end of the night, with a second group of friendly Survivors, we'd increased that by a good two minutes. Not bad, but not good by any stretch.
While that may sound like we're gluttons for punishment—there's no way to "win" L4D's Survival mode; one only tries to acquire medals by staying alive longer, trying to beat one's personal best—the appeal of group correcting the team's strategy is strong. But it's also somewhat defeating and repeated failures to best the team's previous performances can be disheartening.
Left 4 Dead's Survival mode taps into what makes tower defence games so appealing. There's a healthy amount of set up—relocating gas cans, propane tanks, loading out the group with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails—sometimes lasting longer than the play time itself. As in tower defence gameplay, one must time building repairs and upgrades—analogous to Survivor healing and ammo replenishment—with the next wave of enemies.
While Survival mode is fun and often frustrating, it's a welcome new addition. More so than ever, playing with a group of reliable, communicative teammates is crucial, potentially limiting its appeal.
But the game's new freely downloadable content at least addresses one the complaints we'd had when the game was released—Left 4 Dead was short on content, with only half of the game's campaigns playable in Versus mode. With "Death Toll" and "Dead Air" now officially playable for Infected, it opens up half-game's worth of new strategies to uncover.
Maybe we'll write more about that, after we get a few gold medals in Survival. But that could be awhile.