A Zombiephobe Plays L4D
Hi. I’m Alice, and I’m a zombiephobe.
Psh, you’re saying. Don’t be silly. You’re not really afraid of zombies, are you?
You know what? I am. So shut up. Er, sorry. I meant…Nice to meet you all. I’m going to be blogging here! Yay!
Most of my posts will be game reviews, rather than speculation about the gaming world in general; I like doing reviews because I can bitch and snark to my heart’s content and it only seems to make people like me more. I know you’ll want a bit of my gaming background: I love adventure games. I love all of the Final Fantasies, even VIII, and especially XII. I love anything clever and lovely. My favourite game is Half-Life 2, though I’ve never played it myself — I watched someone else play it. I played Portal 2 twice. My household spends more money on games than on food. My day job is writing fiction; you can check out my other blog if you’re curious about that.
I’m also really and truly a zombiephobe. The genuine article. I read newspapers with an eye for new strains of flu or rabies. I struggle with the decision of whether or not to buy a shotgun and keep it in the closet. I have window locks, steel-reinforced doors, a house alarm. I hear sirens and I think, “My god, it’s the beginning of the end.”
Sharpieprints blueprints for my zombie-proof fortress, perfected over many endless nights in bed, staring up at the ceiling, covers clutched under the chin:
It started in my late teens. I was still living in London with my mum, though not for much longer, and dating a boy who was simply mad about cinema. He took me to see 28 Days Later during opening week for the cinematic qualities he’d been promised.
I was shaking like a leaf when we left the theatre. In the distance, some voice (no doubt belonging to a fellow film patron) did a surprisingly accurate rendition of a zombie scream. Both of us jumped about half a metre in the air. That night I insisted we camp on the floor because something could reach up through the bed. I didn’t fall asleep until I could press my back up against his side and feel that he was a living, breathing person.
Nearly ten years later, the love of my life, a computer man through and through, spends many hours per week playing Left 4 Dead with his friends from home. He’s an expatriate of Europe like me: the sound of gunshots and cursing in three languages has become a fixture of the house — like the ice machine, or the fish tank.
I got this blogging gig thanks to a Twitter (!) exchange with the lovely Kostika. LofL was playing L4D when I told him about starting as a game blogger. I’d been thinking of just nicking a review I’d done of FFX to stand in until I came up with something really good — and then I thought, “Hang on, I reckon people would enjoy hearing about how I screamed a lot over some fake zombies.”
So it was that yesterday I found myself wishing I’d never been born as LofL patiently waited for me to cringe my way through the opening video. I’d occasionally looked over his shoulder as he played, occasionally listened to his explanations of strategy, but this was so different.
LofL was Francis, of course. He’s always Francis. It’s kind of sexy on him. He’s one of those alpha male types — bit of a misanthrope, wrathful with the heat of a thousand suns, superlatively intelligent, snorts derisively a lot. Codes in C++. I would have gone for Bill, but in the spirit of the event (“femme”) I decided on Zoey. Also a submachine gun, because I felt more secure behind a spray of hot lead.
L4D opens on a rooftop, hordes of the undead milling about on the street below, sounds of snarling, rabid zombies drifting up from the stairs — from behind a closed door, which you’re meant to open.
“Are you going first, or am I?” said LofL.
He couldn’t see it (we were sitting next to each other, staring at our respective screens) but I gave Francis a withering look.
“You.” I said. “Dur.”
He ran down the stairs. The NPCs followed him. I know enough about the smart AI in the game to know I was toast if I stayed on the rooftop by myself, so I plunged in after them. I kept my back to the wall. I’ll have to be honest, the first few minutes were a blur. I shot the NPCs in the back several times trying to hit zombies they’d already killed. We were playing on easy, so in retrospect I was mostly shooting at scenery — but it was hell. I wasted loads of bullets. LofL told me I wasn’t actually that bad.
The first special infected I saw was a boomer. I tried to shoot it, but the submachine gun seemed to send bullets everywhere but the boomer, which vomited on me.
I picked up a shotgun at the next safehouse.
Every new room was in I muttered, “Not a tank, not a tank, please not a tank.” I shot hunters and boomers and smokers. I got strangled by a smoker once. Didn’t care, not really — LofL saved me pretty quickly. All I cared about was making it through the level without finding a tank. So it makes sense that the first really clear memory I have is walking to the end of a subway train, and LofL stopping me and saying, “There’s a tank in there.”
“Really?” I said. I hyperventilated. I checked my health, my pain pills, my ammo. Okay, so I had less than a hundred bullets, but no big deal, right? That would be okay.
“Yeah,” said LofL. “Hear him? He’s grunting.”
I did hear something — a kind of deep snuffling, snorting noise. Like a rhinoceros. I backed Zoey away from the door.
“Oh, shit,” I said.
“Follow me,” said LofL. He led me out of the car and jumped over a piece of ground.
“Stand here,” he said. “You’ve got a molotov, haven’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Okay, so equip the molotov. Press 3. Okay, now hold down your first mouse button and aim at the door, but don’t let it go.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I’m going to go open the door. When the tank comes, set it on fire,” he said. “Then run.”
“Oh my god,” I said.
“Don’t set me on fire,” he said.
“Uh huh.” The distance between me and the subway car seemed really short.
I felt a certain dull inevitability as he went into the car. This is it, I thought. I’m going to die.
The tank was the size of Africa. I saw a glimpse of knotted muscle and I threw that damn molotov right in his face. I ran nearly the entire length of the level before I realised that I’d run too far — right the way back to the ammunition pile — and now some hunter was going to show up and rip my face off for abandoning everyone.
I loaded up on shells and put my back to the wall.
“Come get me!” I said. “I’m going to get killed!”
“You ran too far,” said LofL — man for Come back your own damn self.
When I got back to them LofL was already jumping away into the darkness and the NPCs — who were obviously smart enough to know who’d keep them alive better — followed him like a pair of puppies.
“I keep telling A. [a guy in his clan] that if you set a tank on fire it will kill him,” LofL was saying. “You don’t have to shoot him once.”
The next tank I saw was in the finale. LofL told me to run, but not where, so I jumped off a roof — right onto the tank’s head. He threw me across the floor; I shot him several times in the face until the fire (LofL is nothing if not systematic) killed him.
We finished No Mercy on easy without me dying once. I was horribly proud of myself.
As the credits rolled, LofL turned to me with a smile on his face and said, “You consistently killed a third of the zombies I did.”
“Great,” I said grumpily. I’d been hoping to discover that I was a sort of zombie prodigy — a girl that, despite her fear, was piling up bodies and taking names. “Maybe if there’d been more zombies to shoot, I would have shot more.”
“Yeah, easy is really, uh, easy,” he said. “I think you’d be okay playing on expert with the team. You can’t possibly be as terrible as B [another clan-mate who tends to run in front of LofL’s sniper barrel at inopportune moments].”
My face probably blanched.
“I think I’d like to play more on easy,” I said.