November 23, 2008

Zombie Apocalyse: Not As Fun When Silent

So, Left 4 Dead is a lot less fun when you can’t communicate.

I mean, I knew this already. Talking with friends while doing something? Almost always improves a gaming experience. Hell, friends improve almost any activity, do they not? Even like, you know, sex with friends is better than sex with strangers. Maybe. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.

In any case, the last time I played Versus mode, in the first round I encountered a pretty shitty bug. We started the game in split screen, letting Jonathan and Essner try the Infected. Split-screen works alright for the campaign, but it is nigh unplayable online. There just isn’t time for the one person with a headset to go between and co-ordinate both the other split-screen player and the people on the headset. Add to that the fact that you can mostly forget about your computer partners in offline co-op, because the AI is so good. You need to know where everyone is in online games, and you simply can’t see enough. Finally, when you’re playing as the infected, this helpful info box is on the screen. However, it basically covers the ENTIRE split-screen area, making it completely impossible to set up ambushes well, since you can’t see until you spawn. Don’t play split-screen online, kids.
In any case, eventually they left and so I left the game, killed the split-screen, and jumped back into the game, only to find I could no longer talk to people on my team. This. Sucked. All the energy and excitement I had in Left 4 Dead the first time I played with it online was all gone. It was a depressing experience of frustration.
Eventually, I figured out that what was causing all my chatter to disappear was having a Guest signed in who wasn’t playing. After I logged the guest back out, I could talk and communicate again, and then the game got completely awesome again. Still, it was pretty striking how such a great game can get so much less than great without friendly banter and strategizing. At the very least, it convinced me to never, ever attempt an online game of this. At least, not without having friends fill up my entire team and murdering the random XBL kids.

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