'Left 4 Dead' Survival Pack PC Impressions

April 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Valve released the much-anticipated Survival Pack DLC for Left 4 Dead this Tuesday. Included were two Versus maps (Death Toll and Dead Air) and a new game mode called Survival, which comes with its own exclusive map, The Last Stand. Also included were some bug fixes and gameplay changes.

I had some pretty low expectations for the Survival DLC, when it seemed like everybody on the forums was excited for it. To me, it was just two versus maps which, really, should have been there from launch and a new mode which didn’t seem all that interesting.

For those not in the know, the Survival Mode is like one of the crescendo points in the normal Campaign game but extended into infinity. You are given a location to defend, and your sole task is to survive for as long as possible as you are inundated with swarms of infected. As time advances the horde/hunter/smoker/tank spawns exponentially increase in frequency until everyone is eventually annihilated. It’s quite a difficult game mode and a team is only likely to do well if they work together properly. Communication is essential — more so than ever in either Campaign or Versus.

So, as I’ve already said, my expectations were pretty low. And, since playing the game on and off since its release, I haven’t really changed my opinion. The two new versus maps are fun, but also along for the ride are some new bugs, exploits and glitches. Survival is actually pretty good, but, at the time of writing, it is nigh on impossible to connect to a server running the mode; it just seems to be a case of too many people but not enough servers. On top of this, old issues like lag and crash-to-desktop bugs make finding and getting a game going to be a frustrating experience.

Judged on its own, I think the content is still of fairly high quality, and PC gamers should be thankful that while most DLC is now priced-tagged, Valve decided to release theirs for free. The content itself is fine; my issue is with the amount of bugs and such that have come with it. Even if they do manage to fix all the exploits, the glitches etc. there is still yet another problem, and it’s one which Valve has little control over: the player community.

Left 4 Dead has one of the worst communities I have ever seen. There are just so many players who derive their fun by ruining everybody else’s, by intentionally team killing and being a general nuisance. And then there are the racists, and the immature 13-year old boys, and the players who take the game too seriously, blaming everyone else except for themselves when their team loses. There is no reputation system in Left 4 Dead, and if ever a game sorely needed one, this is it.

Another issue, which has been there since the game originally released, is the matchmaking. Quite simply, it sucks. Connecting to a server can take several tries before it takes, and the lobby system sometimes matches people halfway around the world from each other, leaving at least one person with a terrible ping. There is no way to configure the matchmaker to search by region, a feature which is poorly missed but easily implemented. There is also the ‘lobby bug’, which stops other players from connecting if a group have just completed a Campaign or Versus match.

The last thing I want to talk about are ‘rage quitters’, who leave half-way through a game, usually having been thrashed by the other team. There seems to be a lot of bad feeling directed towards rage quitters in the Steam forums, but, as I see it, it’s not the rage quitters who are the problem; they are but a symptom. No, the real problem is that Valve has yet to put in a matchmaking system which pairs people up according to skill. And, again, how difficult could this really be? The Steam platform is actually specifically geared towards collecting stats about players; how difficult is it to give players a win/loss, kills/deaths ratio and then incorporate that into the matchmaking? Rage quitters quit because they’re not having fun; that’s the crux of it. And that’s not their fault but the game’s and, ultimately, Valve’s.

What irritates me is that while the DLC is actually pretty good, there are still fundamental problems with the game which people on the forums have been going on about since the very beginning, and yet Valve doesn’t seem to be listening. These are things which could be resolved very simply, and they are far more important in priority to things like new campaigns or game modes.

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