We made it to the rooftop. I looked at the three others in our small ragtag group. We were exhausted, but our spirits were high. Even old man Bill had a smile on his face as he lit one of his last cigarettes. The helipad radio had fired to life only minutes ago and the voice of maybe the last helicopter pilot in the city came through it. He was willing to pick us up. We just had to wait.
We crossed the city in pretty good time by my guess. Even the detour through the sewers didn’t slow us down much. It was gross, but it didn’t kill our time. The climb up to the roof of Mercy Hospital, well that was a different story. If it hadn’t been for that damn witch sitting in the middle of the hallway, we’d have been alright.
I hate witches.
Louis took the blunt of her attack, but once she was down for good, we put our medpacs together and fixed him up. It’s amazing what a little pills will do for ya.
It was then I heard the first scream.
The infected were coming.
One scream was met was met with another and then another, until a whole chorus of undead filled the night’s air. We didn’t have long.
Thankfully, the Army left us a cache of weapons on the rooftop terrace. The city had been full of last-ditch efforts by our military to arm survivors. They may have not had the resources to evac everyone, but at least they had enough sense to give us a fighting chance.
A lot better than CEDA did us.
I hate CEDA.
But the Army? I could kiss the first soldier I see. They left us a nice little gift on the roof.
A freaking chain gun.
I LOVE chain guns.
We loaded what ammo we could into our guns and into our pockets just as the first wave of zombies showed up. Fighting the undead had become pretty standard procedure. It was the damn special ones you had to watch out for.
As if they were reading my mind, they began showing up. A tongue-tentacle wrapped around Zoey and began pulling her towards the edge of the roof.
I aimed my shotgun for the pulled tight tongue first. One blast severed the nasty thing, freeing the young girl. My eyes followed the writhing appendage back to its owner, but he was out of range for my shotgun. I’d just tickle him if I tried shooting.
“Zoey, there!” I yelled, pointing toward the fleeing Smoker.
She trained her rifle on the wheezing freak and sent him packing in a cloud of ash. Zoey gave me the thumbs up and turned her attention back to the zombie horde.
The ground began to shake.
The whole building began to shake.
I ran for the chain gun. Louis began peppering the massive beast with fire from his assault rifle. We encountered one of these things before and it was hell to put it down. The chain gun should help that.
I reached the chain gun and grinned as I launched lead towards the monster.
The towering mass of muscle seemed to absorb the bullets like lotion. The nagging thought in the back of my head saying the chain gun wouldn’t do the trick began screaming. I ignored it.
The beast had its tiny eyes fixed on me. It ran, its giant arms pumping it forward like a gorilla on cocaine. The barrels on the minigun began to glow red, but I didn’t let off.
The blinking light of a pipe bomb arced through the air and landed mere feet from the approaching Tank. It exploded, causing the Tank to stumble and fall. It fell to the ground and came to a sliding stop.
It was dead.
I think we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The sound of whirring helicopter blades broke the silence.
“Helicopter’s here! Everybody to the chopper!” Bill yelled.
We all began running as more infected began to pile onto the roof. It was as if they knew rescue was here for us and they weren’t gonna let us leave.
The building began to shake again.
I watched as another Tank appeared and separated me from the group. I ran, away from the helicopter, away from the Tank. It was so close behind me I could feel its stench.
There was loud wet smack as I felt my backside give in. The hit sent me flying through the air.
Ten feet. Twenty feet. Thirty feet, until finally, I was away from the hospital roof, staring at the black streets below me.
I am sure my back was broken. Everything hurt. It wouldn’t hurt for long though. The ground was quickly rushing up to put an end to all that.
You are dead.
I stared at the computer monitor as it taunted me with the game over screen before the game reset and sent me back to the beginning of the level.
“You gotta be freaking kidding me…”
I could not believe I just made it all the way through the No Mercy campaign only to die in the finale. And not just die, mind you, but to be FREAKING PUNCHED OFF THE ROOF!
This was roughly what happened to me the first time I played Left 4 Dead.
And I loved it.
When I bought the game, it was relatively new and I’d never heard of it. I liked zombies and thought the description on the back of the game box sounded fun, so I decided to give it a whirl.
And man, I’m glad I did.
Left 4 Dead puts you in the middle of the zombie apocalypse with three other people. You must use teamwork and strategy in order to survive. The gameplay is basic: Get from Point A to Point B without dying. Repeat.
That’s it. And as far as story goes, there’s a short intro video when the game boots up, but that’s it.
Or so it seems.
While Left 4 Dead may not seem so concerned with story, it actually is. But rather than give elaborate backstory or thrilling cut scenes, it allows to the story to unfold in a different manner.
It allows you, the player, to tell the story. And each story is different.
Left 4 Dead has gameplay AI (artificial intelligence) called “The Director.” The Director will basically watch how you play the game and then adjust gameplay according to your style.
Like to take your time and be stealthy? He’s gonna send a zombie horde your way.
Breezing through the level pretty quick? Oh, here’s a Tank.
Low on health? Try getting past this Witch in the narrow hallway.
It is the Director’s job to make you sweat.
And here’s where I get to storytelling:
Even though it’s the same game, same levels, you never really play the same game twice.
And that’s awesome.
It’s kind of like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we read when we were kids. (Remember those?)
You get to tell your own story.
And then there’s the water cooler moments, or as I like to call them, “Holy Crap, did that just happen?” moments. Like the time a Tank punched me off the roof in the No Mercy finale. Or the time I accidently shot a car with a car alarm and alerted the horde. Or the time I snuck up behind a cowering Witch without alerting her and killed her in one shot.
There’s all these cool little moments in the game that just add to the overall gameplay. For me, these are all about the story. It these “Holy Crap” moments that push us forward and keep us wanting more.
I try to incorporate moments like this into my books. Things that when you read them, you simply have no choice but to keep reading and find out what happens next. You may know them by another name: cliffhangers. (Breaking Bad fans will be familiar with these, but they may refer to them as “the end of an episode.”)
With a simple backstory and awesome things to tell your friends about later (maybe near a water cooler), Left 4 Dead oozes with story. It may just not be like you’re use to.