Destructoid impressions: Left 4 Dead Survival Pack

Left 4 Dead‘s Survival Pack came out last week, adding two more versus maps and a new Survival mode. Since the DLC is effectively free, we (being myself, Jonathan Ross, Brad Nicholson, and Brad Nicholson’s Pecs) didn’t feel it necessary to do an official review of the new game modes.

Instead, we informally discussed the pros and cons of the new L4D pack via email, and are calling it an impressions post because “three guys informally discussing the pros and cons of things” is too long to work as a title.

Hit the jump if you’re interested in our thoughts on the recent additions to Left 4 Dead.

So, let’s start off with Survival mode. What do you guys think of it?

Anthony: I kind of dig the ability to play for very short spans of time, but I’m finding that the whole structure of the game mode lends itself to same-y play on every single map it’s implemented in. There are so many Smokers that you can’t stay in the open or on high ground; there are so many Tanks you can’t stay in a closet. This could have hypothetically led to teams needing to learn totally new strategies for this new mode, but it doesn’t really end up that way.

Every successful Survival game I’ve played has involved looking around the map for some sort of happy medium area that is both mildly enclosed but open enough to dick around in, and just holding up there for six minutes at a time until everyone runs out of ammo and needs to simultaneously go stock up again. It’s decently fun, I guess, but almost every map has some sort of area like this and it makes for almost identical strategizing and gameplay regardless of what map you’re actually on.

I get this sort of immediate, “Oh, we’re going to the Dead Air terminal map? Let’s just get in the bathroom and cover the door” vibe once I’ve played a map once or twice

Jonathan: I like it, but I can see it getting old fairly quickly. It’s a nice way to play short, quick games, but it’s basically going to just become people figuring out the best spot to stand in and then turtling for most of the game. I’ve found any attempt to move to a new spot after getting ammo always ends in disaster simply because of the ridiculous number of special infected running around.

It’s cool, but I would have liked to have seen a little more of a strategy emphasis, like I was lead to believe when they were teasing it, than a “stand in the corner and don’t move”.

Anthony: I’ve had some decent ammo runs that actually ended in everyone getting back to the turtling station, but nearly every occasion after that still ends in death by “Oh shit three Tanks and I need to reload my autoshotty shitshitshit oh damn they got us still gg guys lol let’s switch maps I’m bored of this one now.”

Not to mention that a shitload of the servers are now focusing on Survival, so it’s slightly harder than one might think to get a versus game going in one of the two new maps, which we’ll get to later.


Brad: I’ll start out by saying that I don’t enjoy “Survival Mode.”

I think the amount of tank spawns is off the chain. Every twenty or so seconds one (or occasionally two) of the big bastards lumbers into the fray and complicates things in a profound and frustrating way. The spawn times are simply too quick. It makes players have to play the mode for the Tank — not for the other creepy crawlies assaulting you.

Every match that I’ve played in goes like this: find a corner to hide — cheat if you need to — and sit back for eight minutes until a Tank finally screws up whatever positive momentum you have. If you somehow make it to ten minutes by handing in a tree or whatever, multiple (and strong) Tanks spawn.

I think I would have had more fun if Valve lessened the spawn times or at least put more focus on the horde. I enjoy blasting zombies and experiencing success. Sure, pure zombies would get boring — an occasional Tank would be fine — but as of right now, all the Tank does it bottleneck you. Hell, you can’t even sufficiently go on ammunition or health runs because of the threat.

It seems like you play “Survival Mode,” the vast majority of the time, until you and your pals run out of bullets. Then, boom, you’re done.

Anthony: Do you worry that without the Tanks it would become too lengthy and dull a game mode?

Jonathan:  I actually find the tanks to generally be less problematic than the smokers. Two autoshotties can take out a tank without having to reload, and at the most a tank will only get one or two hits off before it dies (and we can usually take them down on most maps before it even does damage). So far we’ve found a very viable strategy to be using dual pistols for all horde and special infected, and then switching to shotties for tanks or emergencies. Give one person an AR to pick off long distance threats, and we can usually last pretty long. We can usually make it to about 5:00 before anyone has to grab ammo.

The tanks are absolutely necessary though, because they can force you to get out of a corner you’re hiding in and force you to use up ammo. Even though you can kill them really quickly, occasionally circumstances (like a boomer puking you right before the tank comes) can force you out. Without them, you could literally sit in the corner with dual pistols and never run out of ammo.


The tricky part about survival mode is that you HAVE to have 4 people alive/active to really accomplish anything. As soon as someone dies, or if someone gets smoked or huntered and you can’t get to them, your game is effectively over, which is something I actually really like about it. Even more so than the normal campaign, you have to work together as a team. Sucks if you’re playing with randoms, but great when you’re playing with friends. 

I would say about 90% of the time, we die on survival during an ammo run, and always to special infected. Tanks might hurt us or wear us down, but they’re very rarely the reason why we actually die (unless they punch a forklift at us).

Brad’s Pecs:  I’ll address your question first, Anthony. I think that, yes, it could become too lengthy. But I also believe that Valve could turn up the damage, frequency of attack and perhaps ferocity of the typical ghoul. They’ll still be manageable and fun, but also deadly if not dispatched by teams working together.

And really, I guess this boils down to me wanting to play the mode more. I shouldn’t have to be an amazing player just to stick around in a game for longer than four-to-seven minutes.

And yeah, Ross, Tanks are necessary. I wouldn’t mind one every once in awhile. They shake things up. But, I don’t like how they force a certain way of play. You just said you die 90 percent of the time while on an ammo run. While I don’t think retrieving additional supplies should be a casual affair, I think it’s kind of pointless to even offer it if the task is nearly impossible to accomplish.

I’m not looking for feats — I’m looking for action that I can control and handle appropriately.


What about playing Death Toll and Dead Air in versus mode?

Anthony: Dead Air was always my favorite co-op campaign, and now it’s my favorite versus map. A lot of people might not like the fact that there are constant opportunities for the infected to immediately kill every survivor, but I kind of dig that — it’s like the ladder leading up from the elevator shaft in the No Mercy finale, only there’s basically one of those every fifty feet. It’s really high-consequence shit, and I like being constantly worried like that.

That said, though, this makes ragequitting even more frequent a problem than before. If someone gets smoked off a ledge and then the next two people who try to help him accidentally fall off, the members of that team probably have very little reason to stick around.


Jonathan: Well, I don’t play with randoms, just people on my friends list, so luckily I haven’t had TOO much of a ragequitting problem.

I like both of the new campaigns a lot; I particularly like Dead Air because of all the high-damage hunter pounces. I imagine that a few weeks down the line once people learn the map for versus it won’t be as difficult, but for now while people are still learning they’ve both been a lot of fun. One issue I do have with both maps, particularly Death Toll, is that there are SO MANY ROOFS that you should be able to stand on to pounce from, but it won’t let you up there. If you are going to put tall buildings on the map, I should be able to pounce off them. There’s nothing more annoying than an alley the survivors have to run through with no place to stand on top.

I also don’t think Dead Air is quite as bad as the No Mercy sewer ladder (I’m assuming that’s what you’re referring to.) That thing is just broken. In Dead Air and Death Toll I feel more like, while they’re hard, there’s no place like that stupid ladder that’s literally inescapable.

Anthony: I’m referring to the ladder leading up from the elevator shaft in the No Mercy finale, which is pretty much functionally identical to the sewer ladder except instead of a car alarm, there’s a ledge you can fall off.

I dunno if I really mind those, to be honest. They’re so reliant on player skill, and I tend to play with such lousy random players, that areas like those are only used to their full lethal potential about a third of the time.

Jonathan: Ahh, right. With that section, if you’re really careful, you can get everyone up the ladder at the exact same time and if you spam melee, you can usually prevent them from pulling that trick.

Brad: I definitely like “Dead Air” more than “Death Toll.” But I suppose I should back up a second and talk about both new — but old — Versus maps in general.

I think both maps are a bit too long for their own good. I have also come to believe that they’re largely hollow — I haven’t found many effective hiding places as an Infected or as a Human. And lastly, I’m eternally frustrated by the spawn times for the Infected. Waiting 20-30 seconds would be fine if I wasn’t dying immediately. I know part of this specific issue is my own poor skill level, but when there are not many opportunistic spots to slither to when discovered by the Humans, I can’t help but to feel disconnected from what’s going on in the game.

Now, I’ll hit these two maps specifically.


“Dead Air” has a nice groove for the first two rounds. The action — as both a Human and an Infected — is fairly diverse. You’re scaling ladders, crossing over bridges, jumping out of windows and walking down corridors littered with freshly created zombie corpses. They’re also short and snappy and much more confined than the rest of the entire level.

The rest of the rounds are in areas that are much too open for my tastes. Again, I think this runs back to my skill level (or possibly my partners as well) but I just don’t feel like there are any real advantageous spots. The levels feel like a grind. As an Infected, you’re just chipping away at health instead of completely obliterating it. As a Human, it feels like you’re competing in an Iron Man match — a slugfest of sorts.

I’m not a fan of “Death Toll” at all. I especially hate the Finale — it’s definitely the most one-sided fight in the entire game.

Jonathan: One sided for who?

Brad: The Infected. I realize that’s Left 4 Dead’s thing — the Infected are supposed to win, but I just think it lacks any sort of subtly. It is a straight up losing battle as soon as it begins.

Anthony: Really? I was under the impression (based on something Jonathan said on Podtoid) that Versus is structured so given two teams of equal skill, the survivors will always win. In order to win as Infected, I thought the survivors have to actively fuck up.

Brad: I’m pretty sure I heard in the developer commentary on the disc that the point of multiplayer was for the Survivors to fight tooth and nail for every inch, but not necessarily win. It must have been within the first few missions in the first level.

Anthony: You shut up. 

Anthony Burch