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No. of Recommendations: 9
As many of you know, this is the newest game from Valve, the geniuses behind Half Life, Team Fortress (sort of), Counterstrike (sort of) and Portal. 4 of my favourite games of all time... So I was pretty much a shoe-in to like this game, and I did.

I hadn't planned on buying this, as it's primarily an online game, and all the reviews I'd read said that it's best played with three friends. Unfortunately, I saw my brother and another friend playing it one day (as I have Steam running constantly) and caved in and bought it on the spot. Boy am I glad that I did!

The game doesn't really have much of a story, merely depositing you and three chums (in the campaign mode) into a scenario where you have to run along a reasonably well defined path to the exit of the level, you do this a few more times and then there's a set piece finale and then you escape. Well, that's the theory. In between you and "escape" are a whole ton of zombies and a bunch of "Special" zombies with various abilities:

1) The Hunter - your basic uber-zombie. This bad news arrives with an ear splitting scream. At great pace. From above. When he leaps on you you're pinned helpless to the floor as he merrily eviscerates you - it'll require the help of a companion to get him off.

2) The Smoker - his hacking cough is a give-away that he's in the area and you need to keep your wits about you. His main attack is to shoot out an immensely long tongue to ensnare you and drag you away from your companions. If you're not quick enough to shoot him or his tongue you'll be immobilised until someone else helps out. He won't kill you quite as quick as a hunter, but he doesn't have to get close to you either and can drag you over a hundred yards from your chums.

3) The Boomer - This wobbling tub of lard is much more dangerous than he looks. He may not have a strong attack or the ability to isolate or gut you, but he does have an upset stomach and he's not afraid to use it. When the Boomer vomits you (think Poltergeist for a visual) not only is it completely disgusting, but you can hardly see anything and your lovely new odour will attract a rampaging horde of zombies to give you a good kicking. If you manage to spot the Boomer before he hurls he's very fragile and explodes in a most satisfying manner, but make sure he isn't close when he does or you'll still get the horde chasing you.

4) The Witch - First time you see her you'll be inclined to approach and see if you can help what looks to be a cute girl sitting on the ground crying. Best not though... Turns out she's a particularly nasty zombie who's tougher than the Hunter and twice as deadly. If you're lucky she's not sitting directly where you need to go and you'll be able to sneak past without disturbing her - but be warned a stray bullet or even a flashlight playing across her is enough to set her off. Moody cow.

5) The Tank - as the name implies this is the grand daddy of them all. The first few notes of his theme song will, after the first few times you hear them, have you reloading your weapon and panicking ever so slighty. Very very hard to kill, faster than you, tougher than you and with a devastating punch this guy is really tough. Luckily you won't normally have to deal with more than one at a time. Normally. They're also able to pick up chunks of concrete and hurl them at you. Ouchie.

The game has what is supposed to be a fairly advanced AI running the show called The Director who'll send waves of zombies at you, or Specials, in just the right amount and frequency to spice up the tension and keep you excited/terrified. No matter how many times you play through an episode (and you'll do it a bunch because there aren't all that many levels) you'll never know when or if you'll find health, ammo, grenades or better weapons. You'll also never be able to predict when you'll get swarmed by zombies. I find that it's normally when I'm about to run out of ammo, or some other really inconvenient time, but you can never tell.

The game does an excellent job of keeping you on your toes, you can only carry one health pack each, the game is pretty dark and you need your flashlights to see well - which isn't helpful when trying to sneak around a Witch in the dark - and there's a constant sense of tension. It's great fun though to chuck a petrol can at what seems like a hundred zombis charging towards you, set it on fire with a burst from your Uzi and watch them stagger about in flames. The pipe bombs you can pick up are also fantastic - the beeping red light on them attracts zombies and it's hilarious to watch them all crowd around one until suddenly they're no longer all crowding around but are instead flying across the landscape as little Zombiechunks.

As I mentioned above, the game is designed around team play. You can play it solo with fairly able computer players standing in for the friends you don't have but it's not nearly as amusing or satisfying. Rushing back from safety to help up one of your friends who's being beseiged by zombies is much more fun than doing it for a computer character. Even more fun is NOT doing so and hearing their anguished screams coming over the built in voice chat.... :)

It's very possible to pick up and play with randoms from the internets and I've found it to be a normally pretty fun experience. However for Campaign mode I generally prefer at least one chum to be with me. Luckily however there is also another even MORE fun mode to play, where although teamwork is important it's not required for you to have a good time. That mode is Versus mode - two teams of four play against each other, alternating turns as Survivors and Zombies. My favourite thing in the world right now is to play as a Zombie and try to stop the survivors from making it to the exit. You spawn as either a Hunter, Smoker or Boomer (with rare occasional appearances from a Tank) and can decide where and when to spawn before waiting for your best chance to strike. Generally splitting up the Survivors is the best strategy so teamwork is very helpful, but it's still entertaining to stand on top of a building and vomit all over the guys below and see them running around panicking as a vast wall of zombies washes over them.

As you might have guessed - I'm pretty enamoured with this game. It's even more fun to play with friends than with strangers so please can you all go out and buy it. Right now. It's a digital download so you really can get it tonight... On Steam you can find me either as [SG] Gooner or Beerio I believe, so give me a shout if you see me online and we'll go slaughter zombies together.

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