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Survivors start out with 100 health points. As a survivor, you get the equivalent of “inventory slots” by being able to carry one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, a health pack (or defibrillator or special ammo pack in L4D2), a “throwable” (more on that later), and pills (or choice of adrenaline in L4D2). Your movement speed is dictated by your health, so dropping below 50% slows you down some, dropping below about 25% or so slows you down more, and below 5% you drop to a shuffling crawl. You can be incapacitated in the game by either dropping to zero health, dropping beyond a max height, or slipping off a ledge (in which case you’ll hang from it but abide by the same rules as with incapacitation). In each case, you fall to the ground and can’t get yourself up, and you have a secondary health bar that triggers and starts a countdown. Once it reaches zero you die. Speaking of dying, you can instantly die (as anyone in versus modes can tell you) by dropping beyond a max death height or being driven into deep water.
As one of the co-op mechanisms, a friend can pick you up when you’re incapacitated, but it takes a few uninterrupted seconds to do so. After each pickup without healing, you return to progressively less health. After three “incaps” without healing you’ll see black and white and hear your heartbeat-one more and you’re dead. On top of using a health pack you can also take pills, which gives you a 50% health boost that slowly counts back down to 0%. Health packs use a timer in their application so they have to be used with strategy, but finishing one off means putting you back at 80+% health and giving you 3 more incaps before death. One last thing to note on health packs-they can be applied to yourself or to another player-a choice that increases co-op depth.
Defibrillators were added in L4D2 and provide another dimension to gameplay. They force players to choose between them and health packs (you can’t carry both), and at times the choice can lead to a premature end of a chapter. They are administered just like health packs-equipping them in your hands highlights dead players just like health packs highlight player health levels. Once you’re close to a dead teammate you can start a revive timer that returns the player to 50% health once it expires. Remind them to pick their gear back up though-that is if you didn’t gank it first you weasel.
Added in L4D2, taking adrenaline has three main (temporary) effects-it boosts your health slightly, makes you go “blblblbblbl” okay I won’t try to spell that, it makes you immune to slowdown induced by the Infected hitting you (which makes getaways incredibly easier), and causes all timer-based actions to take less time. Speeding up timer-based actions is a subtle ability but can prove critical when you need to pick someone up fast, heal fast, or pour a gas can fast.
For throwables, you get a choice of pipe bomb or Molotov (or additionally a bile jar in L4D2). Pipe bombs beep when you throw them, so they attract the Horde and kill all in a radius when they blow. Since they attract the Horde, a good time to throw them is when they attack for whatever reason (a Boomer biles you, something like shooting off a car alarm makes a loud noise, etc.) Like gas cans in the game, Molotovs create a field of fire that can deal fire damage to anything within and anyone entering. Special Infected entering the field of fire stay on fire and continually take damage until they either die or submerge in water (which does put out the flames). As for bile jars, they create a hovering cloud of bile above them when they strike a horizontal flat surface, and like Boomer bile they attract the Horde and induce attack. If they strike Infected instead of a flat surface they’ll coat them with bile for a set time and induce the same effect-Horde attacks on the struck Infected. Like boomer bile, getting hit with a bile jar causes blindness as a little bonus. As a means of Horde distraction, they’re better than pipe bombs in situations where ammo supply isn’t as much of an issue-you have to manually do the killing that a pipe bomb would do on its own, but it lasts longer as a distraction and melee can even be used to break the crowd up.
As for held tools, you can carry a primary weapon of your choice. Each primary weapon belongs to one of multiple “tiers” available in the game that range from -eh- tier to autogibmaker tier. Availability of the tiers to the survivors is usually made incrementally in successive chapters in a campaign. Primary weapons have limited ammo, but they can be replenished at an ammo pile. A secondary weapon slot allows for equipping one or two pistols with unlimited ammo, or a bonus in L4D2 in the form of either a “magnum” pistol-a higher caliber pistol that does significantly more damage than regular pistols-or melee weapon.
Yes, I said melee, yes it deserves its own paragraph, and yes it adds a whole new dimension to gameplay. In situations where you would have been easily overwhelmed by the Horde in L4D, melee weapons give you an extra out option since they produce an area damage effect, although only within the horizontal plane of your view. As a weapon against Special Infected, if you can close to melee range quickly enough or set up a dead stop easier then they are a faster means of disposal. Humor provides the choice of weapons-from axes to “ninja swords” to frying pans to “club thingies”, each with their own reach, speed, sound effects, and associated survivor dialog. And here’s something else that’s gone out of style-you can feel that melee was actually tuned to be enjoyable and control well. Someone actually spent time on making it close to right. Take some damn notes Way Too Many Other Games.
Also worth some words since it’s tied to the accuracy mechanic is the addition of the laser sight in L4D2. Tier 1 weapons have a random direction added to each shot to represent the accuracy mechanic. Tiers 2 and 3 provide higher tiers of increased accuracy too (less random direction added to each shot). Laser sights when equipped increase the accuracy of any primary weapon to maximum accuracy. One last tool to mention added in L4D2-the special ammo container. This can be equipped for transport (instead of health or a defib) and when deployed give either fire ammo (which sets the target on fire for a few seconds) or exploding ammo (which one-shots regular Infected and can even do damage to survivors when hitting them or a target close enough).
You can also pick up one of a suite of explosive tools which temporarily tie your hands up from doing anything else until you chuck it-a propane tank (which can be shot but instantaneously explodes), a gas can (which can be shot to produce a field of fire that damages everything within), or oxygen tank (which can be shot and will cause it to whistle for a few seconds before exploding). Another tool at your disposal is the cold shoulder-a forward shrug-off move that bumps other survivors or infected away from you. Use enough of these on a Special Infected and you’ll kill them (and humiliate the human behind it in versus).
I know I’m going to forget at least one, but here’s one last stab at trying to cover all of the tools. The flashlight. You always have the ability to turn on an off a flashlight. Some of the areas in levels are dark and freaking scary. You want to see. That’s what it’s for. Of course players don’t usually get stuff for free without a catch. Let it shine on a regular Infected and they’ll attack. Shine it on a witch and she’ll get pissy. Careful.