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I occasionally play Left 4 Dead 2 with some friends for a couple of hours every month or so. Since we don't play particularly often, we don't have much chance to really get better at the game through practice. We haven't been able to spend time iterating on strategies or improving our teamwork skills.

Right now, we're in a place where Advanced difficulty is just a bit too difficult and Normal is too easy. We want to play the game feeling like we're a totally awesome SWAT team, up against incredible odds but coming out on top due to superior tactics and awareness. Instead, we feel like frightened civilians running away from a zombie apocalypse. It's fun, but it could be much more with a higher level of teamwork and tactics.

For example, last night we were failing on the Crescendo Event midway through The Quarter in The Parish campaign on Advanced difficulty. On the 5th try, one of us said "Hey, it looks like that corner below the balcony would be a good spot to hold." On our next runthrough, we were incredibly effective during the event: we maintained good shooting angles, protected each other, didn't get split up, and nobody got knocked out. In short, we felt awesome.

So to keep getting that feeling, I'm primarily interested in:

  • Formations to establish a good defense when we need to hold a location
  • Formations when on the move, to get from point A to point B and defend each other
  • Different roles each team member could fill at any given moment
  • Terrain details to look out for when we need to make a stand

What can we be doing to work well as a team?

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I found my teams did best when we moved quickly close together. Person on point should always be checking the person at the rear, and people at the rear should always be clearing the way for the person on point. Roles will change as you move, and you should never allow yourselves to be significantly split up. –  zzzzBov Sep 25 '11 at 20:12

3 Answers 3

Regarding formations: the best advice is to "corner up" which really means "limit the size of the angle that you must attend to." A wall at your back is a flat corner :)

Again with formations: pick a portion of the available angle of attack and cover it. Leave the rest of the field of fire for your team to handle. Allow and expect your team to get your back and sides. Glance around to make sure they are doing their job.

Keep an eye out for guns when defending: swapping guns is quite a bit faster than reloading, and you will have unlimited ammo.

Don't try and kill everything: your teammates can handle it. Even in horde situations, it may be possible to let them handle it and keep your rounds ready for specials.

Don't shoot your team. FRAG rounds have splash damage and are super dangerous to yourself and the team. On elite, you can kill yourself with a single frag shotgun round at point blank to a zombie.

On the move: stay close, groups of 2 if you must, never alone.

On the move: hug the side walls of corridors so you are not blocking your teamates' ability to provide support fire.

Avoid random running around and charging.

If your teammate is being pummeled or hunted, resist the urge to go point blank: you are run the risk of blocking shots from your other 2 team members.

Don't use bile ever. It will call a horde which wasn't there before. HOWEVER it can be useful for gauntlets to buy you time to revive someone or to advance to a switch quickly.

Bile and fire is a popular combo: but bile calls a horde that wasn't there before, so again: avoid bile.

l4d2 plays music when there's a horde. It queues up just before. Listen for it. Identify the place where the most zombies come from, and throw either fire or a pipe.

The tank can/will switch targets based upon damage being dealt. If the tank switches to you, you may be able to kite him away from the team until one of them damages it enough to get him to turn. repeat.

Infected usually spawn where they can't be seen: therefore visual coverage of an area inhibits infected spawning. One particular place this is helpful is on carnival: the last gauntlet before the concert arena: they spawn endlessly in the right-hand passage to the safe room. Get eyes on it: one person up each passage.

And finally: hordes and specials spawn based upon time among other factors: the slower you go, the more hordes and specials you have to fight.

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I find that using bile is best against a tank. It blinds it and it turns the horde against it. –  Eddie Paz Dec 31 '11 at 0:43
    
you must be talking about cornering up with the first game. cornering up in l4d2 is not advisable in all situations and can incapacitate an entire team under duress from hoard and a spitter gets in there. –  defaye May 5 '12 at 21:05

Situational Awareness

The single most effective combo is good headphones and microphones for everyone. With a good set of headphones you'll hear the specials coming in, where your friends are in trouble, the direction of the horde, etc. There's nothing more satisfying than hearing the spit from afar and jumping up onto a bench or table before it even lands or meleeing your teammate while the smoker's tongue is just starting to reach them.

This also includes always knowing where the exit is located. Seriously, when you get on an airplane they point out the emergency exits. You should be doing the same when you play. Where are the objects you can jump onto to avoid a spit? Where is the door/window from which you can bail when a surprise tank spawns? Where are the high points from which a hunter can pounce on you?

Call for Help

If you find yourself overwhelmed, lost, or incapacitated, call for help from your teammates. Don't wait for them to figure it out on their own. As you get better at playing together, you'll often be able to sense when someone is about to get into trouble and can go help proactively. Until such time, speak up!

Also, if you're deviating from the path or see something of note, give out a shout. Someone may have missed the horde or tank music or didn't see the ammo pile.

Radio Delay

There is a not-insignificant delay between you saying something and your friends hearing it, somewhere around two seconds. Think about all the trouble you can get into in two seconds in this game. This is how people get killed by getting smoked backwards after their three teammates have dropped down from a ledge. This usually happens because the first person yells "Okay, drop!" right as he's dropping through the hole. Everyone else hears the order two seconds later, but the guy watching the rear doesn't see his teammates all drop.

Learn the Maps

Know where all the weapon drops are. Learn where you can find melee weapons, health and throwables. On campaign mode you have time to shop for goodies. As you get to expert and realism, you may find it starts costing too much. Often the person in front can do a little shopping as long as you keep an eye on them.

Often with my friends the leader will step off the path to pick something up while the others pass by and then rejoin the group in the rear. The key is that everyone knows this is happening and that you don't all do it at the same time.

Plan Ahead

Pick your route before you start the map and follow it. Are you going through the park or to the right or left? Decide early and only call an audible if it's warranted. If you change the plan, make sure everyone acknowledges the change or makes it obvious that they know. There's nothing worse than having a straggler get picked off and lose a kit or die because they didn't know the rest went left instead of right to fight the tank in the open.

Mix Your Weapons

Unless you're all ace shots with the hunting rifle, it helps to mix up the weapons. If you have someone good with the shotgun, make sure to take one even in tier one. They can clear large hordes as long as they're fully loaded. Having at least one person with a hunting rifle or military sniper is great for picking off smokers and dealing damage to a tank throwing rocks from the roof (less common in campaign).

Conserve Your Ammo

I have the horrible habit of double-tapping the auto-shotty on hordes. I do it with the AK and M-16 which is perfect, but it's a waste with the shotgun. I make up for it by killing what I'm shooting at and not firing unnecessarily. There's nothing worse than being stuck with a single pistol when a horde shows up.

Conserve Your Stamina

Shoving the horde back to give yourself time to reload, escape, or get a better shot is very helpful. Since you fatigue after a few shoves, make sure you don't overdo it. And when you do, swing in an arc to get more bang for your buck.

Kill the Specials

All but the charger can be knocked off your friends with a shove, but that's often not the best option. While taking the time to kill the hunter mauling your teammate might cause them to lose another 10 or 20 HP, batting it away just gives it another chance to pounce and do more damage--perhaps at a worse time. Take advantage of the fact that they are a stationary target and unload on them.

If you're close enough to shove, switch instead to your melee weapon and take them out. I lost count of the number of times I've put four or five point-blank shotgun blasts into a hunter without a kill. Sometimes it just doesn't register. Then again, I've had the same thing happen a few times with a melee weapon. :(

Throwables

The worst time to throw a pipe bomb is right when you hear the music for a horde spawn; you'll only kill two or three. Wait until the horde is close to you (twenty feet or so) and then throw the pipe towards the horde to allow as many as possible to surround it before it goes off.

If you're going to throw bile, be smart!

  1. Out of the line of travel. Never directly in front (duh) or behind you (swimming upstream).
  2. Into a fire if possible. Mmmm, barbecue!
  3. Don't be there. Seriously, chuck that vomit and run like there's no tomorrow. It calls a horde, but that's fine if you're no longer around to see it.

Fire is your friend. If the horde is spawning from a room or over a fence, drop fire between you and them and keep booking. Make sure you save at least one molly for the tank, though. :)

Most important: Call your throws. There's nothing more annoying than a pair dueling pipe bombs or having someone throw a bile right after your pipe. I call these out every time I decide to throw, and whenever possible I give two seconds before I throw to account for the radio delay.

  • "Pipe out"
  • "Puke out"
  • "Fire out"

When it comes to lighting the tank on fire, call out ahead of time who's going to throw the first molly so you don't waste fire. This matters more once you start playing versus where the tank will actively dodge the molly and try to trick you into throwing it from far away.

Corner Up

L4D is about moving and stopping, moving and stopping. Whenever it's clear, you should be moving your ass. But when a horde comes or in an event, it's time to crouch to the ground with your backs to a wall/corner. If you can funnel the horde through a choke point, put someone with a melee weapon in front, crouched and swinging away, while the others stand and shoot over their head. Knowing that the melee weapon can kill most of the zombies, only fire on specials or if you start to get overrun.

Gather Your Assets

Most events will have gas cans and/or propane tanks lying about. These are perfect because you can set them up before starting the event and save your throwables for emergencies. Don't waste a gas can by throwing fire on it or put them so close together that lighting one lights them all.

Be careful if you store gas cans where you're cornering up! A careless shot while turning to pick one up to throw can ruin your day. This is more important in survival, but I've seen it happen many a time in campaign and versus. Your safe little corner can quickly become your grave.

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Nice. The only thing i would have changed is to save primary weapon for hordes/tank and use pistols everywhere else. –  Albort Feb 21 '12 at 6:21
    
The problem is that when you move up to expert realism, you're gonna need a headshot on the common for the kill with a pistol. I definitely use my melee when I have one, but the AK is so fun to shoot! :) –  David Harkness Feb 21 '12 at 7:07
    
True. Don't wanna be caught in an realistically expert horde with only a pistol. –  Albort Feb 21 '12 at 9:01

Though some things are merely touched on, I expect that most players have a subconscious understanding of some of the points I will make. What you should then take away from the things which you may already know is a heightened sense of importance of how each of these things effect the success of your team. Also, though I do not talk about every special infected character, those I do speak of are revered particularly for their abilities, and shouldn't be taken lightly when you next use them in the game.

What elements do we need to take the survivors down? I could put it down to the following:

  1. Surprise
  2. Retardation
  3. Separation
  4. Confusion

Surprise

With the key element of surprise, comes the unexpected attack. The ability to incapacitate the enemy without the capacity to defend against it. This is perhaps the key to initiating the downfall of another team.

So what surprises the survivors?

  1. Being unable to anticipate where the attack will come from.
    Now this itself pulls out a few things which aid directly to being unable to predict an attack, and that could be summed up as being Out of sight, Out of sound and Out of the blue.

  2. Spawn at the last moment, keeping your audible presence a mystery right up until execution

  3. Keep yourself hidden, and come from angles which do not give sight of yourself

Retardation

When you have the attack under way, the next objective is to expunge their ability to fight and defend themselves. Thus we have next in my most important element of taking the enemy down attributable to retardation.

What retards the survivors?

Boomer

The boomer is the standard-bearer of retardation. His ability to cover the survivors in bile which effects their ability to see (which also initiates confusion), makes it more difficult for the survivors to cover each other and themselves. But not only this – the ensuing horde has the potential to completely surround the survivors, both damaging them and keeping them slowed. Simply put, played well, this is one of the most effective initiators of defeat for the enemy team.

The downside to the boomer is his fragility- and this means that the boomer has to use the element of surprise perfectly to be able to effect each member of the survivors with his bile. He is therefore best in a lot of scenarios to be used immediately after the first wave of attack has occurred.

Charger

The charger, when used at the optimum, will knock down the survivors whilst at the same time incapacitating one member of the team. When doubled up with a boomer, the charger is the natural escort, able to incapacitate the survivors long enough for the boomer to deliver.

The other important aspect of the charger is his ability to separate the survivors, but we haven't got to that yet.

The other infected do not come under this category as they either incapacitate the survivors completely (Hunter, Jockey, Smoker), or they only have a minor ability to cause a nuisance conducive to retardation (Spitter) by laying down the spit. The spitter is uniquely a support damage character, which must be used in tandem with the initiators of the attack. That said, the spitter is one of the most useful infected characters to cause damage whilst the survivors are rendered immobile by the boomer's common infected or being bowled into a tight spot by the charger, unable to escape quickly.

Separation

The three key characters to separating the survivors are the Charger, the Smoker and the Jockey. Each type, when used properly, helps spread the survivors out while other members of the survivors have their attentions occupied – an important aspect to the success of separating the survivors.

High damage-over-time characters like the Hunter rank up on many peoples priorities to being dismantled from their friends. This great distraction can cause people to take the initiative to try to save their buddy, and when they do – the characters who are capable of separating them come into their own.

The greater the distance that can be made between the survivors, the farther back you can force them to backtrack, the longer it takes them to move on, and the more time you have to initiate another dreadful attack with the intention of completely incapacitating the enemy team.

Confusion

Though this itself could be swapped in at any point into the sequence of what is most important, it certainly helps to be confused at a critical point when the survivors are at their peak of fragility. Being able to mix up the priorities of the survivors and delay them long enough for the infected to do their job is part and parcel to breaking them down. This could be the successful jockey who comes back to harass the pick up, the spitter who delivers the second accurate globule onto the survivors or the flying hunter who took the attention of the survivors whilst the real attack is about to occur.

What other factors come into play?

Soft Spots

Let's think about this. There exist environmental soft spots in this game where the survivors are particularly susceptible to taking damage. This is different to saying that there are areas where they are susceptible to 'attack', because you can attack anyone, anywhere, and may succeed - but it's how long you can hold it, which is important.

Soft spots come and go, and they can be missed if we deliver an attack too soon prior to one that the highest chances of incapacitating the survivors is taken away. We therefore should strive to find out where these places will be. That said, any location which will likely allow for the elements of surprise, retardation, separation and confusion of the survivors will be candidate for the next attack.

Generally speaking, it is best to time the attacks which cater for the unique abilities of the special infected as a whole. The soft spots change depending on what characters you have to work with. A stairwell is a soft spot for the spitter, as it is enclosed and narrow and difficult to escape from, but will never be the soft spot for a boomer, which render the horde he attracts to be fended from in a tight radius. The boomer would therefore be best deployed in an area which maximises the number of directions the common infected will come from. When both the boomer and a spitter are on roll, and the soft spots are close, you must weigh up which area is most likely to be the easiest to initiate the most devastating attack.

Teamwork

Coming together and initiating great attacks requires collaboration between the 4 players. Each player makes up 25% of the team, and when one person is acting alone, the team is impaired significantly. The ability to deliver the killing blow requires everyone to be working towards the same objective, and to see the same soft spots. Knowing who your target is as opposed to who your friend has allocated as his, and instigating the attack and hitting your target at the same time (as opposed to starting at the same) will make or break that chance of a successful take-down.

  1. Keep each other informed of events, are you taken, are you freed, are you behind, are you in front, are you struggling, are you exploring – (having a microphone) and being able to tell your team mates what you are doing exactly when you are doing it will assist them in their desires to stay in sync with each other.

  2. Keep one eye on the clock, one eye on your friends, and one eye on your vulnerabilities, and you will be fine! Of course, it's impossible to keep an eye on more than one thing at a time, let alone be able to use each eye independently so that's why you must try to use every sense the game has given you in order to multi-task, so use your ears as well as your eyes and speak!

The only thing you then have to rely on is your skill, the skill of each member of the team and the skill with which your team can collaborate to formulate the attack or escape. Knowing not just how to attack but when. Whilst I agree with myself that each team requires someone to call the shots, each player must be equally capable of recognising and doing the same, even if they do not have the tenacity to do it themselves. As the game can roll in so many ways, differing in combinations, changing the flow of the situation so drastically, it thus boils down to how well you can reach the best decisions quickly among yourselves.

I hope this helps you understand areas which may not have already been accrued from experience, and will give you an insight into some things which you may have known or not. This serves as an introduction into the psychology I feel a competent team requires to succeed in Left 4 Dead 2.

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