Back in 2008, Valve released it's Zombie esque cooperative first person shooter Left 4 Dead. A game where each party member played a pivotal role in ensuring the success of surviving each of the four campaigns. This is a story about how four gamers went through the trial and tribulations of conquering one of the games toughest challenges while being completely discombobulated in the process.
The game features a unique spawning system known as the Artificial Intelligence Director, or AID. Instead of using a predetermined enemy placement system, the game randomizes the locations of zombie hordes, supplies and unique enemies with various abilities known as the "special infected". This is where the real danger shines. While the hordes of zombies certainly can be a nuisance while navigating the campaign, the one's regarded as special infected are the what really pose as a roadblock.
The hunter can leap in close proximity, pinning a survivor and slowly chip away their health by clawing them to death. The boomer is an overly bloated mutation responsible for spraying a nasty substance which can temporarily blind a survivor, and attract nearby enemies. The smoker specializes in pulling prey in at a distance with its overly-sized tongue. The tank hones in on the survivors while being able to withstand large amounts of damage, accompanied by the ability to hurl large chunks of concrete. And finally, there's the Witch: a passive enemy stationed at a designated point of each campaign, who can take down a survivor with a single hit if provoked.
When the randomness of the AI director is meshed with a variety of where these moments would be encountered, a new form of strategy must be conjured up on the spot. One moment the survivors can be walking through a barren road completely deprived of any activity, where another area can be infested with a slew of special infected accompanied by a massive infestation of zombies. This helps bring a fresh experience each time a campaign is started, leaving an eerie sense of dread and excitement when not knowing when the next strike might be. All of this mixed together provided the perfect concoction for disaster when attempting the games most daunting achievement: Nothing Special.
Meeting the required criteria for this achievement meant that each of the 4 party members must come out alive of the campaign completely unscathed by any of the games special infected. Up to this point my friends and I had already acquired each of the games other forty five achievements, and this one poised as the final hindrance for achieving the glorious feat of reaching 100%(This was before the inclusion of The Sacrifice and Crash Course DLC's were released).
For anonymity sake(and because I'd rather not have to retype their names multiple times), I'll refer to my zombie shooting companions as Banana, Blueberry and Cherry.
Up until the night when we got it, each one of us broke down the inhibition to achieve the best results. We started memorizing numerous locations of where trouble was most likely to occur. Cherry got good at running backwards and keeping a look out on anything that may come from behind, while banana made callouts to any familiar monstrous grunts that were within earshot. I focused more on staying as close to the group as possible to prevent any nearby hunters or smokers reigning in their viciousness, whereas blueberry would look for areas suitable for a well-placed pipe bomb or molotov.
This helped us revamp our tactics on the fly, as each special infected required a different strategy to overcome. But, no matter how well our shot for success was each night, we were always left with a bitter taste in our mouths.
Each previous attempt was left with getting so far only to be pounced on by a hunter, or dragged away by a smoker right up until the finale, erasing any progress we made. Any bit of damage done by a special infected meant that we had to start over. After a massive number of failed tries, our morale level was certainly depleted, but our tenacity remained impenetrable.
However, the night that we achieved success couldn't have gone any worse.
We started out like any other night on the first of the four campaigns, No Mercy. The introduction starts out with the survivors perched atop the building. A rescue helicopter makes its way above the city informing any living being that an evacuation has been made for Mercy Hospital, and the survivors are tasked with getting there alive in order to be carried away to safety. On the journey to the hospital we had to make our way through a slew of streets, apartments and sewers all infested with flesh starved zombies.
Right before the first safe house, the AI director decided to give us a major roadblock and spawned a Tank right in a narrow hallway. We had to act fast. I kept repeating, "how are we going to kill it?" over and over until I garnered the unwanted attention from an angry parent greeting me in the doorway of my room. A swift warning was given, and any repeated instances would result in my Xbox 360's home button no longer emitting the color green for the rest of the night.
The tank eventually zeroed in on us and Cherry got a good smack rendering our success unachievable within the first forty five minutes of gameplay. The night had just begun, and we had to restart. Having to keep my microphone on mute only added a handicap to the equation. This would soon escalate into something far worse.
On our second attempt that night, we made our way passed the apartment with no problem whatsoever. When nearing the first crescendo event to where a guaranteed horde would take place, Blueberry said, "okay be prepared", and proceeded to give a series of plans as to how we would make it out unharmed. Midway through the speech, Cherry decided to toggle to the elevator without any prior warning, and laughed in the process. This enraged Blueberry to levels I cannot begin to describe. To make matters worse all four of us were away from each other, and by the games standards that leaves each survivor ripe for vulnerability.
While the horde began to cave in, I noticed a hunter leapt from a great distance towards Cherry to which I couldn't reach in time. Within a matter of seconds, Cherry turned instantaneously and nailed the hunter in the head mid-pounce, rendering it lifeless while singing the theme of the popular American sitcom The Brady Bunch. Banana added to the fray with cracking jokes to amplify the distraction of Cherry's antics, only to be grabbed by a well placed smoker from a window over, to which I immediately melee'd him out of with the bottom of my shotgun. All of this was happening while our screens emitted a multitude of zombies from all surrounding areas. We eventually progressed through the second safe room to where everyone was surprisingly unharmed, all while Blueberry continued to bang on about how Banana and Cherry's antics served as a massive distraction.
At this point, I'm unable to communicate efficiently, Bannana was now cracking jokes about Alice from The Brady Bunch and Cherry was lapping it all up in the process. Blueberry's moral was now depleted and kept claiming that we would never succeed if the other two didn't get their act together. This was the bread and butter for a shitstorm brewed in a mug, and we were only halfway through the campaign at this point.
As the tomfoolery excelled, so did our skills.
Outside the elevator nearing the top of the warehouse, Cherry decides to scream the infamous, "Thundercats! Hooooo!", and proceeded to spray the area with an entire clip from his assault rifle. Luck would be had when a boomer dropped down from above and into Cheery's firing range, exploding its vile on every one of us.
Any hit from a zombie in the next minute or so would now register as damage done by the boomer, invalidating the achievement for the umpteenth time. Within a matter of seconds Blueberry hastily instructs all of us to head to the nearest corner with our backs against the wall and to repeatedly perform a melee attack. Without putting up much of a fight we all readily agreed and assembled to the nearest entry way while waiting for the elevator doors to open. Each animation meshed together in one big digital blur as we were enclosed in the same area. No zombie was able to bypass our impenetrable defense as we kept swinging the barrels of our rifles. After my HUD was clear of any bile, not one bit of damage was taken. Any of the horde that was left was ripe for shooting while the previous ones fell victim to our hastily orchestrated plan.
I was baffled. Any previous attempt before this night failed. When we broke down the inhibition to overcome each special infected, there was always something to impede our advancement, forcing us to start anew.
Was luck truly on our side? Did the spawning system just work in our favor to where we were in the right place in order to thwart our opposition?
As we were gearing up for the finale, we all took time in carefully devising a scheme that would have the best shot at success. This was at the campaigns conclusion to where we were all perched above the hospitals rooftops. The chaos would not ensue until one of us prompted rescue by initiating the radio call in the supply room. Banana and I took turns planting various propane tanks and gas canisters in areas where zombies usually frequent. Our efforts were quickly thwarted when Cherry continued to bastardize the operation by firing a shot at Blueberry only to set a gas canister ablaze, which caused a chain reaction with other nearby explosives and the area was soon engulfed in flames. Blueberry then banged the "We will not get this" drum, while we all four scattered in opposite directions waiting for the fiery blaze to diminish. Only to make matters worse, Banana threw his take into the mix by egging Cherry on even more. This was just a disaster, and we were about ready to take on our biggest challenge of the night: surviving the finale.
Myself, Blueberry and Banana all decided to take a knee before signaling the helicopter, while Cherry spent a few minutes toggling his pacing to replicate a "dry-hump" animation from behind all of us. Instead of wasting my time going into detail, I'll just skip ahead and say that none of which we had planned carried out in the initial run. I wish I could go into greater detail about how the finale played out, because it just boiled down to a free for all cluster-fuck of yelling, shooting and pipe-bomb throwing.
My heart was beating so fast it felt like it would rupture out of my chest in the style of the cool aid man bursting through a wall. Here we were moments away from accomplishing a task we set out months ago, and it could all still fail as the rescue set in. The dash from the supply building to the helicopter set my nerves into a catastrophic frenzy. Hearing the howls and screeching of zombies coupled with the screaming of my undead shooting allies just didn't resonate well with me. As the campaigns concluded with the cut scène of the helicopter departure from No Mercy hospital, my headset immediately fell silent. Each one of us anticipating for the achievement to pop, and didn't know what to say. When the words "Nothing Special" blared across the bottom half of my screen, a wave of relief enveloped me as our tired task was finally achieved.
To this day we still talk about our zombie escapade, and laugh at the notion that acting like a bunch of scatterbrained buffoons turned out to be the best shot at success. Everyone's hijinx may have caused for a frustrating experience at the time, but to look back and said we did it in such a hilarious manner was just icing on the cake. It's experiences like these that make gaming more special to me. To me, no other medium can hope to match what we set out to do here.
It was very disheartening to later find out that other gamers from GameFAQS and various Xbox forums expressed glitching methods as a work around to obtain this achievement. I'm sure there's others out there who have also accomplished such a feat of surviving a Left 4 Dead campaign free of harm from a special infected, but I have yet to meet any fellow zombie slayers who said they have(let me know if it's you in the comments!). But to know that we did it without resorting to , and the achievement will forever serve as a badge of honor. To Valve the achievement was nothing special, but to us this experience was nothing but special.