L4D Tips: Boomer

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After reading Shamus complaining about how there is no instruction to playing as the Infected (zombies) in L4D, I figured I would write up a bit covering some of the basic tactics and important things to consider while playing.

Boomer – The Boomer is, in some ways, the crux of the special Infected strategy in L4D. Unless the survivor team is incompetent, or just randomly extremely unlucky, all successful Infected strategies tend to revolve around the Boomer.

Basic gameplay:
Left Mouse Button (LMB): Shoots a stream of bile. Survivors struck by the bile glow purple, and will attract a small horde of zombies to directly attack them. The attracted zombies will specifically target the puked-on target(s). Targets who are puked on get the “my-screen-is-blocked-by-puke” effect that Valve decided was a great idea to use even though my back was turned.
Right Mouse Button (RMB): Claw attack. Negligible damage.
Special: When the Boomer dies, he explodes. The explosion has an area-of-effect status the same as the Boomer’s LMB. Additionally, it will “knock back” or “stun” nearby Survivors for approximately 0.5 to 1 second.
Hit Points: 50. Unless the survivors are using Pistols, you can safely assume that you will die instantly as soon as you are targeted. This can be both a good and a bad thing.
Sound Cues: While the Boomer is alive, he will repeatedly make digestive sound noises that make him very easy to anticipate. Always try and hold your spawn until the last possible second so that Survivors are not aware of your presence until it’s too late. Due to bullet penetration through walls in L4D, even hiding behind corners will not protect you if the Survivors know you are there.

Advanced Properties:
Bile Delay: As of this writing (March 24th 2009) there is a 1 to 1.5 second lag that occurs after LMB is pressed before the Boomer actually begins to “shoot” bile at the survivors. Furthermore, the bile will only “connect” with Survivors if the stream reaches its full extent (which takes another 0.5 to 1 second). If you are interrupted at any time during this process your bile attack will fail.

Bile Hit Detection: As of this writing (March 24th 2009) Bile hit detection is extremely problematic and can be the source of many ruined games. If you are playing as the Boomer, do not assume that your bile will reliably pass through minor obstructions like random decorative plant-matter in Blood Harvest or other miscellaneous objects. My advice here is to always go for the “safe” shot, and to take this into account when you position and spawn yourself.

Melee defense: The Boomer is “disabled,” meaning you [the controlling player] lose all input control, for an extremely long period of time when struck by a Survivor’s melee attack. For example, a Survivor player can melee a Boomer, take a bathroom break, and return and find the Boomer has still not recovered from the initial melee attack. The actual length of this recovery period seems to be approximately 3 seconds, and the Boomer is knocked substantially further backward than the other Special Infected. In short, if you are the Boomer and you are meleed, your attack has most likely failed. If you must spawn in melee range, try to do so in tight quarters.

The Boomer has two main uses: Stalling, and distraction. It also has a third use, DPS.

Stalling. The Boomer can usually stall the progress of the Survivor team by blowing up in their faces, which forces them to crouch down and melee spam for the next several seconds until their vision clears and the common infected are mostly cleared out. Stalling is most effective in close quarters where the common infected will form a literal wall of bodies that make it difficult to proceed. Stalling is usually not productive but can be productive if your other 3 teammates are dead. For example, if the enemy team is inside a building and is about to exit the building into a wide-open area (aka, a “risk zone,” usually a very good location for hunters to perform pounces), it might be worthwhile to stall the enemy team in order to give your teammates time to spawn and set up their pounces.

Distraction. The Boomer’s most valuable use is in distraction. When survivors enter a “risk zone” (risk zones vary by map but almost always are larger spaces with an elevation change that allows Hunters to pounce effectively and Smokers to either hang or drop Survivors) an effective Boomer attack can provide cover for one of the other Infected to do their job. One thing to keep in mind is that when a Survivor is hit by the Boomer bile, they temporarily lose the colored outlines typically allow them to see their allies. Thus it is often most effective to use the Boomer to initiate an attack, and then have the other Infected target players who weren’t slimed. This usually results in at least a second or two of attack time before the other Survivors can react. If you get more than a second or two out of this you are ahead of the curve. Distraction also encompasses use of the Boomer to simply create another threat that players must react to. If one player is pounced, and then the Boomer contaminates the other Survivors, if they are in a risk zone they may be forced to hunker down into defensive positions instead of immediately moving to rescue their ally. Although Boomer hordes are usually not effective at all, in risk zones where you can get surrounded they do pose a threat and can also be physically difficult to wade through (see: Stalling).

Damage Per Second. Although the Boomer is not primarily a DPS class, the fact that it can summon a horde of 30 zombies means that it can cause a lot of accumulated damage if the players are in trouble. However, one reason why this is not listed as a primary use of the class is because if you are using the Boomer as a DPS source then you are probably already winning. That said, using the Boomer to puke on an incapacitated survivor is one of the best ways to kill them. The other Infected should almost always try to take down the functional survivors before going in for the kill, but the Boomer can and should attempt to finish off downed survivors. Keep in mind though that incapacitated Survivors can still shoot you with pistols.

Play Tips and Tricks:

The Boomer is all about knowing the map, and, in particular, knowing where the risk zones in maps are. My simple guideline is this: If the survivors have to defend one area from which zombies can attack, then do not waste your time trying to boom them (unless you have no other option, such as in NM4 at the elevator). If the survivors have two areas where they can be attacked from, then it is probably not worth your time unless you need to stall them. [One thing to keep in mind here is that if you purposefully try to stall weak teams, their psychological reaction is most often to take things slowly and methodically, which means your stalling tactics can actually become much more successful than anticipated.] If the survivors can be attacked from three different directions (ex. Foward, behind, and above) or four directions then you must attack. Keep in mind though that it can be tricky to spawn in areas that are too open. The Boomer must always spawn within a certain proximity of the survivors to be able to successfully contaminate them — Too far away is vulnerable to gunfire, too close will not allow you to spawn, or is easy to predict and melee away.

One technique that can help as the Boomer, although it is very situational, is to have another Infected melee you. This will lower your HP so that when a Survivor attempts to melee you, you blow up instead of rolling away. This can be a guaranteed boom for you, but unfortunately due to the Boomer’s extremely obvious sound-effects, you usually don’t want to spawn so far in advance that you could actually use this tactic.

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