L4D Tips: Smoker

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Smoker – The Smoker is the odd man out of the special Infected. When I first began playing L4D, the Smoker was by far my favorite Special Infected. These days it is my least favorite. The Smoker’s main role seems to be to incapacitate and separate the Survivor group.

Basic Gameplay:
Left Mouse Button (LMB): Tongue lasso. Pressing LMB by default will cause the Smoker to “shoot” out his tongue at the crosshair location. Note that the actual tongue attack only occurs if the Smoker’s crosshair is hovering over a Survivor (this will be indicated by the crosshair turning red).

The tongue lasso is dead-simple, but there are a few things that bear mentioning:
First, the crosshair will light up within say 15%screen of any Survivor. This means that closely packed Survivors mostly cannot be individually targeted. Whoever you grab is up to the pseudorandom computer algorithm to determine.
Second, Survivors can continue to move for the first second or two of being hit with the tongue. If you try and grab someone as they run past an obstacle the chances of your tongue breaking on that obstacle are very high. Additionaly, Survivors can shoot at you during this period, often allowing them to kill you.
Third, there are two types of cooldowns for the Smoker tongue. The first is the “miss” cooldown. This takes approximately ~3-5 seconds. The second is the “tongue broke” cooldown, which is ~15-20 seconds. If you experience the latter in an intense situation you may decide it’s better to run in and attempt to claw the Survivors since dishing out 10 claw damage now is probably going to be more useful than waiting 20 seconds to dish out 6 more tongue damage (in addition to being out of position). The context is important though, you don’t want to die as the Smoker in a critical area.

The damage done by the tongue itself seems to be 3 per second. This increases to 6 per second at the point where the Smoker begins clawing the Survivor. Overally his damage output is quite low by Special Infected standards, so if you are playing as the Smoker do not expect to do major damage unless you are in very specific environments (certain map segments) or the rest of the Survivor team is entirely occupied with other Special Infected. Your main goals in almost every situation should be attempting to separate one lone survivor from the group, or to create a distraction for a Boomer or Hunter (however the Smoker is quite weak at doing this since his tongue can easily be melee’d off or shot, so use at your own risk!).

Right Mouse Button (RMB): Claw attack. Negligible damage (~4-6 damage).
Hit Points: 250. You can take a few bullets, but you will be killed outright by a shotgun blast or sustained automatic fire.
Sound Cues: The Smoker makes a loud hacking cough when he is spawned in the game. The location of the cough itself can be somewhat difficult to pinpoint, but don’t expect to sneak up on any Survivors. There is a delay between coughs that you can use strategically to maneuver, but overall you should expect Survivors to have a good idea where you are. The one exception is when a Tank is in play, as his footsteps and grunting can disguise your own sound cues.

Advanced Properties:
Body Blocking: This is a fairly basic tactic but many people do not understand it. When a Survivor is disabled by the Smoker tongue their body itself can serve as a shield to protect you from a shot or two. This is most effective when the other Survivors are otherwise tied up (such as by a Boomer horde) and cannot close on you. Unfortunately, the Survivor will not take friendly fire damage, so sadly you cannot use this tactic to force Survivors into a choice between freeing their comrade and damaging their comrade.

Tongue Noose: When a player is suspended by a Smoker tongue they take marginally more damage than they otherwise would. The damage seems to increase from a terrible 3 per second to a tolerable 6 per second. Use this to your advantage when you can, but also keep in mind that smoking Survivors from elevated positions often makes you an extremely easy target.

Falling Damage: Your most signficant chance for damage as a Smoker is to utilize falling damage to your advantage to severely damage Survivors. One key example is the scissor lift in No Mercy 3 by the gas station. The Survivors must all run along a roof of a warehouse building. This is the quintessential Smoker location, and it is very nearly your only chance of doing anything productive in this level. Your one goal here is to snag one of the last Survivors and drag him off the roof and down to the ground. Doing this is important not only because it deals additional damage and exposes the Survivor down below to the horde triggered by the crescendo event, but it also separates the group and usually forces a difficult choice: Survivors can either defend the grounded Survivor from their location, risking further attacks by SI as the lone Survivor attempts to make his way back to the group, or the Survivors can rush forward and attempt to open the warehouse door. All in all, this is a win-win situation for Special Infected if executed properly.

Hard Separations: Hard separations is a natural tactic that arises due to the environments in some maps where a Survivor who falls behind literally cannot catch up with the rest of the Survivors. A hard separation is a guaranteed, or mostly-guaranteed kill. For example, in No Mercy 3 the Survivors must drop into the sewer, but there is no way out of the sewer to save a teammate who gets smoked at the last instant before dropping inside. Similarly, there is a small cliff in Blood Harvest 5 that requires all the Survivors to jump down, but offers no way back up. Hard separations are places where the Smoker can really do some good, so always try to maximize them.

Witch Hookups: A witch hookup is another natural tactic that arises with fortuitous positioning of a witch in a level. The Smoker can pull a Survivor into the witch, disturbing her and potentially allowing her to do something useful other than die instantly. If you hear a witch and you are the Smoker you should always plan on attempting to take advantage of her, as the Smoker-Witch synergy can be uniquely effective. One thing to keep in mind though is players will also expect you to attempt to drag into the witch, so at times it can be useful to drag the last person away from the group (which, in effect splits the group into 3, and can be quite powerful if a horde is triggered by the Boomer and the Common Infected spawn in the right locations).

Hunter Setups: Another good trick that you might be able to use with some coordination is that of setting up Hunter pounces. A high-damage pounce by a Hunter can be difficult to pull off, but is much easier when the Survivor is stationary and being attacked by the Smoker. At the same time, a Hunter is a much more efficient damage dealer than a Smoker, so Smokers should usually be willing to give up their prey to Hunters. In short, if you have managed to drag a Survivor away and a nearby Hunter can instantly deal a good 20-25 damage with a pounce, this should generally be encouraged. This also frees up the Smoker to attempt to grab another Survivor, although you will have the long tongue cooldown, so you may be better served rushing and attempting to claw.

Horde Blocking and Horde Assists: When you have Smoked a Survivor, the Survivor must pass through both the world geometry and any zombies that intervene if you want to execute a full tongue-to-claw drag. This is something you must be aware of when playing as the Smoker, as you should always try to drag away from a Horde if possible (although you rarely have much control over this, and less time to react). Doing so ensures the smoked Survivor is separated as much as possible from the rest of the group. However, one slightly good thing about intervening Common Infected is they will give you assists if you have smoked a Survivor and they begin attacking him – Good for your score, and adds a slight bit of DPS, but it’s usually nothing to get excited over unless you’ve got a huge swarm on the guy you smoked and the other Survivors are somehow out of the picture unless you’ve already won.

Play Tips and Tricks:

The Smoker is by far the easiest Special Infected to begin playing as, and in my opinion the Smoker often contributes very little to the Special Infected team. If it weren’t for certain key map locations where Smokers can utilize fall damage or hard separations to their advantage, Smokers would be almost useless. Three well-coordinated Hunters and a Boomer will frequently be more effective than the typical 2-Hunter-1-Smoker and Boomer combo.

The Smoker, like the other Special Infected, will benefit from the Survivors being in open “risk zones.” However he receives the least amount of benefit of all from these locations. The Smoker’s true utility comes in areas where he can drag Survivors down heights, off buildings, into fire, or hard separate a Survivor. A typical risk zone will be more effective than an indoor corridor for all the usual reasons, more attacks from more angles, easier to separate Survivors and keep them tied down with Common Infected, but since the Smoker’s damage is so low and Common Infected have a penchant for getting in the way you will rarely capitalize much on the damage potential offered by these areas.

In many ways, risk zones for the Smoker must have a certain level of obstruction within them that will allow the Smoker to drag the Survivor out of immediate line-of-fire of other Survivors. So overall he probably requires general risk zones the least, but also benefits from them the least. You can expect the Smoker to perform mediocre across the board, except in key areas. Learning these spots is pretty quick once you have played through a couple matches, and there really aren’t a lot of successful ways to handle them, so once you’ve played a few public games you’ll probably quickly plateau as the Smoker.

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