Great moments in PC gaming: 'Don't startle the witch'

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Left 4 Dead

(Image credit: Valve)

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Year: 2008

Each of the special infected in Left 4 Dead has its own musical tell. The hunter's is a tripping plink-plonk-plink, the spitter's got an eerie four notes versus the smoker's simple two, while the tank rolls up with its own miniature symphony. Play for long enough and you'll learn them all, but it's probably the witch you memorize first. Her musical sting is high-pitched and insistent, the first melody quickly joined by a second to create a sense of escalation. Even before you hear her sobbing, that tune plays and you know it's time to turn off the flashlight and step carefully.

(Image credit: Valve)

Not startling her should be easy, but then the director plants her somewhere unavoidable, or your friend turns a corner a little too fast, or a stray bullet or pipe bomb catches her and that's it. She goes from sobbing to screaming and beelines for the survivor who startled her, fingerknives out as she knocks them down. She's not the kind of threat who'll take out a whole party, and eventually you learn to deal with her, but the terror of that shrieking attack is hard to get used to.

When you stumble across zombies in Left 4 Dead they're often just doing their own thing, leaning against walls looking sad. Until you bumble up waving your guns and one-liners around they just want to be left alone with their misery. The witch is the most miserable of the miserable, a goth queen whose sobbing is a warning to just let her be. Left 4 Dead calls them Infected rather than zombies, which rehumanizes them a little, and the witch is the most human of all—the one who seems most aware of the tragedy of her situation.

The other special infected are designed to split the party. They lure or drag you away, they separate you with lakes of acid, they hurl you around. The witch has a uniting effect, forcing everyone to huddle together on the far side of a room trying to pass without incident in total silence.

Left 4 Dead is a chatty game, one where the characters are jokey and everyone has to communicate when they need healing or are low on ammo. The fact the witch can make everyone shush and get serious, whispering into their mics when she's around as if she can hear them over the internet, is honestly a miracle.

If you think the tank is scarier just because it has more hit points I don't even know what to say to you, man.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.