An Undead Mans Party
Left 4 Dead 2 DLC Unites Heroes
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I almost think zombie killing should be considered a separate genre from other shooters. There is just something really cool about blasting the undead, as the legions of fans of those types of games will attest. And despite somewhat lacking any real story, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 have been immensely popular, with number two making up for a lot of the flaws of the original.
The Passing is the first DLC for Left 4 Dead 2, and as such there was, and is, a lot of hype surrounding it. This was increased with word that the original survivors would be joining the crew from the second game. They kind of pass each other, hence the name. But also, your goal is to lower a bridge to let the number two crew get out of Georgia in their recently acquired stock car. This puts The Passing in the timeline between the first and second missions of Left 4 Dead 2.
Really, I liked this DLC very much, but it was also limiting in a lot of ways. The meeting up of the two groups of survivors wasn't really too well done. You basically see them at the beginning of the DLC campaign, whereupon they tell you that they can't help you because the draw bridge motor is out of gas, and it's stuck in the up position. The original survivors (sans one of them which I will go into in a bit - sans any spoilers) are safe up on top the bridge, but can't get to the generator on the other side. So they basically yell down at you.
The Passing consists of three levels. Your ultimate goal is to go down into the sewers, travel under the river, and pop up on the far side. Then it's the old "collect ten gas cans" to fill up the generator and allow for escape. In the third and final level, the original survivors will provide accurate covering fire from on top the bridge, which makes that level a heck of a lot easier.
A lot has been made of the fact that one of the original survivors has been killed. In fact, you will find their body right near the generator. I have to say that this was really too lightly glossed over. None of the original survivors seem to react at all to the recent demise of their friend, and I never heard any of the new survivors say anything about it, even when they find the body. All they say is "weapons here" and then pilfer the dead person's gun. I have to ask why Valve would even bother to kill off a main character in the first place and then not do anything with that part of the story. But I guess this isn't Half-Life 2. Still, some type of memorial would be nice. Something. I won't say who dies to spoil your surprise, though you can probably guess which original survivor would have sacrificed themself to save the others. If only they knew how apparently ungrateful the others were...
The campaign itself, although really short with only three levels, is quite good. In fact, I think it quickly became my favorite of the L4D2 campaigns. There is a lot of subtle humor packed into the game, if you know where to look. Case in point, you will find graffiti that makes allusions to other games. In one bathroom stall I saw "For an M-60 contact me. - Crazy Dave" which is probably a reference to the crazy neighbor who sells you weapons in Plants vs. Zombies.
The atmosphere is also quite well done. You get the feel that people really tried to fight back against the zombie hoard once they knew what was going on. Stores are barricaded, junk is piled up against doors and zombie bodies litter killing fields. However, these defenses all seem to have been breached at some point, which makes traveling through the town fairly easy, if a little sad.
The best scene in perhaps all of L4D2 is here too. You will come across a wedding where all the guests have been turned into zombies. The bride is, of course, a sad witch sitting in the middle of a gazebo while wedding march music blasts from loud speakers. Eventually the guests all charge you, and they are a big family, just as a storm rolls in. The blaring music, the lighting crashing and the screaming zombies dressed in their Sunday best will throw you into sensory overload. It's one of the most amazing scenes I've played in a shooter. And I somehow survived it.
The second map takes place underground. This is my least favorite as zombies are respawning in a kind of permanent rush mode at one point, very much like the New Orleans level where you had to run the maze of fences set up by the CDC to reach a central tower. But it's much worse here and the friendly AI does not seem up to the challenge. They got killed a few times even though I was doing my best to keep them together and moving. This is actually a lot harder than the finale level, where the assistance from the original survivors up on their balcony almost always keeps zombie numbers at manageable levels.
Two new weapons have been added to the game. The first is an M-60 (from Crazy Dave perhaps?) and the second is a golf club. The golf club is nothing too special. The M-60 is pretty amazing. It will take down almost any zombie in one shot, but fires in full automatic, so you have to watch your ammo. In fact, you only get 150 bullets. Once they're gone, the weapon is useless. Still, it's darn nice while you have it, and can make tough levels like the aforementioned sewer jog more survivable.
There is also a new type of zombie, the fallen survivor. These former survivors eventually became zombies. They carry lots of gear like medpacks, pills and even weapons. When you put them down, you can take their stuff. However, these zombies are cleverer than the others and will run when they see you. A lot of times you have to chase them down, and a few got away since lots of zombies are running towards you while the fallen survivor is running away.
In terms of Value, I have to explain my score. If you are a PC gamer, you can get the DLC for free. In fact, if you bought the game through a service like Steam, you may already have it and not even know since it would have been automatically sent. For Xbox 360 players, you have to pay Microsoft Points equal to about $7 for the download. I'll refrain from the argument about giving the game away for free to certain gamers and charging others. They are obvious, and lots of people have gone over them. But if you're a PC player, the value is great. For 360 players, it's more of a judgment call. It's only three levels, but they are really, really good ones, especially the first of the three.
In fact, that is pretty much the story of The Passing. What you get are three really well-crafted levels that are a lot of fun. For PC gamers, there is no reason not to get them. And 360 players will probably be happy even after they spend their money. But really, I'm left wanted more. Would five levels really have killed Valve? I guess something is better than nothing, especially when that something is quite good.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.