Left 4 Dead 2: The Passsing Retrospective
by, 08-11-2010 at 12:00 PM (546 Views)
Valve released the runaway success Left 4 Dead in 2008, and then in a completely unexpected move, released a full fledged sequel to the popular shooter in 2009 with Left 4 Dead 2. Surprisingly the initial response to the announcement of the sequel was a little less than embracing. Valve, a company that had generated a reputation for long in house development times, between sequels, (as evident by the long gaps in release between Half Life, and Half Life 2, and it's subsequent episodic content) was releasing a sequel in a little under a year. The perception at the time, was that Valve must have rushed the sequel, or that the game had to in some way, be a cash grab, because no Valve sequel could possibly meet their impeccable standards of quality in that short release windows. Predictably in an age of internet wonder, and collective stupidity, a boycott group was started. On the Steam community, and forums nonetheless, and players of the original game that felt like they were being given the shaft, announced their official intention to not buy the game. Months would pass, and the game would eventually release. When it did, it was met with a strongly positive reception from critics who essentially said the game improved on every aspect of the original, and was a completely justified, and just a polished piece of work as it's predecessor. Even the boycotters liked the damn thing it seemed, with more than half of them having to suck on the fact that about half of their supporters now owned the game, and were happily playing it. It seemed that Valve had attained the same level of pedigree, and success that they had become so famous for, in a fraction of the time with Left 4 Dead, and it's follow up. So how had Valve managed to take a brand new untested IP and release it to the same fervor and rabid sales, and following as something as prestigious as Half Life? And how did they manage to do it so quickly?
Left 4 Dead's formula is simple enough on paper... you and 3 friends suddenly find yourself in the midst of a full blown zombie apocalypse with seemingly no hope of survival. You are hopelessly outnumbered, but armed with an arsenal of weapons, explosives, and health kits, you must carve a bloody path through the hordes of undead, and find some means of escape. But Valve managed to take co op, and in a very subtle way force players into playing cooperatively. Take too much damage, and you'll hit your ass so fast, and so hard that you won't be able to recover without the help of a teammate, forcing them to stop and make sure you're alright. Fall over a ledge, it's the same deal. Take two falls from damage, and you enter a limbo between life and death, with the screen going black and white, and your character bleeding out, and running on a limited amount of steadily declining health. Thankfully if for whatever reason you don't have any first aid supplies of your own, your teammates can also give you a helping hand in the form of pills, and health packs. Left 4 Dead 2 also introduced two new items in the form of adrenaline and a portable defibrillator, the first giving you a temporary boost in health and speed, and the other reviving a fallen teammate in the event of their ass getting ripped to shreds by maniacal zombies. Which happens. Often.
The direct reliance on teamwork didn't end there. Valve also introduced a full roster of super mutant zombies simply called “special infected”. All of these abominations came with a unique look, and a unique set of abilities that made them stand out from the regular crowd of running corpses. The Hunter, a hoodie wearing acrobatic zombie with an ability to pounce on isolated survivors from a distance, pinning them to the ground until a teammates pries him off, and kills him. The Boomer, a fat blob of a zombie whose only purpose is to spew bile on you that attracts every zombie in the near area. The Smoker, a sneaky bastard, that entangles you with a long constricting tongue. The Witch, a crying girl who sits in isolation crying until disturbed... but will then proceed to tear your throat out with one swipe. And finally The Tank. A behemoth mutated undead freak capable of throwing chunks of concrete he rips out of the ground at you, and punching you clear across the map. The sequel would also introduce The Spitter, and The Jockey, with the first being able to volley pools of acidic phlegm at you, and the latter being able to jump onto your head, and control you until a teammate swipes him off, or kills him.
With this cast of special infected randomly populating the levels it became necessary for teammates to stick close to each other in the likely event that they end up turning a corner alone, and getting pounced by a hungry hunter, or smashed hurled into a wall by an unexpected tank. This dramatic emphasis on teamwork also lends itself to some of the most tense moments in the game, where a teammate might literally have seconds to pick his friend up off the ground before an exodus of rotting flesh turns the corner and tears both into pieces. This very real escape by the skin of your teeth feeling that the game creates is quite possibly the most addicting aspect of the game, and has turned out some very real profit.
So when Valve announced that they would be releasing “The Passing”, an episode for Left 4 Dead 2, that bridged some events between the first games cast, and the current games cast... I was pretty damn surprised. It would be easy enough for Valve to rest on the laurels of the achievements of the first two games, but here they were not only releasing another episode, but doing so in a way that promised to tie the first two games together. So was I as impressed with The Passing as I was with the first two games?
The Passing opens simply enough. You and the crew have just escaped a zombie overrun mall by way of a contest stock car in the middle of the mall floor, but soon find yourselves at a bridge that needs to be mechanically lowered. But low and behold! The keepers of the way through are none other than the cast of Left 4 Dead! After a quick conversation with one of the original cast members it's revealed that you'll need to get a generator working in order to to lower the bridge, but first you'll need to get to it, and of course there are about a thousand pissed off zombies standing between you and sweet lady freedom. It's slow going at first, with a heavy storm lowering visibility, and making it almost impossible to hear your teammates. If you're playing on realism, the beginning of this campaign can become very tense very quickly with the game taking away the blue outlines around your mates when they get too far out, and the storm making it impossible to hear them adding even more to the chaos.
As you make your way through an overrun store, and apartment complex you and your pals come through a tight corridor littered with cars. This deathtrap is the perfect place for a pissed off Tank to hurl a car right at your face, or to be swarmed by zombies. That's why I always see fit to cut off the entrance with a molotov, and seal the mouth of the opening shut with flames. After a quick run back through another building, you and your teammates find yourselves in a park with another storm a brewin, and more undead close behind. You'll soon discover that the park is the setting for another wedding you'll never be invited to, only this time, instead of jackass in laws, all the guests are flesh craving zombies, and the bride, is a Witch. On second thought maybe it's not that different from the real thing.
The next level takes you on a gory romp through an infested construction site, and into the maintenance tunnels underneath the city. As you venture deeper and deeper under, you happen upon the sewer. Before you can proceed any further you find you will have to activate an emergency gate, complete with an alarm that sounds at such an ear splitting volume it immediately acts as a homing beacon for the horde. After a very wet, and narrow escape, you climb the final ladder to the next saferoom.
When you emerge from the last saferoom of The Passing, you discover that you've succeeded in getting under the bridge, and coming up on the other side of it. Now all that's left is the generator. After a shocking final twist meeting with the stars of Left 4 Dead, you're set to your last task. You will need to collect a scattered assortment of gas cans to refuel the dead generator, lower the bridge, and finally drive to freedom. As you lower the service elevator and begin to make a run to collect the cans, you quickly realize how essential it is to stick together for the finale. One errant move without a teammate covering you, quickly becomes an opportunity for an infected to pounce, and this is multiplied by the very smart level design at play, offering plenty of corners, and crevices for the zombies to pounce out of. Things become even more intense later, when two Tanks show up to throw everything into sheer chaos, if it isn't already. Combine all of these elements with some very smart AI, in the form of the Left 4 Dead cast, that act like hired snipers for the duration of the finale, and you have one of the most pulse pounding finishes for a Left 4 Dead campaign to date.
The Passing is lean, and mean, and is a shining example of Valve's commitment to quality, and their apparent new focus on putting out polished products with shorter development cycles. Smart level design, pitch perfect presentation, and amazing AI, and dialogue make this one not just easy to recommend, but essentially required playing. And if you can gauge the quality of upcoming Valve releases like Portal 2, and Half Life 2 Episode 3 by the leaps and strides that Valve has made in content delivery, then we should be in for some real treats.
The Passing is available now for Left 4 Dead 2 for Xbox 360 and PC via Xbox Live or Steam.
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