Left 4 Dead 2: The Passing Review
By Michael Richter |
The campaign structure of the Left 4 Dead series is tailor made for easily digestible chunks of content. With the latest downloadable content offering, The Passing, Valve has wisely eschewed the story-light trappings of other downloadable releases, instead creating something easy to pick up and play, but with all of the flavor of the retail release, and some long-awaited fan service with the appearance of the original Left 4 Dead's Survivors. Where Left 4 Dead's Crash Course DLC stumbled in retaining the feel and relevance of the main game, The Passing successfully fits in well with Left 4 Dead 2's retail campaigns, and actually makes the existing content a bit more interesting to boot.
From a content perspective, The Passing matches the other campaigns, mostly. Some players will no doubt complain about its length at three missions - rather than the customary five missions per campaign of the retail release - and a single playthrough will probably take you between 30 and 45 minutes once you know your way around. However, for multiplayer fans, The Passing is a godsend for times when you don't have a spare hour and a half to play a full match.
Length notwithstanding, The Passing is on par with the other Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns. There's a campaign-specific gun (the M60, which is ridiculously powerful but can't be reloaded, making it suitable in very particular areas), and a new melee weapon, the golf club. A new uncommon Infected makes an appearance, the oh-so-appropriate Fallen Survivor. These poor slobs carry weapons and equipment from their cut-short stints as zombie killers (which you can pick up once they're downed). There are also several new achievements for both Steam and 360 versions of the game.
Not everyone is cut out to be a survivor.
Mutations are The Passing's final gameplay addition. Reminiscent of Bungie's special playlists for Halo 3, Mutations are weekly game types that feature particular quirks and changes to match settings, available for all campaigns. Valve has reportedly compiled 20 of these variants to roll out, the first of which is Realism VS, which applies the campaign's Realism mode to adversarial multiplayer. Exclusive to owners of The Passing, Mutations alone may warrant a purchase from the more dedicated L4D2 fanbase on Xbox 360. Valve was even kind enough to add a blog page to the game detailing that week's Mutation playlist.
When you absolutely have to kill every infected in the room...
Of course, all the little additions and tweaks are nice, but what stands out are Valve's subtle efforts to create a believable post-apocalyptic nightmare, both through environmental cues such as messages from other humans since gone and destroyed remnants of normal life, and the dialogue between the Survivors. This is where The Passing is strongest; there's a menagerie of Easter-eggs and zombie in-jokes hidden throughout the campaign as well as a number of funny and occasionally haunting set pieces and scenarios - the wedding in the park sticks out to me in particular, with its cast-aside chairs and bride. There's an over-arching theme in The Passing of failed attempts at resistance, with evidence everywhere of normal people making last stands against the infected horde. This ties into The Passing's main event (as does the clear implication of a passing of the proverbial torch), if you will: the meeting of the Survivors.
Valve never specifically promised much for The Passing, other than a little insight into the Survivors from the first game and at least one major death, and that's almost all that they've given players. The original Survivors serve mainly as bookends to the campaign, though they do see a bit of action in The Passing's climax. It's fortunate then that the interaction we do get between survivors old and new is so satisfying. The conversations and banter are fun and serve to add new wrinkles and personalities to both generations. As a crossover, it's not quite spectacular, but it is a lot of fun. As for the death, I won't spoil it here, and Valve has done a great job of muddying the waters by releasing different versions of the campaign's poster with varying original Survivors missing. There's no ambiguity here though; it's difficult not to stumble on the departed member of the original four. Valve manages to give the scene a mild sort of dignity, even with the mayhem occurring around it.