I have a proposal. We all have things on our PC the world shouldn’t know about. When the inevitable happens and Death beckons, we all have the our power to help each other out. What I need is someone to sneak into my Steam account (password: abetterpasswordthangaben), load up the Left 4 Dead 2 Workshop, and delete all my subscriptions. If anyone found out what I’ve been doing to Valve’s zombie shooter, why I’d die all over again. I’m happy to do the same for you. Just email me your Steam passwords and I’ll make sure whatever needs doing is done.
L4D2’s workshop is an interesting place. You can add models and sound files that only you can see, and won’t appear to others on the server. Your own, personal apocalypse. But before I get to those terrifying tweaks, there are a few mods that will build a better world’s end.
Things like NeunGUI. It’s a build-your-own HUD, one that simplifies the screen noise with a selection of add-ons. You just subscribe to the main file, and if it doesn’t quite work you can grab some additional tweaks. I added the MinimalPanel, to reduce the survivor bar to a series of icons.
There are a few mods that will change things that other mods rely on. The game will usually inform you of an incompatibility. NeunGUI clashes with the Improved Bots mod, so you’ll have to disable one or the other. Improved Bots gives solo Left 4 Deaders more reliable buddies, as well as enabling them to use melee weapons, open and close doors, and take the lead. It also adds a command wheel. Pet bots! The other way to deal with bots is to just get rid of them, and Lone Survivor mutation means you’ll be the only gun in town. There are no Special Infected to worry about, because they mostly aim to incapacitate you, but there are twice the number of normal zombies. And all they want is love.
“Wait”, you’re probably thinking. “There’s nothing sick and wrong with that! Where’s the filth?” Patience, people. You’re currently at the vegetables of the article. Now it’s time for the meat. We’ll get to Heston’s wobbly desert soon enough. What is the meat of L4D2? Campaigns. The Workshop now has a fair pile of user-created madness for you to explore. Because you’ve been good and ate all your greens, you can have a peek at one of the sillier scenarios. Wan Li is a campaign that starts on a plane. The survivors fight their way through the well-realised cabins (the seats in first class look very comfortable) to grab parachutes for the next sequence. On the Great Wall of China! Weren’t quite ready for that plot twist, were you? How about this? Look down, now look up. You are now on the Titanic!
Custom maps are the best. Yes, they’re slightly unpolished, and you might lose your way when playing those two, but they are interesting attempts at taking Left 4 Dead’s infection to new places. I particularly like the chilly air of China, and the dapper clothes of the Titanic’s passengers. For angry traditionalists, Diescraper is a more traditional Left 4 Dead 2 scenario, sending the survivors spiraling up from the bottom of an infested skyscraper. If you’re scared of heights there’s Blackout Basement. It’s a hefty custom campaign that leads you underneath Philadelphia, where a lot of the time you’re reliant on your flashlights to see. It has a smart addition of optional crescendos, which will allow you to light your way, but the noise and light will bring extra undead.
One of the most atmospheric campaigns is Back to School. It’s huge, taking place over several custom-built locations, and with non-linear routes through the town of Borden. Though the name implies there’s a school, the whole town is present. The cinema is one of the best Left 4 Dead levels I’ve ever played, taking place in the flickering light of a broken projector.
While those campaigns are an attempt to expand Valve’s world, there are others that go further afield. Left 4 Dead is nothing more than a skeleton to prop up some of these radical ideas. The most impressive is this Minecraft inspired collection of weapons, models and maps. It’s a pitch-perfect recreation of the blocky blockbuster, even replacing the special infected with Minecraft equivalents. I love the Enderman Smoker. The snow can be a touch overwhelming at times, but it’s worth experiencing.
Other themes you might like: this mod replaces the common infected with the Xenomorphs from Aliens, while this mod imports the M41A pulse rifle into the game, the only gun certified for killing Giger’s ghouls. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you can swap out the infected for either the Droids from Star Wars Eps 1-3 (boo), or the Storm Troopers from Eps 4-6 (yay!). I’m sure Disney won’t mind. After all, they hired JJ Abrams and he’s a friend of Valve. Hell, it was probably him that made this light saber mod. There are no Lucas-troubling maps up on the Steam Workshop, but White Hole, an Aperture Science inspired UFO map, has the cold aesthetics of sci-fi movie. It’s also great fun in its own right.
The Workshop is also strewn with oddities. Mods that only make sense if you have a fetish. Like Funky FX, the mod that adds colourful trails and comic words to your attacks. I can at least understand the drive for making the game a bit sillier, which Funky FX does with aplomb. But there’s no call to turn the Tank into Donkey Kong. Even if the animation is perfect, and the concrete is replaced with a barrel. Does it make you feel strange? That idea you might be playing a game of Left 4 Dead 2 and while you’re seeing a Tank, another player is seeing Nintendo’s aggressive gorilla? If so, then don’t click this Stay Puft Tank replacement. Don’t even think about – you thought about it, didn’t you? RAY!
But we can go deeper. If you’re willing to modify the special infected to your own sick ends, you’re probably willing to do it to yourself. The Velociraptors mod replaces the survivor character models with gorgeous dinosaurs. The detail is stunning: the way they hold the weapons is particularly pleasing, and just as Spielberg has shown, the damn things can use door handles. They’re a lot more pleasing to look at than the crippled GLaDOS thing in this Portal 2 survivor mod. She’s still alive, but she’s probably in hideous pain.
Are you full, yet? How about a wafer-thin mint? There are music mods that change the cues of special infected events. You know that dramatic music that pops up? This mod turns the Witch’s piano plinks into Whitney Houston. It gets worse. So much worse. Deep down in my hard-drive is a mod that takes the Boomer notification noise and replaces it with “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom” by the Vengaboys. So help me that makes some sort sick, twisted sense. I think I’ve gone too far.