This should be one long piece, but I've been distracted by going to France and arguing with Kieron about routing in fascinating but incredibly complicated boardgames. Figured I should deal with the spoileriffic stuff while it's fresh, though. Conclusion tomorrow, chums.
The Passing: the long-awaited conflluence between Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. There's only one way to describe it.
Someone's going to accuse this of being a gigantic "fuck you" to L4D1 players, aren't they? Look, I'm going to have to get into spoilers right away - just to get The Big Talking Point over and done with so I can natter about the rest in piece. In a minute you'll see a picture of a pterodactyl - that is your spoiler alert. If you haven't played new Left 4 Dead 2 DLC The Passing yet and intend to, look away then. Commenters, please be very careful about what you say - use coded language.
You may safely return when you see a picture of a field vole. (I once had a pet vole, you know. Sort of. My cat caught one when I was young, broke one of its legs but left it alive. I nursed it back to health over a period of weeks, with a matchstick and masking tape splint, then hung onto it in that cruelty-through-kindness way animal-loving children are often guilty of. It seemed very happy though, honest.)
Anyway, The Passing - the much-ballyhooed moment where the Left 4 Dead 2 survivors encounter their counterparts from Left 4 Dead 1. It's a chance to see our old chums again! Or is it? Something dinosaurian this way comes... Spoilers!
Noooooo! There's only three of 'em left! And one of those can't walk anymore. This is not good. Oh Bill, you poor, heroic codger. How we will miss your cantankerous confidence. (I hope you admire my unconvincing Photoshop ruse, by the way). And will Louis ever walk again? Random theory - perhaps this is a setup for each team of survivors losing two people, leading to an omni-team of four come L4D3. Unless that's about the Midnight Riders, of course.
The first time I encountered the evidence of Bill's demise, I was fairly put out, as I suspect many players will be. The other L4D survivors didn't mention it, and there seemed no reverence or sadness - just a slumped corpse with a handy machinegun for the L4D2 guys to swipe. No glory, no honour. Replaying the campaign a couple of times though, the L4D-traditional varying character chatter meant the poor old boy eventually got an acknowledgement. Brief for sure, but avoiding mawkishness is for the best.
On first play - "screw you for caring, L4D1 players." On second, third, forever and ever plays - "a good man died." It's abrupt and it's terrible to not hear a character we care about say even one word in the whole campaign, but I don't believe it's supposed to be an insult. Valve are simply being pretty damn firm about the whole it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye thing.
We'll find out what happened, and the wave the chap off properly, in an upcoming L4D1 DLC, and an accompanying comic. Interestingly, however, Valve have hinted that players will have the choice of exactly who gets sacrificed in said DLC (but will stick to a canon (i.e. no-Bill) fiction for future L4D narratives). Now /that's/ going to be interesting on the voicecomms. "Right, who wants to die?" I suspect there'll be an Achievement for dying horribly, however, so it'll all work out fine in the end. Achievement Unlocked: Got Killed In A First-Person Shooter. I can get behind that.
Okay, let's return to safety. Vole time! Spoilers are ending!
What The Passing most certainly achieves is to turn L4D2 into a big game. The go-to criticism for L4D1 is that it was too small on release, which was one of the reasons the decision to go to full sequel rather than do a TF2 on it got so many people's backs up.
With The Passing knocking up L4D2's campaigns to six, and the new Mutations mode appearing in the list of New Game options, that menu's looking really rather fat. Trying to step away from the old debate about the sequel's timing, presentation-wise it really feels like a big move on from the comparatively crude L4D1 now.
Onto the campaign itself, which is three escalating acts of deep-south action. While it's got nothing as brilliantly absurd as the rollercoaster run or stadium defense, there are a couple of pretty tight (TIGHT! - Quinns) setpieces. The open-air wedding, starring the Witch, for instance, and the brutal pile-on of perhaps the game's biggest horde yet from a sewer underpass. This latter is the moment melee weapons were made for.
Outside of the more blatant occurences, the new fallen Survivor uncommon infected makes for an excellent addition to the baying zombie ranks. Rather than simply being a counter-intuitively stupid achievement hunt, it can on occasion be a game-changer. These festering lads carry Survivor equipment - health packs, pills and the like - but rather than try and rip your face off, they leg it. You thus have choice: let 'em go and fend off whatever other murderous ex-men are hassling you, or you chase them down because that health pack could bring you back from the brink. Precious health. Of course, by chasing the surprisingly agile blighter you're putting yourself right in pestilent harm's way. Also, your team mates will almost inevitably shout at you - oh, what to do?
And that's it for this post - I'll finish up tomorrow.To be covered: romance, poo and Jonathan Coulton.