Yo, here are some custom campaigns for Left 4 Dead

17 Jul

The release of the Authoring Tools for Left 4 Dead has started to bear fruits, and people who know considerably more about code than I have been churning out their own maps for us, the Internet, to devour like braaaaains. I’ve played a few and whilst none of them are going to be as polished as the four offical campaigns, they’re worth writing home about. Or, failing that, writing a blog post about.

Dam It, by Irate

Guess where it’s set? Give up? A dam!

Of the three reviewed here, this was the only one with a proper introduction – a rescue vehicle flied overhead, and one of your survivor buddies outlines the plan – others tend to plonk you at the start and expect you to silently go on your way to wherever it is you haven’t been told to go yet. The downsides of this, however, are soon made apparent: that rescue plane isn’t actually yours (though the broken tail of a plane floats ominously in the reservoir, a nice touch despite no sound of a crash), and the recycled dialogue from one of the original campaigns doesn’t fit. “We just need to follow the train tracks”, chirps Bill. There are no train tracks anywhere, Bill. You are wrong.

It’s also only one map as opposed to a campaign (which usually features five), but it’s just the right length – not over so quickly you feel short-changed (though it is free, so if you do than frankly you’ve got entitlement issues) but not so long you become fatigued halfway through. Ammo, pills and the like are scattered fairly liberally around , though I had to wait for the finale to actually get a Tier 2 weapon.

The dam itself is astonishingly well-realised – I would have liked to have gone all the way to the top, so impressed I was with the scale of the thing. It’s also filled with neat touches – a dead tank hangs from a  rope suspended by a crane over the side of the dam wall, a grim trophy of previous escapees.

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In contrast to the massive playing space seen above, the guts of the dam are a series of claustrophobic corridors  interspersed with occasional larger rooms, an effective (if a little generic) setup, but suitably creepy to navigate – rain, thunder and lightning (unobserved in the original campaigns) heightens the atmosphere as well. A short but very. very sweet package.

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They’ll be a Tank wanting to avenge is buddy, mind.

Dead City, by ilCannibal

Dead City isn’t actually finished – it’s missing a finale – but the preceding four stages are so incredibly huge, even without one it outsizes most other campaigns on the market.

Each part of Dead City is an expedition – a massive downtown area, winding alleyways, a crossroads with conviniently locked gates requiring the world’s longest detour to circumnavigate which leads to a huge drawbridge, and finally a sprint through a power plant. Put aside at least a couple of hours if you want to play all the way through.

So, it’s big. It’s very big, but it is this undeniable big-ness that leads to its downfall. Each stage takes so long to get through that as the next safe house nears you’ve pretty much stopped caring about it, it being merely another gateway to the next gauntlet of very irritated undead and confusing level design – there are plenty of side-rooms, corridors and even entire sections of buildings that can be explored but are ultimately superfluous, as valuable kit never seems to spawn there. This leads to the issue of the frequency of which ammo, health and bombs appear, which at the moment seems like ilCannibal was co-developing with Henry VII. This, combined with the outright broken timing of horde-spawning (several dozen zombies spawn, without the musical warning, within mere minutes of each other, regardless of the timing of those summoned by boomer bile or scripted cresendo events) means that you’ll run out of ammo and will have to fight at least one Tank with only your pea-shooter pistols. That’s another thing, longer maps mean more Tanks and more Witches – expect to find at least three in each level alone.

On top of that, there are still a number of graphical issues. Horrible 2D tree decals line the level boundaries and what I think may be some kind of new, less convincing fog effect makes everythin more than 150 feet away look dull and grey. Look hard enough and even entire chunks of scenery are missing.

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You've got to admire any tree surgeon who can trim a forest to a flawless vertical line without falling into the void that surrounds it.

 

I see a lot of potential in Dead City (not that I know anything about mapmaking) – the bride in particular is amazing, and fighting off the horde as it slowly descends would make a great panic event if it didn’t move so slowly that you actually end up stood around waiting for it to finish. In fact, that’s a criticism I’d point at all the panic events – the zombies come and go, but every damn gate and every bloody door takes so long to open that you could beat the horde, go and make your tea, eat it, digest it and pass it before there’s a big enough gap to squeeze through. Similarly, there’s a brilliant moment where you spot a tank blasting a hole in a wall before trundling through – you can even run up to it and use it as moving cover – right up until it smashes unspectacularly into a wall, the turret magically disappearing in the crash. It’s like watching a really funny puppet show as a kid, then realising you can see the strings.

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Despite this horrendous slander, people looking for a challenge and are somehow deluded into thinking Expert mode isn’t difficult enough should check out Dead City – let’s not forget it’s still in Beta, so those graphical niggles still have time to be sorted out. Chuck in an appropriately epic finale, add some extra spawn points for supplies and it has the the potential to be something special. And big.

Death Aboard, by Diputs

This was the first addon campaign I played, and in a way I sort of regret it – now, most of what I’ve seen since appears to pale in comparison.

The attention to detail in Death Aboard is almost Valve-quality – stacks of dead victims are dumped in shower blocks, a sinking ship groans under the strain, shaking the screen with the force of a Tank charge, pipes burst and spray when hit by a stray bullet – by avoiding the fatigue-inducing length of Dead City, this effort is considerably leaner and tighter.

The ship in particular – a deserted cargo ship moored to the docks near the prison where you begin – in but one instance of outstanding level design. ‘Afloat’ is probably not the best way to describe it , and so it’s permanently slanted slightly. Having to work your way through this grimy labyrinth might cause you to bend your neck a bit, but is the most atmospheric part of the entire (and, crucially, complete) campaign – even more so than the opening Prison section, a surprisingly open map that strongly resembler Half-Life 2’s Nova Prospekt. With zombies.

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It’s not perfect. My bot comrades had a couple of issues following me to the safehouse, opting instead to stand sentry by a deserted corner we’d passed several hundred yards back. There are also a couple of instances where you must drop down to a lower level – this proved a but much for the AI, who either ended up dangling helplessly from the walkway they were meant to jump from or simply falling to their deaths – I don’t know who built a bottemless pit inside a prison, but I hope they were at least fired before the zombies got to him. (Speaking of dangling helplessly, one comical event happened when a Tank slapped me halway across the deck of the ship, where I automatically grabbed hold of the nearest ledge. Despite my feet being mere inches from the ground I was unable to drop myself and no-one seemed interested in helping, so I fell the fifty-odd centimetres to my death. A similar thing happened to Bill, simultaneously.) Still, if you only play Left 4 Dead with bots, I’d say that you’re doing it wrong.

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That car in the winched container actually begins a panic event - ascend the ladder too fast and it'll roll out, not only setting the alarm off but also running your head over.

 

The finale is ace, if a little bizarre – your rescue vehicle is a hot-air balloon, piloted either by remote-control of the invisible spirit of the previous owner. Either way, the five minutes spent before boarding are great fun, as you’re given a massive area to play with as opposed to, say, the rooftop in No Mercy, with a number of different hole-up points. I chose to stay at the top of the hill (which sported a lighthouse) where most of the first aid kits and ammo were. The size does have its pitfalls – the first Tank seemed to get lost, and apparently died of boredom before it got to us – but my choice of hilltop fortress did mean we had to peg it down to the bottom to catch our balloon.

Brilliant. No, really. There wasn’t time to dash to the pick-up point between the second Tank and final, neverending horde, so the journey was a mad but utterly thrilling downhill dash. Francis got surrounded and Hunter-pounced and so didn’t make it, but as the balloon sailed off I was having too much fun to care.

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