Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Passing

There has never been a better zombie game than Left 4 Dead 2. Dead Rising was good, and it gave us what we all want from a massive zombie apocalypse: the ability to just kick the shit out of some fucking zombies. I mean Resident Evil, get it together yeah? For fuck’s sake, it’s like great yeah, there’s some kind of evil conspiracy/company plot but can I cut a zombie’s head off with a fucking scythe, or ride a motorbike down an escalator? Can I fuck.

And it is fun to turn a zombie into paste with an automatic shotgun or a chainsaw, but it’s more fun if your friend is watching and it’s even more fun if he’s doing it with you.

You: Dude, I just used my golf club on that zombie’s head and now it doesn’t exist anymore.

Your friend: I know, I fucking just hit this guy with a samurai sword and his intestines were flying around like one of those weird balloon mascot things they have at car showrooms.

You: I fucking love it when that happens. I just get all those intestines and shove them in my mouth and chew on them oh god I love it so much.

Your friend: I fucking know, holy shit I think I just saw a flying jawbone.

Left 4 Dead understands that, and that is what the entire game pivots on. The gameplay is great, but without other people this game would drag. The characters’ personalities are great. I mean I thought humour in games was dead until I heard Ellis from Left 4 Dead 2’s stories about his buddy Keith, but that only goes so far.

It’s one thing to shut the door on a computer game character and listen to their screams as they’re torn asunder by a swarm of the undead, but when it’s someone you know and they’re so angry they’re calling you, for example, a nobasaurus? It just gets you right there, you know? Makes you feel great.

Left 4 Dead 2 expands on everything that was good about Left 4 Dead and improves it with better characters, more variety of weapons and environments and, crucially, changing the rhythm of the levels.

No longer do you reach an elevator and have to wait for 5 minutes, holding off waves of zombies, until it fucking arrives. Now you have to sometimes run around a fenced enclosure to shut off an alarm, fighting hordes of zombies, or get some cola from a shop so a fuel tanker explodes. Yeah, that’s right. There’re explosions.

The only thing that could make Left 4 Dead 2 better, frankly, is if Valve made the zombie apocalypse happen in real life, and instead of zombies trying to kill you if it was babes trying to make out with you. And this is where the new downloadable content, The Passing, falls down.

It’s an extra campaign, three chapters, and the new survivors meet the old survivors. If you played the first game you’ll have bonded with those characters and it’ll be great to see them again. It’s just a shame the characters don’t really talk.

I mean there’s some random dialogue which changes more or less every time you play. Sometimes you meet Zoe right at the start and there’s a little back and forth between her and Ellis. Sometimes it’s Francis you see, and Nick calls him a vest wearing monkey, or some shit.

But man, if that was me in either group, I would have so many questions. I would talk to them for hours if I could. But that’s not really what this game is about. Valve, I imagine, don’t want you to feel like you’re playing the role of your character in some kind of Zombies teen drama like Well I was dating Francis but then he was literally torn in half. The game is about you, and your friends, and how you hang out, go to a mall, stand about in a swamp and visit the funfair, and also how everyone is dead and you have to kill them again because they’re zombies.

The characters are almost a sideline. They’re there to give depth to the world, to indicate there’s more going on than just what you see when you’re playing, and I think, ultimately, Valve have the balance between story telling (or story hinting) and insane violence just about right.

So here it is! Valve have released actual downloadable content. Not some bullshit already on the disc shit like Modern Warfare 2 gave us (for twice the price of the Left 4 Dead 2 dlc, which Valve wanted to be free anyway, but Microsoft demanded they charge for). Thank you Modern Warfare 2. You truly are the shit of shits.

The Passing also contains Mutation mode which is going to bring some more variety to online play, with Valve changing the parameters of the game every week or so. Valve have a real interest in their customer community, which is commendable and fucking rare in the world of computer games, and they deserve as much recognition for that as they do for making fantastic games.

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