Publisher:Valve Platform:PC, Xbox 360 Price (as reviewed): 560 MS Points on Xbox 360, Free on PC
Depending on who you speak too, Left 4 Dead 2 is either just as, far more or far less popular than the original game – but one thing that’s never contested is that the game is in need of expansion. It may have ad-hoc zombie hordes and random rainstorms that make it a little bit different every time you play, but underneath it all it’s still the same old levels and they still get old, fast.
Fortunately, the long promised The Passing expansion has arrived to help stretch some more life out of the game for those who still play it – and it comes with the added bonus of featuring the cast of the first game too!
Unfortunately, that key feature couples with the delayed release date to create The Passing’s first problem – that it doesn’t feel like a torch has been passed from the original survivors to the new team at all. Instead, The Passing feels like a painful reminder of just how much more fun and interesting the initial cast was – one that comes just as we’ve got used to the new crew. They may have less charisma and appeal, but in the past few months we’ve grown tolerant of the L4D2 survivors - so reminding us about the vastly preferable Bill, Francis, Louis and Zoey honestly feels a bit cruel. Especially given the circumstances.
Why do they call them 'Road Works' if it doesn't?
Worse, the fact that it’s essentially needless and quite lamely introduced makes it readily apparent that The Passing really is little more than fan service – it’s a quick and messy cameo rather than something entirely new. Does Left 4 Dead really need more cityscapes?
Story-wise, The Passing sits between the Dead Center and Dark Carnival campaigns and has Coach, Ellis, Rochelle and The Other Guy trying to lower a bridge so that they can cross in their stolen rally car. Manning the bridge for no apparent reason are the survivors from the original game, who happily instruct the other team how to get the bridge working again and provide covering fire.
Anyone expecting the original survivors to play a significant part in The Passing will immediately be disappointed though; there’s a terribly quick and terse introduction at the start of the campaign and rifle cover in the finale, but other than that the original team is absent. They aren’t playable or forthcoming with much witty banter; they simply bookend the campaign in a nonsensical way that really only adds confusion. Apparently there’s to be another DLC that prequels The Passing in the future, but if that’s the case then you’ve got to question that release is coming afterwards…
My little friend, etc.
The levels themselves don’t fare much better under criticism of this sort either and as you push through the new environments – most notably a huge underground sewer reservoir – there’s very little in the way of coherence. Left 4 Dead levels have always had to be linear, but rarely has the action ever felt so restrictive and funnelled as it does in The Passing.
While it’s clear that Value has sought to make The Passing a half-way house between both games by blending the dark alleys and empty flats of the original with the rainstorms and southern identity of the sequel, it just doesn’t feel like the blend works all that well. It also doesn’t feel like there’s enough content on offer to justify the delay between releases, even given that the three maps get adapted to Scavenge and Versus play.
On the plus side though, while co-op and singleplayer experiences with The Passing leave much to be desired, it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into tuning the maps for true multiplayer. There are frequent choke points that will pose a problem to Survivors in Versus mode, plus portions that are clearly designed to favour specific Infected. In the vast shadowy caverns of the Sewer finale and the tight walkways between half-demolished buildings Smokers and Jockeys become powerhouses.