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Review: Left 4 Dead DLC (PC)

April 24, 2009

Left 4 Dead logo

Left 4 Dead (L4D) is still the paramount zombie apocalypse videogame — there are no contenders, no second place awards. It’s a frenetic, hair-trigger suicide mission into an infected wasteland that doses players with relentless fun.

Even five months after its release, the original Campaign mode continues to be both exciting and trying, while Versus still turns up the intensity by forcing players to alternate between the roles of survivor and infected.

But despite the release version’s polish, there was always some tiny element missing, something teased but never fully delivered: unadulterated intensity free from the stairstep pacing of the campaign. The strongest moments of L4D lay in its massive NPC crescendos, where a horde of the undead claw, vomit, smash, strangle and pounce to ensure every survivor is indeed, left for dead.

Valve finally realized it could hack all of that terror and confusion into one sanguine slab of gameplay, resulting in the recently added DLC pack.

Patching the game will install the anticipated Survival mode — essentially a steroid-enhanced version of the horde encounters in Left 4 Dead’s campaigns — along with the Dead Air and Blood Harvest  maps for Versus. Luckily, everything’s free (and also available on the Xbox 360).

The experience of playing Versus on Dead Air and Blood Harvest is as great, and frustrating, as it was in No Mercy and Death Toll. To be honest, Versus is still too much like regular FPS deathmatches to warrant a lot of playtime.

Sure, it’s unique to swap between running and gunning as a survivor and hiding and ambushing as an infected, but L4D is better served in straight co-op fashion with real players against tough NPCs. For Versus diehards the new campaign maps are a welcome addition, but the real meat of the DLC is in Survival.

Get used to seeing this a lot, again

Get used to seeing this a lot, again

Obviously the titular goal of Survival is to stay alive, but the caveat is just how many infected you’ll be encountering in even the first two minutes of play.

Hundreds upon hundreds of salivating enemies are thrown at players from start to finish and rarely ever let up; boss infected spawn repeatedly every 15-30 seconds, though the exact timing is random thanks to the AI Director. Don’t be surprised to see two or even three tanks tossing asphalt around during a match. Valve wants teams to mow down many more zombies than they would in a typical chapter of the campaign. That’s exactly why this mode was created.

Trust me, this isn't typical

Trust me, this isn't typical

But a guaranteed mauling wouldn’t have worked without some kind of reward system. Included in the DLC are bronze, silver or gold medals rewarded per-map depending on how long the team survives.  While 10 minutes for the gold sounds a bit laughable, keep in mind that average time Valve has survived is a little over 14 minutes. Taking into consideration that nearly 1,000 infected are wasted after a successful gold medal run, teams will have some strategizing to do.

Even the mighty fall

Even the mighty fall

For the DLC’s digital playgrounds, the Left 4 Dead team crafted 16 contained Survival maps — 15 of which are based off of the campaign — to let players try their luck. The campaign maps are essentially smaller chunks taken from the original experience. Lighthouse is the only new map, and it’s perfectly made for the mode.

Survivors spawn outside of a lighthouse building and can climb all the way up to the rotating bulb. While the top of the lighthouse is likely to attract new players, its compromising lack of cover guarantees someone will be pulled away by a smoker or jumped by a couple of tanks who find their way up top. As the Rebel Alliance’s Gold Leader would say: “They came from…behind!”

Even so, there’s just something satisfying about picking off infected from high ground.

Do the Zombiestomp!

Do the Zombiestomp!

Players definitely need to think differently in Survival. It’s a mode where ammo’s constantly running low, but the ammo piles are in extremely poor positions open to attack from all sides. Supplies in general are spread out aside from one or two fortifiable areas in each map. Half the fun is in finding just exactly where the team can make its stand. It’s not uncommon for three survivors to scramble reloading their last clip of ammo while the fourth teammate dangles by his neck from a grimy brick building to be overwhelmed in a matter of seconds, all because the defensive formation wasn’t tight enough.

As you can probably tell, I died here

As you can probably tell, I died here

Overall, Survival mode is a genius concept: its extreme action coupled with quick-and-dirty tactics ensures easily digestable playtime that can be picked up whenever one has an itch to scratch. Although, if you’re scratching too much you might be infected with something and, well, you know what that means.

Antibiotics.

Recommended for:

  • The unrelenting fury of thousands of the undead ensuring your doom
  • Surviving even 10 minutes of that fury is an elating accomplishment
  • A quick alternative to playing the game’s campaign maps, guaranteed to satisfy your L4D urge and let you go on with your day

Not Recommended for:

  • It’s free, come on.

Read our policy on reviews here.

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