Friday, 15 October 2010

The Sacrifice

I’m a Left 4 Dead fan, and as all good Left 4 Dead fans know The Sacrifice is the newest thing in the Left 4 Dead universe.

Today I got around to playing.

Valve marketed the dlc via a 4-part webcomic which bridges the events between the end of the original L4D game up to the point where the L4D1 and L4D2 survivors encounter each other in the finale of L4D2 dlc campaign The Passing. It does somewhat spoil the “story”, although anyone who’s played The Passing can make a decently informed choice as to what goes down. It’s a worthy read even if you’re not an L4D fan, great artwork and well written, check it out here:

I enjoyed The Sacrifice. It follows the staple L4D formula, fight your way through the hordes of infected through a series of themed areas (The Sacrifice is set primarily in a dockland) followed by a finale event. Although it sounds like standard L4D gameplay I get the feeling that Valve are getting better at designing maps for L4D. Although still largely linear in format they feel a bit less so, some sections let you take the high road or the low road, through the building or around, or a combination of both which means on different plays you can see the level from a few different angles.

The finale occurs in the same area as the finale of previous L4D2 dlc The Passing, again your goal is to raise a bridge this time though you’re required to start a trio of generators scattered around the map rather than fetch gas cans to a single generator in a scavengesque manner a-la The Passing. Starting each generator unleashes a fresh wave of infected complete with tanks. Once all three have been activated the Survivors haul ass to the bridge where the controls have been powered up by your heroic efforts and it can be raised – Yay!… ah, no, crap, a generator has packed in. ONE of you must return to the duff generator and restart it and in the process Sacrifice themselves to save the others.

The cannon as depicted in The Passing and The Sacrifice webcomic has Bill make the ultimate Sacrifice, although when you play the game yourself any of the survivors can fill the role. During my L4D2 Sacrifice play a Jockey managed to snare our teams Louis character and run him off the bridge walkways, I managed to snipe the Jockey leaving the guy playing Louis in prime position to go Sacrifice himself. It’s little unpredictable moments like that which make this game shine.

Predictability is a problem in gaming, scripted events in identical locations limit the replayability of single player campaigns. With L4D Valve have attempted to reduce that predictability by making you play cooperatively with 3 other live people (nice, people can be very unpredictable) and with the introduction of the AI Director.

Rather than relying on scripted waves of enemies L4D relies on the AI Director to determine where and when enemies spawn and attack, and where items and weapons can be found. The difficulty determines how generous the AI director will be, and how aggressive.

This works to an extent, but ultimately the human players will identify the quickest routes, the most common spawn points for weapons and the best strategies for beating back the infected.

The AI Director needs to get smarter, not only direct the enemies within the world, but craft a unique world for each and every game played. Maybe not in its entirety, there could still be a stock of Valve designed areas which could be slotted into the AI Directors design. We would therefore have a number of Valve designed climax points with a randomly generated journey between them crafted by the AI Director.

It’s not an idea that would work for every game, but it would certainly extend the replayability of L4D titles.

Until such a thing is possible we’ll have to rely on Valve drip-feeding us content periodically, or for PC gamers, feeding off the best the mod community has to offer.

Content like The Sacrifice is good, I played it 3 times today, the last time took 28 minutes. It’s a nice addition to the PC game, but is it worth the dlc cost on 360? Not for me, but that’s for you to decide.

Another thing Xbox gamers might want to know is that The Sacrifice campaign is identical for L4D1+2, but in L4D2 you’ll get the benefit of L4D2 weapons and special infected (I believe L4D2 buyers get the NO Mercy campaign from L4D1 thrown in to boot). Something to consider before you shell out for both.

This does enhance my original annoyance at L4D2 seeming like an expansion pack I was being asked to pay full price for, but Valve have made their decision.

Anyhoo, L4D, awesome, freedoms_stain, out.

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