Left 4 Dead: Survival Pack

Posted on May 12, 2009

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So…Valve has finally given Left 4 Dead-heads what they have been moaning for (cue zombie moan sound bite): the long-anticipated Survival Pack download! After playing, memorizing, and replaying the two Versus boards available out-of-the-box, gamers can finally download the all new Survivor Pack. The Survival Pack opened the two campaign maps originally left out of Versus mode and added a Survival Mode.

I started to see a dropoff in online players…or at least the tons of friends i made on Dead started to lose their taste  and started popping in different games. And that’s no small statement…I met some cracked-out kids playing through those maps. But, in the end, how many times can you replay two maps? L4D certainly pushed the brink there and got away with skimping on the maps for sure. So…enough intro. How is this download?

No Escape
Survival mode is the all new, highly anticipated add-on to L4D. Take your team of survivors (hopefully a team of hand-picked all-star Dead addicts) and defend yourself against a nonstop onslaught from the infected. The idea that you WILL die in the end is a new flavor for gamers, as every gamer’s goal is to NOT die. It certainly adds to the adrenaline factor knowing that you’re stuck and you are NOT going to make it…but how many infected are you taking down with you?

The payoff is the supposed to be the clock, which times your rounds. Rounds are timed and if they’re good enough, are placed in Time Trial logs (varying from friends-only logs to global). The caveat to this adrenaline-pumping mode is that it is a high-stress , low-reward experience. Unless you find some glitch spots (or play with someone sitting in a glitch), your times will often be disappointing. And if you’re highly competitive, dying with a sissy time five rounds in a row can lead to violent thrashing and skyrocketing blood pressure. In fact, this mode is a surefire way to get you yelled at by your girlfriend. So, take some chill-pills before starting this mode. But, I can only imagine the glory for people flashing one of those top-ranking times. That is something I wish I had the patience to strive for.

Maps
Opening the last two campaign maps to Versus mode was a much needed add-on and past due in my opinion. Be that as it may, at least they got it right…so that helps forgive the long wait for the download. Playing through Dead Air and Death Toll are very refreshing experiences after pouncing, vomiting, and constricting victims in the same spots day after day. Though thankful for the new maps, there are some inherent problems with them that should be noted.

Dead Air brings about an interesting conundrum. When playing through short maps (and people don’t baby-out and quit) teams usually want more time playing through a map. The game time of levels like No Mercy and Blood Harvest are just shy of making me feel guilty of occupying the TV for too long. Dead Air, however, goes WAY beyond that threshold.

Be sure to have plenty of rations near by, as playing through is a marathon and takes some of the venom out of the gameplay.  People familiar with the game know that respawning as the infected is the lowest point(s) of the game. And in Dead Air it sticks out like a soar thumb and becomes dreadful. A high percentage of the stages are in tight corridors, so don’t expect to have those amazing four-attack spawns where you’re untouchable. Rather, almost half of any given stage is spent respawning. BORING. So as you can see I haven’t dedicated much time to Dead Air.

On the survivors’ side the drawn out levels make it very difficult to make it to each safe house…so these contests are usually low-scoring affairs. That’s not such a big deal…but being pounced 100 times becomes annoying. And, there are far too many instant-kill spots early in maps. So have a book nearby or do what most people do: quit and find a new lobby. Or, do what I do…find a Death Toll lobby.  (Sorry, I’m that guy)

This leads me to Death Toll. This map is the one we’ve all been waiting for. The highway and sewer stages are broken out into bulby sections…making set points for combat. True this kills some replay value as gamers start to memorize these points, but it gives cadence to the game–organized chaos. If that gets played out, the abandoned town leg of the map opens up and really allows infected players to throw the gamut at survivors. So there’s a nice mix of set points and open play.

Five-Finger Discount
When it’s all said and done, Valve provided hours of extra gaming for free…and there are commendments in order for that. Thinking about how much gameplay we got out of the original content available, one could argue that doubling the content via the download would justify a nominal charge for the Survival Pack. But, then again, there’s no new achievement points (bummer), which in an embarrisngly dorky way helps me justify paying for downloads on XBox Live.

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Posted in: Op-Ed