Top Five Left 4 Dead 1/2 Custom Campaigns

In August 2010, Chet Faliszek announced Valve would begin to rotate biweekly custom-made campaigns on the official servers of Left 4 Dead 2:

Every two weeks we are going to feature a new community campaign on our servers. We will feature one campaign at a time to make it is easier to find games. We’ll be keeping it featured for two weeks so people can familiarize themselves with the maps for competitive play.1

Though we wholeheartedly agreed with Valve on their choice to start their campaign off with 2 Evil Eyes, their subsequent picks have not been as bold as we had hoped, as the team has since gone on to pick Detour Ahead, City 17, Haunted Forest, Dead Before Dawn, One 4 Nine and I Hate Mountains. Now that the slow trickle of maps seems to have dried up – sans Cold Stream, of course, which is still a river running wild – we wanted to introduce to old and new players alike a list of five great Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 custom campaigns – that is, the best maps Valve is yet to highlight.

We applied a loose criteria to this list of Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 maps. First and foremost, each level was to be available for both games. Second, we expected proper playability on the “expert” difficulty setting. Third, all these levels enjoy a degree of popularity in the community, so as to make finding servers and players easier.  Fourth, we did somewhat consider artistic merits like overall look and feel, setpieces, setting and brushwork.

Fifth, we also sought out campaigns that would adhere to the gameplay standards and Left 4 Dead fiction as defined in practice by Valve. This meant no nasty surprises, traps, or major changes to campaign flow. The reason all the campaigns below have been tested and completed on the “expert” difficulty level is because we found that this particular setting best reveals the extent of balancing (or lack thereof) in terms of campaign length, pacing and structure.


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Dear Esther Review

2008‘s Dear Esther, a Source modification developed by thechineseroom, originally a research project group at the University of Portsmouth, was perhaps the most singular game release of that year. In a sense, its arrival brought with it some degree of legitimacy to modifications with narrative and writing in mind.

Encouraged by the game’s overwhelmingly positive reception and feedback, and the initiative of esteemed level designer Robert Briscoe, writer and designer Dan Pinchbeck set out to remake the original, which has now been released on Steam. At the end of 2011, Dear Esther’s popularity and anticipation had reached a deserved fever pitch due to Briscoe’s amazing visual work, and indeed, just a mere six hours after release, the developers had already successfully recouped their investment from the Indie Fund.

Yet here I stand, a review copy in hand, feeling a puzzling hesitance over reopening the metaphorical wounds inflicted by the original. Certainly, I had nothing short of thrusted the ghostly modification upon all my videogaming friends, toting its expert writing and unrivalled narrative exposition. Nabeel Burney wrote about the specifics of the mod here on the Slowdown.

Like Nabeel, I too enjoyed – if that be the word (probably not) – the game immensely. That was not the problem.


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The Road More Traveled: 5TH Cell’s Hybrid

Cowabunga! Washington-based Scribblenauts devs 5TH Cell probably could not have done a more complete 180 degrees in licensing Valve’s Source engine for their latest game, Hybrid. The just-announced game is unfortunately going to be released on the wrong platform – that is, as an XBLA exclusive, at least for the time being:

5TH Cell is proud to announce Hybrid, a revolutionary new video game available in 2011 exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). Hybrid is a pioneering third person shooter set in a devastated post apocalyptic world, giving players a completely new gameplay experience never seen before in the genre.1

Revolutionary, schmevolutionary, pioneering, schmioneering – so far, Hybrid files under “just another post-apocalyptic shooter.” As much flair for creativity as 5TH Cell have exhibited with their past track record, and as much as we love the Source engine, it is hard to compute exactly how 5TH Cell went from the “revolutionary” and “pioneering” Scribblenauts to this:

While some interesting mechanics seem to be in store for players, including wall-walking – the red Variant soldier walks upside down on the ceiling in the trailer above – the little dialogue in the trailer does not exactly get points for originality:

When I was little, my father used to say, “Son, god didn’t create money… man did. God didn’t create war… man did. God didn’t create hell… the Variants did.”

After all, the post-apocalyptic landscape has been utilized very often in video games as of late, as a visual metaphor of the basest kind, using the entirety of the external world to blatantly affect and reflect on the internal, resulting in the strength of the metaphor diminishing further with every use. This is also why players are beginning to tire of it – post-apocalypse it is no longer unique, it is ubiquitous, especially now that even the pioneers of the post-apoc genre are once again being remade for a new audience (Fallout).

Therefore, despite being an exciting announcement from a very well-esteemed team, thanks to its thematic constraints, it’s hard to be excited just yet. The same restraint applies to the project’s utilization of sci-fi (E.Y.E.), religious themes (Scivelation), warring factions (Nexuiz) and clashes between races (Half-Life, Halo etc). Throw in Afterfall for good measure. In a way, the simple fact that the teams are red versus blue for the NTH time just underlines all this.


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The Source of a Bloody Good Time

One of the most surprising video game announcements in recent memory – honest! – is Bloody Good Time, a new eight-player multiplayer game “regrouping ambitious teen actors ready to kill for fame” from Scottish The Ship developers Outerlight, who have suddenly made their return to the gaming headlines. Bloody Good Time, launching today on the 29th of October and available on XBLA and from Steam, has the ignoble distinction of only being the second Source title to be published by Ubisoft, the first being the classic Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

As perhaps evident from the trailer above, the game pits eight hopeful first-time auditioners against each other in an audition to the death on three different movie sets. The game’s cast of characters is a who’s who of movie caricatures, ranging from a surfer dude to a mall goth. Players will get their chance to off the rest of the competing aspirants in four different game modes: Hunt, Elimination, Revenge and Deathmatch.


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Vindictus: MMO, Hack and Slash or Dungeon Crawler?

Korean MMO maker Nexon’s forthcoming English-language conversion of Mabinogi Heroes, re-titled Vindictus, is launching today in North America and Canada. What makes this launch particularly notable in our minds here at The Slowdown is Nexon’s curveball partnership with Valve Software: Instead of going for the common go-to engine in Epic’s UE3 (which is used, for instance, in DC Universe Online, Mortal Online and Huxley), the game instead runs on an adapted version of the Source engine.

Bear with me as this post is largely hearsay given players in the EU are currently locked out of the game at this juncture, but the general assumption to be made here is that the combat more closely resembles that of other Source titles like Dark Messiah of Might & Magic and Zeno Clash, in turn bridging the gap between an MMORPG and an online dungeon crawler. There are other ways, too, in which the utilization of the Source engine affects the game’s overall design and gameplay. The Source base becomes more evident in the trailer below, illustrating a wider-than-usual array of smooth close combat:

Like Source titles commonly, the game is also rather heavily instanced, with relatively few truly “open-world” locations; instance portals are supposedly littered all about the main city. The game’s Source-based server architecture also explains the key reason as to why the open beta has been so strictly regionalized so far: Unlike MMOs normally, Vindictus operates by having one player serve as host with other players connecting. An EU version of the game, for which a placeholder website already exists, was nevertheless announced during Gamescom earlier this year. This does sadly mean the game’s EU launch – or a beta available in the region – will occur much, much later. (more…)

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