Sunday, 2 August 2015

Ranking the Zombie Apocalypse

When I first started this blog I wrote a lot about books. Then I wrote nothing about books (laziness). Now I want to write about an aspect of my life I haven't yet touched on very much: gaming.

One game in particular.

Left 4 Dead and its sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, are first-person shooters set during a zombie apocalypse. Each follows a team of four 'Survivors' - individuals who are immune to the degenerative virus that has turned most of America's population into vicious, mindless Infected. Utilizing a variety of weapons you fight your way through post-apocalyptic landscapes, slaughtering swathes of Infected and occasionally falling prey to them. As entertainment it's about as mindless as the Infected themselves, but it's something else as well.

Gore-splattered, pulse-pounding fun.

This is a game I play a lot by myself, when I've come home at the end of the day and need to unwind by sinking into familiar patterns or possibly vent some frustration by ventilating zombie torsos with shotgun blasts. However, Left 4 Dead is designed to be a co-operative game, and recently I've been playing it with my friend DeltaHax (see my earlier post Brotherhood in Murderland). Together we're chewing through the game's campaigns in chronological order, and the other night we decided to rank each of the thirteen campaigns in order of which we thought were the best.

This became far more engrossing and complex than we first anticipated.

First we ordered Left 4 Dead's six campaigns from 1 to 6. Then we ordered Left 4 Dead 2's seven campaigns. Then we meshed the lists, creating a master list which I have decided to share with you, my handful of readers. Covering all thirteen levels in one post would make it far too long, so here I present the first four working up from the bottom of the list.

Because otherwise spending an hour discussing a single video game would be a waste of time, right?

Anyway, here they are, from worst to best in our opinion.

13. Crash Course

Crash Course is the second campaign in Left 4 Dead and also the shortest campaign in both games. It follows Survivors Bill, Francis, Louis and Zoey (pictured left to right on the poster) from the site of their crashed helicopter through the industrial outskirts of Fairfield, Pennsylvania. This campaign is filler in more ways than one. Added into the game as a DLC (Downloadable Content) after its original release to keep the game's fans happy while waiting for Left 4 Dead 2, Crash Course also fills in the story gap between No Mercy and Death Toll (both of which rank much higher on this list). Consisting of just two levels, the second of which is overly long to compensate, this campaign's industrial setting starts off as moody but quickly becomes monotonous and uninspiring. It's not a bad campaign, in fact it's arguably better than the next two on this list, but its length leaves it with very little to offer and that's what has put it on the bottom of the pile.  

12. Swamp Fever

Swamp Fever is the fourth campaign in Left 4 Dead 2. It follows the second group of Survivors, Coach, Ellis, Nick and Rochelle, as they navigate a shantytown and its swampy surrounds somewhere in the southern United States after the helicopter pilot that rescued them from Dark Carnival became Infected and they crashed (this is a deliberate mirror of the same situation from the first game). The gloomy, muddy forests and waterways of this campaign are confusing, making it the easiest one to get lost in, and the ramshackle shantytown walkways aren't much better. The swamp setting is meant to be fun but the appeal wears off after a while and it's a relief when you reach the plantation manor house where you make your final stand. At the end of it all the Survivors board their rescue boat tired, battered and muddy, and as a player you can't help but feel the same. 

11. The Parish 

The Parish is the final level in Left 4 Dead 2. Coach, Ellis, Nick and Rochelle have reached their ultimate destination, New Orleans, and must make their way through the dilapidated streets towards a distant bridge. The echoes of Hurricane Katrina can be felt in this campaign's design, the buildings smashed and partially re-built, and unfortunately the city gets no reprieve as the ignorant military bomb the districts the Survivors are moving through to cover their retreat from the zombie-filled hellhole it has become. The constant bombing is a harrowing experience for players and this campaign like others at the bottom of this list quickly becomes repetitive, players having to move through one wrecked building after another. For monotony no campaign can beat The Parish, and the only reason it ranks above Swamp Fever is due to its saving grace, the legendarily difficult final level where the Survivors must cross a long bridge against an incoming horde of Infected. Surviving this level means winning Left 4 Dead 2 as a game and it certainly goes out with a bang, but in terms of campaigns Left 4 Dead 2 does not save the best for last. 

10. Dead Air 

Dead Air is the fourth campaign in the first Left 4 Dead and the campaign DeltaHax and I were playing when coming up with this list, making this a fitting place to end the first part of this post. Set in the city of Newburg, which is mostly on fire, Dead Air sees the original four Survivors cross the city to reach its airport where they hope to find aerial rescue. It is also one of the more challenging campaigns, featuring long levels, dangerous drops and a truly sadistic gauntlet section where players must fight their way through the airport terminal against a mass of incoming Infected. Dead Air is not a bad campaign. It's just tough in a way that makes us both unlikely to revisit it, and any gaming experience that puts the player off is a bad one.   

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