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Left 4 Dead 2: The Sacrifice 360 takes us back to just before previous DLC installment The Passing, revealing why not all of the original foursome made it out alive. It's another rock solid addition to this furiously replayable zombie shooter.
While it was fun to see three-quarters of Left 4 Dead's bickering cast of survivors in The Passing, The Sacrifice (also available for the original Left 4 Dead, for any L4D1 purists out there) puts the player back in the shoes of Bill, Francis, Zoe and Louis to show how they got to their new home on top of that bridge.
It's a pleasing reunion. While the Left 4 Dead 2 cast (particularly Ellis and Coach) are strong characters in their own right, I have missed the dynamic between the originals, and they're in fine form here.
There's a fond familiarity to these characters that comes from having played the original L4D campaigns many, many times (and one of this series great strengths is that the flexible way campaigns unfold makes them unpredictable and therefore heavily replayable), and it's great to renew old acquaintances.
The old gang have never looked better, either. Pre-release Left 4 Dead 2 was accused of being little more than a glorified expansion pack, but putting the original game's cast into the sequel's engine just shows how more glossy and vivid the latter game is.
Aside from the cosmetics, there's also the chance for the old characters to play with the sequel's fuller range of toys, wielding melee weapons and taking on the second game's broader menagerie of special infected. If you wanted to see Francis get pounced by a Jockey, now's your chance.
The story telling here is, as ever, minimalist, sketched in through snippets of dialogue, and the way that the environment provides opportunity for dramatic moments. There's some great, atmospheric pinch points here, as the survivors need to slowly scale a slag-heap, or weave their way across scuttled boats to cross a dock.
The story telling here is, as ever, minimalist, sketched in through snippets of dialogue.
It's all leading to a punishing finale that intersects neatly with the events of The Passing, and creates one of the harshest challenges yet with multiple objectives and Tanks a'plenty. To get three of the survivors to their happily-ever-after the titular 'sacrifice' is required by one of them.
While the Passing, the achievements list for this DLC and the excellent Left 4 Dead 2 Comic (available for free either online or on Comixology for iPod/iPad users) all make clear the 'canonical' martyr, Valve are sufficiently flexible to allow the players to make a different choice in-game.
Plot developments aside, The Sacrifice is another really strong addition to the Left 4 Dead 2 package - a compact but challenging 45 minute campaign to be thrown into rotation with the others and tried out on Survival, Versus and Scavenge modes, as well as the ongoing series of 'mutations'.
It's all leading to a punishing finale that intersects neatly with the events of The Passing.
As if that wasn't great value on its own, Valve have also thrown in a L4D2 upgraded version of the first game's No Mercy campaign, with its memorable excursions through Pittsburgh's metro, sewers, and of course Mercy Hospital itself with its rooftop helipad finale. No Mercy was always a favourite campaign from the original, and this is a great chance to revisit it with the visual oomph and wider range of weapons and special infected of the second game.
Left 4 Dead remains the game series that keeps on giving, with the small charges for these DLC installments well-rewarded by the level of content each provides. While The Sacrifice provides a swansong for the first game's cast, I doubt this is the end of Left 4 Dead as a series, and look forward to wherever Valve choose to take the series next: they've yet to lead me astray.
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