Version tested: Xbox 360
I'm about to do the unthinkable. I never thought this time would come, but I guess I'm just not scared any more. I'm ready.
I'm going to offer plotting advice to Valve. Valve, the maestros of marketing, the story sorcerers. I'm not sure if anyone's done this before; I can't know for sure if I'll come out of this alive.
Valve! You chose to spill the fact that one of the original survivors has to sacrifice themselves at the end of The Sacrifice add-on campaign. You chose to do it sternly and many times over, like a teenager locked in a bathroom. You did it first with the finale of The Passing. Then you started doing it in interviews and press releases. Eventually, in the Left 4 Dead online comic, you laid out precisely how the sacrifice would take place.
With this level of hype in mind, it is perhaps a terrible idea to make the actual sacrifice that everyone already knows about in your DLC entitled "The Sacrifice" a hasty, underwhelming, phoned-in event that completely fails to match up to the fiction you're trying to make us care about. Valve, I think you screwed up.
Here's what happens during the finale at the end of The Sacrifice. [Don't read the next two paragraphs if you wish to avoid spoilers – Ed.] You arrive at a port and need to power up three distant generators to raise a bridge. As far as I can tell the free-standing generators aren't connected to either the bridge or the ground in any way, and so have no means of powering anything, but never mind that.
Turning on each generator summons a wave of zombies, and there's an achievement ('Chaos Generator') for turning on all three at the same time. Your gang then hightails it back to the bridge, which starts to rise, attracting an absurd horde of zombies, but then stops. You're left with no choice but for one of your team to leap off the bridge and restart the dicky nearby generator, whereupon you're treated to a fairly shonky aerial shot of that character being mobbed by all the zombies in the world as Left 4 Dead's orchestral death blare plays. And then The Sacrifice ends.
It's as laughable as it is irritating. No chance for the martyr to stage a last stand? No challenging conclusion for the remaining three survivors? This is Valve inviting us over for dinner several months in advance, and then when we show up they look startled and drop a couple of Chicago Town Deep Dish Pizzas in the microwave.
PC gamers! If I seem to be being exceptionally harsh to some free DLC that's being released not just for Left 4 Dead 2 but also the first game, let me remind you that not everybody's getting The Sacrifice for free. As withThe Passing, 360 owners are having to shell out 560 Microsoft Points (£5) if they want this campaign. They need to decide if it's worth it. And unbelievably, if they want it for both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, they have to pay that twice over, presumably because Xbox Live's framework doesn't allow a customer to pay once for multiple items.
Outside of the limp finale, the only things worth complaining about in The Sacrifice relate to how little you're getting compared to The Passing. Like The Passing, it's only three maps long, but this time only two of those maps are new. Remember the small last map of The Passing, with the original Left 4 Dead survivors hanging out by the bridge? That's the last map of The Sacrifice.
And while The Passing gave us new weapons and items, a new special infected and new survival and scavenge maps, The Sacrifice gives us... explosive barrels. In its defence, they're pretty interesting explosive barrels, because they set the area around them on fire for a while, making them as dangerous as they are useful. But still. Explosive barrels. Left 4 Dead 2 owners also get a port of No Mercy and some new mutations, but that's it.
It wouldn't quite be true to say that The Sacrifice makes up for all of this with the two new maps in its campaign, but they are excellent, even if they do make a return to the more bleak industrial environments of Left 4 Dead 1. We were spoiled by Dark Carnival and Swamp Fever, I suspect.
The first map, The Docks, has a great Crescendo Event early on where you need progress through a sealed train car containing a Tank (and the bodies of a whole load of people that got locked inside with it), giving your team the chance to set up a trap before setting the maddened thing loose. Later on, Valve showcases its talent by turning a boring-sounding train yard into an astonishingly ominous and dramatic backdrop.
From here you move on to The Barge, which is my new favourite map in any Left 4 Dead campaign because of its centrepiece - an enormous, six-storey pile of grit, with the walkway to the barge resting on its peak. Aside from being a striking image, it creates some really bizarre angles for the zombies' attacks.
They can either run up one of the sides of the pile, meaning you're less likely to see them until they're on top of you, or they can go sprinting from the barge up that long, hopelessly narrow walkway, which provides you with a hugely satisfying fish-in-a-barrel chance to gun down dozens of them in a few seconds. But it's all over too quickly, and then it's on to that disappointing ending with the map you've seen before.
I do wish it was as simple as congratulating Valve for putting out more fun, free DLC, but it's not. The Passing was a relatively easy purchase on the 360; if you're still playing Left 4 Dead 2, it's worth the money. But this is, inarguably, significantly less content for the same price. Only dedicated deadheads need apply.
6 / 10
Left 4 Dead 2: The Sacrifice is available to download for PC and Xbox 360 from today.