Version tested: Xbox 360
Two Tanks at once! Two of them! I understand that a word like "overkill" could never have a place in a horror game that's always taken pleasure from pitting players against harrowing odds, but still. I'm surprised Valve didn't go the whole hog and layer both Tanks' signature horn music over one another, very slightly out of sync, to create a horrible, unlistenable cacophony.
So, Left 4 Dead 2 add-on The Passing boasts at least one exciting new way for you and your team to get massacred. More appealingly perhaps, it also features a new gun, a new uncommon infected, a new Mutations menu option which offers a different game mode every week, and a brand new campaign with cameos from three of the survivors of the original Left 4 Dead. In case you hadn't heard (brace yourself), the upcoming downloadable content for L4D1 requires a player to sacrifice himself or herself for the group, and The Passing reveals the canonical version of who dies.
All this makes The Passing a nice surprise for the PC gamers who this morning received the content for free, but the question remains of whether it's worth the £5 (well, 560 Microsoft Points or £4.76) it will cost Xbox 360 owners. Let's take a look.
The new campaign itself is set between Dead Centre and Dark Carnival, and follows the L4D2 survivors as they ill-advisedly leave the stock car of Jimmy Gibbs Jr to lower a bridge manned by what's left of the L4D1 team. At just three levels in length, The Passing might be longer than Crash Course, but it's still the shortest campaign in Left 4 Dead 2 by a long shot.
It's also a touch indecisive. On the one hand, you get the impression that the scenic town you're shooting your way through managed to put up more of a fight against the infected than most. Protective barricades are everywhere, and the new Fallen Survivor uncommon infected are people who got turned after gearing up to defend themselves, meaning they're basically zombie piñatas, and drop useful items like pipe bombs or pain pills when you gun them down. The town's also scattered with footlockers containing an infinite amount of one kind of item.
On the other hand, the big set-piece of the first level is a completely untouched outdoor wedding complete with a Witch in a tattered wedding dress. The town itself is also far too pretty to be the logical home of a last stand, and the winding, cobbled streets seem at odds with all the Hamburger Hill footlockers. And as long as we're asking questions, what on Earth are the original game's survivors doing horsing around on a bridge in the Deep South?
But this is all so much nitpicking. For its short length, The Passing feels less padded than other campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2, and the new additions all work cleverly. That the Fallen Survivor infected run away, rather than towards, you is a devious way of luring players away from the group, and the single clip you get with the M60 means anyone who excitedly snatches it up gets stuck with their secondary weapon after about 60 seconds of excited spraying. Even finding a fixed box containing dozens of molotov cocktails is a mixed blessing- the temptation is to linger next to your new-found armoury, when really you need to plough onwards and use the wealth of flames to quickly cover your back.
The finale's an interesting one, too. It's another gas can collect-a-thon ("Why does nothing have any gas in?", screams Nick, securing my love for him), but this time you're doing it to power the bridge's generator under the watchful eye of the original survivors.
The twist is that the first game's survivors actually provide serious support with high-calibre, laser-sighted weaponry, but they only cover the area immediately surrounding the generator itself. Gathering the 16 cans required to power it becomes a matter of launching miniature expeditions out to collect them, then hoofing it back as fast as possible either with either a can of gas in your hands or a surge of infected at your heels. If two Tanks do attack (did I mention you can get attacked by two Tanks at the same time?) your only chance of survival is to flee back to your new friends for some help. There's actually an achievement for letting them bring down a Tank alone.
It's a characteristically dramatic ending, but in terms of straight horror the campaign peaks with the Historic River Tour that sees you hiking through a couple of massive, water-filled chambers. There's no cover and no holding back as you push through the stagnant lagoon, zombies surging in from every angle, and on Realism mode you're especially screwed since you can't see more than fifteen feet in any direction. Pro tip: turning flashlights on and off is a good way of signalling your position.
The new campaign's a solid enough addition, if a brief one. The new Mutations mode is a little harder to judge. As I said before, each week it's going to change into a new game mode (the previous game mode being lost to the ether), and there's a special achievement for playing six different Mutations. So, something to encourage players to drop into L4D2 at least once a week.
This week's mutation is Realism Versus, giving you the chance to try L4D2's Survivors Vs. Infected mode with all the masochistic twists of Realism mode. To recap, that means Survivors get no indication of each other's locations, items don't get an outline and zombies are tougher to kill without a headshot.
The weird thing is, I'm sure a lot of people are going to prefer Realism Versus to Versus mode; the survivors are forced into playing a much more close-knit, careful game where even Rambo players can't afford to go off by themselves, and the Infected team get a more satisfying time of it too. The fact that the survivors don't have their trademark ESP means that rather than adopting damage-focused kamikaze tactics, you can bide your time before launching an attack on the last player to, say, round a corner.
And yet, Realism Versus isn't going to be here in six days. It'll be replaced by something else, maybe the Chainsaw Massacre mode Valve has mentioned and that we know nothing about. Mutations might be a great way to get people talking and have them coming back at least once a week, but I'm not sure it's the cherry on the cake that The Passing needed to be a must-buy add-on.
Instead, what you've got here is a reasonably priced chunk of content that doesn't quite breathe new life into Left 4 Dead the way a new Special Infected or a bigger, brighter new campaign might have. If you're still really hungry for more Left 4 Dead, The Passing won't let you down. If you think you've had your fair share, you might want to pass.
7 / 10