City 17, is, as its title suggests, a conversion/port of sorts from Half Life 2: Episode 1 to Left 4 Dead. Quite possibly an idea born from the early porting of Counterstrike Source and Team Fortress 2 maps into the L4D demo, the developer of this campaign went a step or (ten) further, porting a significant portion of Episode One into L4D to create this campaign. Being a shameless Half-Life fan boy, I couldn’t help but give it a try.
I couldn’t find any friends who had the time to play this, and fifteen minutes waiting for pubbies in a lobby produced no one, so I decided to go for the single player experience. I started on advanced, the difficulty setting for people who don’t want to be seen playing on normal but still want something resembling a challenge.
The very first sight you see is a hellish camera shot of death, debris and trains, with the usual gang standing right in front of it. Somehow your lucky four survivors survived the metallic carnage behind them, and are moving past that stage in their lives. From the beginning, the general atmosphere looked promisingly bleak, a gloomy shade of green and a promising fiery orange in the background really setting the tone at the start. Although the initial spawn area felt slightly empty despite the inclusion of a few cars, the coloring really made me look forward to what was to come from this campaign.
Sadly however, what was to come was far too easy, even when I bumped the difficulty up to expert. Despite the lovingly gloomy setting and atmosphere, the open areas and lack of obstacles meant that there was plenty of forewarning for incoming hordes, making it quite quite easy to pick off any threats from a comfortable distance. It also felt rather short, and I was surprised that I had reached the safe house so quickly. All in all, the first level was a disappointing start to the campaign, proving to be rather unchallenging.
Then the second level happened.
After the unchallenging first part of this campaign, I felt pretty relaxed about what
was to come. This time there was the parking lot, which looked even more open
than the first level. Instead of Antlions, I only had to deal with waves of
screeching zombies. Couldn’t be that hard, I’d only done it before on countless
other campaign maps. I opened the door.
There were two facts about this event that I had apparently not gathered from my previously comfortable position at the window:
- You have to climb three floors using wafer thin ramps in order to stop an alarm that you set off upon opening the door.
- Until you stop the alarm, the infected don’t stop.
Nonchalant about the first fact and ignorant of the second, I camped at the door, smugly expecting the stream of infected to stop coming after a minute or so long panic event. By the time I realized that they had no intention of ending their assault, I was on the ground suffering from a terrible case of death.
By the fourth attempt, I was convinced level one’s relative easiness was a nefarious bluff on the developers part to trick me into getting knocked off my feet. And knock me off my feet, kick and maul me it most certainly did. On top of that, the director was fucking with me. When I got up to the panic room, there were no tier 2 weapons. And because I apparently irrationally believed there’d always be a friendly auto shotgun waiting for me, I hadn’t bothered to stock up on ammo at the safe house. Then a horde jumped out of an air duct on top of me. Then a tank popped in. Again. Despite this, I managed to run through, lobbing molotovs and shooting fuel canisters, making it all the way to the third level where I triumphantl-
I lost count of the amount of times it took me to get past that section, but what stuck out about this little never ending panic event/diabolical hellhole was that it was challenging.
I feel that many custom campaigns don’t deliver on the difficulty within the level design, depending on the game’s difficulty/damage scaling to deliver any sort of challenge to the player. This section was definitely challenging on normal, advanced and expert, and not because of the tank, smoker, boomer or hunter, though they certainly did complement the experience (and ruin countless attempts at the last second). This panic event was making me fear the horde.
I find the main challenge to be found in l4d is in the special infected, with the common infected serving mainly as a distraction for the bosses. In this panic event, the squeals of impending doom were what was to be feared. By the time a boss got to me, the hordes had already brought me down a notch. Indeed, it was interesting how the bosses took a subservient role to the common. Even the tank waited till I was on the second floor before obliterating me.
When I eventually reached the control panel, ending the overwhelming waves of screeching death, I felt a huge sense of release. And I felt like I had accomplished something, even though that something was the seemingly minor feat of getting to the third floor of a parking lot. Compared to the run of the mill easiness of the first level, this was a massive step up in difficulty and fun, and caught me by total surprise.
After a short walk through what I think was the sewers and an encounter with a Boomer
in an unfortunate position, we came to the area that I had been expecting
eagerly – The elevator, my favorite part of the original game.
I was worried that it wouldn’t be too challenging. Unlike Gordon, I had a torch with a battery that didn’t need recharging every half a minute, and three other companions to cover my back. I planted myself right outside the elevator, and readied myself. The zombies subsequently jumped on me from above. When I looked up to see there was indeed a crack in the ceiling from which countless infected were crushing my head., a boomer vomited on me. Again.
This impressed me. Although they had the restraint of following, if not copying the EP1 level design, the designers of this campaign had clearly poked around, looking for where the map could be taken advantage of to fit in with l4d’s mechanics. And where they had prodded, they had prodded well. Even if you know episode one back to front, you’ll still get surprised by where zombies can squeeze out of. Usually, it involves them landing on your head.
Disappointingly, but perhaps somewhat fair considering dying here would mean having to go through the car park again, the wait for the elevator was rather short. I felt it was a missed opportunity for what was a very memorable part of episode one. Although it was an open space, the lack of lighting meant that the horde would be hard to spot, the special infected difficult to predict. It was an unfulfilling ending to the tunnels, but now it was time to move on.
Then came the outdoors.
The previous indoor environments had looked lovely, successfully enhancing the creep factor of the underground levels. Unfortunately, with the removal of much environmental flavor from Episode 1, parts of the outside city looked oddly empty, if not bland in comparison to the tunnels.
Indeed, I felt that the ground level was where was this campaign was at it’s weakest. The wide spaces that made the first level feel mundane to accomplish had nothing on the outdoors section. There weren’t many surprises to be had when there were no obstacles blocking my view, and the hordes spawned quite clearly into the distance. In l4d campaigns with such wide outdoor spaces like Blood Harvest, Valve used terrain combined with the dark lighting to conceal the presence of impending zombies (especially special infected). In this section, there was nothing to protect the special infected from my judging shotgun, making them much less of a threat than before.
By the time I had crossed the bridge and was back in an interior environment, I was glad to be done with the outdoors. However, the hospital suffered from the same distant spawning at the opposite end of the rather open corridors, meaning that I could clearly see and easily mow down impending hordes. Although this resulted in my arch nemesis Boomer no longer posing a threat, I was starting to miss his acidic bile flowing down my face.
My chief woe was the finale. There was only one real building to hold out on, with an optional ladder to a height to the left of this building if you were bored. Although zombie hordes did come from above, hanging around in one corner where they didn’t come in from the ceiling was an easy way to avoid getting your noggin jumped upon. Furthermore, what zombies didn’t come from above spawned painfully far away, and in such small numbers that it took a spray or two from a machine gun to pick most of them off. It just wasn’t really challenging. Furthermore, to get to the train, I only had to jump down from where I was already.
To compare endings, an example of a great L4D campaign with a well designed finale is No mercy.
Although there is a main building, the building where the radio is located, item drops around the area and accessible rooftops make most of the space a viable place to hold off infected from. Furthermore, its level design conveys a real sense of danger. If you aren’t careful, you can be knocked off the heights, either to the ground to be feasted upon by zombie hordes, or off the entire building completely. Plus, after all that fighting, the helicopter rescue is frenetic and distant enough
from most hold out locations to make getting to the chopper a panicky rush.
It might be considered unfair to compare the student to the master, but then again this is a case of the student using the master’s work as their own. Although it is true that the campaign’s design and finale is constrained by its premise, hey, they picked the premise.
That isn’t to say that playing through this campaign is a wretched experience. Far from it. The
key selling point of this campaign (the fact that it was ported from half-life 2) wasn’t a disappointment. Playing through some of the more memorable parts of episode one in left 4 dead (even the sadly short elevator event) gave me a healthy dose of nostalgia. Plus, that parking lot event was so fun
To wrap this up, despite these faults and inevitable limitations, this is still a mostly decently fun campaign that occasionally proves to be genuinely challenging. And when it’s challenging, it’s really, really challenging. If you’re a half-life 2 fan boy like me, you’ll also find the setting to be rather pleasantly novel. Basically, give it a try. Plus, you’ll love the informative directional arrows.
- Genuinely challenging at times, especially in level 2
- Special infected and panic events are generally well placed
- Entertaining for half life 2 fans
- Novel premise, but can be unsatisfying
- Disappointing finale
- Outside areas aren’t as atmospheric and challenging
Left 4 Dead