With “The Passing,” Left 4 Dead 2’s first downloadable chapter, the bridge between the two Left 4 Dead games gets a firm foundation. The chapter, which chronologically takes place between “Dead Center” and “Dark Carnival” opens with an exchange between a Left 4 Dead character and the group of Southern survivors as the first game’s team offers cover and assistance to lower a mechanical drawbridge for the new group to cross over to safety en route to New Orleans. But Coach, Rochelle, Nick, and Ellis must get to another side to fuel it up. And that’s where the mayhem begins.
Unlike L4D’s “Crash Course” add-on, which covered two chapters, “The Passing” (priced at 560 Microsoft Points, free for Steam users) presents a action-packed three chapters that brings you through an abandoned apartment complex, a jazz club, dank subterranean corridors, and finally, to a grand finale that pits your survivors alongside L4D’s survivors -- minus one unnamed character, whose demise will be explained in an upcoming L4D downloadable pack -- in a race against waves of creatures to fuel up the drawbridge lift.
It’s all tense stuff, in part thanks to the hordes of creatures the game throws at you -- it feels like an even bigger onslaught than usual in many points -- and the new weapons you’ll pick up, such as the golf club (complete with “Fore!!” achievement for decapitating 18 enemies) and the lethal M60 machine gun, which gave me the confidence to do something I’d normally never do in either Left 4 Dead game: go one-on-one with a Tank. The only caveat is that once you spend the clip, that's it. They’re sound enhancements that are great new tools to fight the expanded number of enemies you’ll face in the pack. And that's not all.
Aside from the excellent ambience that “The Passing” presents -- at times, it evokes the tension of “Hard Rain” in its early moments and the initially incongruous idea of a wide-open, yet exceptionally claustrophobic-feeling underground tunnel -- and the aforementioned new armaments, it introduces some fantastic new gameplay dynamics into an already tight formula. In-game, the content introduces Fallen Survivors, another class of infected. Unlike the nasty hordes of murderous infected, these fast-moving, Medpack-toting undead are struggling to run away from you. As I discovered during a solo run, they’re just as dangerous in their flee, since they can easily split you off from the group and send you right into attacking range of a Jockey or Hunter. It’s a great risk vs. reward distraction that evokes the Borgia Courier chases in Assassin’s Creed II.
And once you’ve wrapped up “The Passing,” there’s yet another segment of the new content that will stick with you long after you’ve driven the four-person team off into the sunset. The pack also includes Mutations, new weekly updates that completely turn L4D2’s modes on their heads. As of launch week, Valve has concocted Versus Realism mode, which turns the tables on survivors in multiplayer. The publisher promises even more crazy twists on L4D2, such as chainsaws with unlimited fuel. For Xbox 360 players, Mutations feel like an evolutionary step towards the sort of quick themed updates that PC gamers get via Steam for multiplayer-driven games like Team Fortress 2. I’ll be checking in on them week after week to see what’s new, but it’s a big feature that should really extend the life of the content.
If you’re a Left 4 Dead 2 fan, you’ll come for “The Passing”’s extra chapter, great new weapons, and a few new achievements, but you’ll stay for Mutations, which have real potential to keep you even more engaged in the game than you were before. And, of course, if you’re engaged in the story, you (like me) will be keeping your eyes peeled for the Left 4 Dead content that will explain the events that led up to one character's “Passing.” It’s an excellent pack of extra content that’s definitely worth picking up, without hesitation.