Perhaps it’s a reflection on the quality of The Passing that, for me, the best moments of its forty-minute life were spent, without a zombie in sight, in a bathroom.
“Do zombies poop?” That’s the question scrawled across the confined basement-bar lavatory. Alongside it is an observation on the ratio of shotguns to toilet roll and another outlining the extraneous relationship between fleeing from zombies and fiber (yeah, fiber). And then there’s a spot of poetry:
“Here I sit,
All broken hearted,
Came to shit,
And the world ended”
It’s Valve flexing its proverbial sense of humor. And perhaps The Passing is one big metaphor for feces, the survivors spend a substantial portion of the episode trapped in the quagmire of a sewer in which Ellis picks up a “candy bar” before quipping in with an “oh wait…” There’s the toilet wall jokes and Valve have even gone to the effort of recording a less-than-pleasant squelching sound that the survivors make when they eventually leave the sewer. And, of course, it’s called The Passing.
It is an unlikely metaphor though, especially because the focal point for this first piece of additional content is the passing of one of the original four Left 4 Dead characters.
Whatever the title refers too, The Passing is an amalgamation of the campaigns from Left 4 Dead 2; it takes place in an urban environment not dissimilar to The Parish, complete with its own park and a handful of derelict buildings to battle through. There’s the horrendous monsoon-like downpour from Hard Rain and the obnoxious viscous mud from Swamp Fever. And it ends on a note almost identical to Dead Center’s; a muted finale spent snatching fuel tanks and hauling them back to a generator. Bridge lowers and the survivors take flight toward Dark Carnival.
It is cookie-cutter stuff, which is disappointing enough, worse still it lacks any of the spectacular crescendo events that helped differentiate it from the first game. The wrapping up of an episode drenched in the familiar lacks momentum and the only other out of the ordinary event is an all-time record horde of zombies making your break out from the exasperatingly slow sewer journey all the more agonising. And that’s hardly out of the ordinary anyway.
Hidden footlockers boasting unlimited supplies of painkillers or pipe bombs, a new uncommon infected (a fallen survivor that drops supplied should you manage to catch and send him back to hell) and two extra weapons in the form of a golf club and the M60 go a little way in lifting The Passing out from the waters of mediocrity. A group of unlucky zombified wedding goers and at least three tour vans worth of undead Midnight Rider groupies are nice additions too but ultimately neither can divert attention away from the haunting sense of deja vu.
The Passing was always intended to be the first of a two part offering bridging the story between the two sets of survivors, the second episode being developed for the first Left 4 Dead. So to make it all the way to the end of The Passing to spend mere seconds with the original survivors is puzzling.
Including such a throwaway moment, one that doesn’t even champion the noble death of an old comrade (I missed, ahem, ‘their’ corpse the first time round), seems like a conspicuous blunder on Valve’s part, but perhaps the content in line for the original Left 4 Dead sheds light on that story more.
Whether that is the case or not, future instalments can’t absolve The Passing of its failings here and now, particularly if you’re purchasing it on the 360.
As the first half of a bridge between two games steeped in excellence, The Passing suffers from suspect craftsmanship. Neglecting the characters of old while relying overzealously on the defining characteristics from previous campaigns, it bears none of the impact of anything that has come before it and will pass, rather solemnly, from memory.
Probably not a metaphor for shit then, but on the other hand it’s not that great either.