Saturday, March 23, 2019

Update 3-23-19

Hello to any and all readers! I wanted to break format a little and write up a short post about updates and where things have been. Let me start off with the important stuff first.

If you haven't noticed, I hadn't been regularly updating this blog for the past year. I plan on changing that. I want to get more reviews done on a somewhat consistent basis. I don't have a specific timeframe in mind but I'm going to try to be more productive on the review front. Now, if you are familiar with my earlier review document on Google docs, you would know that my style for that document was, simply put, fairly short summaries in pure text format. The style for my reviews on this blog is that I'm putting down a lot more for each campaign, plus I'm including screenshots of my own games through the custom campaigns. This is something that I enjoy doing but it does take a fair amount more work than the earlier style. Additionally, aside from the few campaigns that have newly released this year, this is mostly a revisit of the campaigns that I've previously played. That's not a bad thing, but I am rewriting the reviews instead of copying and pasting what I've said before. My thoughts will inevitably change and on occasion my overall opinion might be different from what I've written before. Basically what this means is I'm starting more or less from scratch. As such, it does take some time for me to clearly articulate what I'm thinking for each campaign. It's kind of like starting over, so it will take a while before the campaigns are completely reviewed again. Besides, it would be boring for me to just reiterate what I've already said! In any case, I hope to get a little bit better at turning out reviews on a little bit more of a consistent basis. I may also break my previous alphabetical order to get the reviews out.

The second order of business is the campaign listing. Let me say this right here: as of right now, the current campaign list on this site is the only accurate list. I have spent a couple of nights adding in new links and new campaigns, as well as removing dead links that no longer work. This was much more work than you might expect. It doesn't help that the campaign list is done in HTML format, so it actually takes a lot longer than you might think. However, that's really the only way to do it without the table getting screwed up. I have checked Gamemaps and the Steam Workshop, and all the links should work. Additionally, I have added certain maps to my Mediafire account that weren't up there before so they should all be good to go.

One thing that has somewhat put a dent in things is Timelord's Emporium. Don't get me wrong, it's a great repository, but it might actually contain too much. It's difficult for me to discern the best versions of the campaigns, or whether or not campaigns work at all. I have found the Emporium to be best for people who want to clean up these campaigns, which are for the most part unfinished or broken. Realistically, there are almost undoubtedly over a thousand links on the Emporium. I'm sorry, but for what mostly amounts to broken campaigns that you probably can't even finish, I just don't have the time, energy, or resources to go through downloading them all and testing them. For now, I won't be linking to any of those campaigns. If you want to help out and go through those campaigns and let me know which ones definitely work, then you can let me know via email, comment, message on Steam or Discord or wherever. I'm always open to feedback.

Now on to something different. I'm currently working on a couple of mod projects for Left 4 Dead 1 and 2. These are purely aesthetic things, not campaigns or gameplay changes, so don't expect anything mind-blowing. I don't really have anything I can share about them right now, and I also don't want to tease them too much in case anyone's hopes get high and I don't deliver. In any case, if anyone here who reads this has design talent and mod experience and wants to help out, feel free to send me a message.

- Olde

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Let's Build Our Hideaway




Title: Let's Build Our Hideaway
Link: https://www.gamemaps.com/details/20396

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=462957476
Author: James D. Carnahan
Survivors: L4D1
Notes: Best played with human companions.




Let's Build Our Hideaway, jokingly also referred to as "Let's Rebuild Society Our Hideaway," is a four-map campaign that actually implements more of a scavenge element than the "let's build" mechanic. You start out on a sailboat having crashed into a plane on an island (it's unclear as to whether or not you were on the plane or boat first). You explore the island to find out that other people attempted to build their own community to escape the infection but due to inevitable circumstances, didn't make it. The first map is where most of the building takes place; you have to gather resources all around the island to set up a house. The other maps entail leaving the island, going to a city to grab windows and other materials, and then finally adding the windows to the house.




While the campaign's premise is okay, it unfortunately doesn't hit the right notes. The first map is overburdened with finding materials and constructing a house. This isn't a typical let's-build in that there's a progression of items from a low tier to a high tier. Rather, you actually start off with a tier 2 weapon at the campaign's beginning, and building is relegated to holding 'use' to take piles of bricks or rooftops or to place walls or roofs on the house, or constructing an electric fence surrounding the house as a light barricade against infected. The first map has most of the building elements out of all the maps and it will probably take the longest by far. If you don't know what to do or if you miss some necessary materials, you might be wandering around for the better part of half an hour. Resources really aren't too much of a problem but there's a lot of aimless wandering.


I think that one of the worst parts of the map is this armory shelf in the house that takes two whole minutes of holding 'use' in order to lockpick, when by that point you'll already have access to a Tier 2 weapon and an ammo pile. I just don't get it. I did in fact hold 'use' for almost the entire amount of time, but right at the very last second, I got pounced by a jockey that came through the open door because the bots will freely leave that door open. The thing that's really annoying is that you are completely reliant on the bots for two entire minutes if you attempt to lockpick that weapon stash. My recommendation is just to not even bother, honestly. I want to iterate that holding 'use' to pick up materials or construct part of the house, whether it be for ten, fifteen, or even twenty seconds isn't necessarily bad. However, two minutes is just beyond the pale to be reliant on the brain dead AI of the bots.



The second map is really short but we had a situation where Bill spawned outside the saferoom and got destroyed by a charger, so Francis also left the saferoom to try to rescue Bill on his own. You can see by the above screenshot how well that went. In any case, once you leave the saferoom you'll be greeted with a terrible sight, a ton of boxes to search to see if you just so happen to choose the right one by accident. Once you do, you leave on the same sailboat you arrived on. Apparently someone said they wanted windows. In a zombie apocalypse... Because that makes sense. But whatever.




In the third map, you'll arrive at a city where your goal is to find some windows and other supplies. This just boils down to having to find two trucks containing the objects you need and then returning to the start. If you know where you're going or just happen to be lucky, you can finish this map in about two minutes. If you don't you might be stuck wandering around the town for ten or more minutes. The last map has you back at the island where you make your way to the island, carve holes out of the brick walls, round the ends off, and insert the windows. Once that's all done, you go inside the house, close the door, and end the campaign. Seriously, that's it.


This campaign is a real anomaly. It makes little to no sense and gets bogged down in its own ridiculous attempts at logic. The island would be an okay idea if the map was polished, looked good, and had some better indicators as to where to go. As it stands, there are some areas that are a bit hidden and aren't even that interesting to look at. Another thing that really bogged the game down for me was a ton of notes strewn all around that were supposed to be both journal entries and a dialogue script. There's really some attempt at a story here but it just doesn't make any sense and I really don't care. I wouldn't expect any other players to care, either.



The "let's build" part of the title is pretty misleading. There's no real relationship that this has to other let's builds that use Rimrook's mechanic. The let's build aspect of this is finding enough arbitrary materials and holding use on a house. If that sounds fun to you, I wonder if you really enjoy Left 4 Dead 2's gameplay. From a level layout perspective, the main island map that you're on is okay, but not good enough to warrant playing on for three maps unless it was really much better detailed and polished. The third map, taking place in the city, is fairly barren and doesn't have much to look at or admire. In any case, you're not making much progress there, only going to find materials just a fair bit away from the starting point and return. Seeing as the design of that map is fairly open, it doesn't lend itself to much interesting gameplay.



I can tell that the author did put in time into making this campaign, and it has the initial stages of some kind of unique ideas here. There are even some creative little additions like allowing the toilet or sink to restore health. However, those small positive aspects don't keep this campaign from getting bogged down in a slow pace of building arbitrary pieces of a house. Plus the story doesn't appeal to me and it doesn't make any sense as to why you would want to make your shelter from the zombie apocalypse structurally weaker.


Difficulty: In terms of gameplay, this campaign is easy. The difficulty comes in figuring out where to go and leaving yourself in the hands of the bots if you play by yourself. 

Final Verdict: While the idea could have been interesting,
figuring out where to go isn't actually fun. Nothing looks particularly good and there isn't a lot of good sign-posting as to where to go. If you play with friends, I suppose you can take turns building parts of the house while you cover each other from infected, which could be a little fun. However, this doesn't stop the campaign from halting the gameplay dead in its tracks for the players who do have to stop and do nothing while they build very small portions of the house one by one. If holding down the 'use' button for long stretches at a time sounds fun to you, then by all means go for this campaign. But here it doesn't even serve a purpose like it would in a more traditional let's build map and so it just comes across to me as a big waste of time.

Rating: 1.75/5.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Arcadia



Title: Arcadia
Link: https://www.gamemaps.com/details/7641
Author
Special KBS/2K Games/Irrational
Survivors: L4D1
Notes: A "Let's Build" map. Best played with human companions. Unlocking the pipe wrench may crash your game.




Arcadia is a single-map let's build campaign that takes place in the underwater city of Arcadia, a location from the first BioShock game. The recreation is faithful to the multiplayer version of the map (seen in BioShock 2) and contains a lot of custom details and homages to the original BioShock game. Obviously, it has Left 4 Dead 2 elements and doesn't take liberties with different gameplay elements, it simply uses Arcadia as a backdrop for the let's-build concept.



"Let's-build" maps are interesting for variety. They are essentially goal-oriented survival maps, which expands upon the element of holding out against never-ending waves of  infected, while also giving you a goal to shoot for. It also deals with the concept of item progression very nicely. Essentially you must unlock each weapon and item you want, and in order to get the higher tier items, you must first unlock a certain number of lower tier ones. To unlock one you simply have to hover over the item in a list or chart, and then hold the use button until it unlocks. In this case it usually takes anywhere from 15 to 20 seconds to unlock a weapon, then an additional 5 seconds to equip it. If you switch between weapons in the chart, your previous weapon will be dropped so a bot can pick it up. The same concept holds for unlocking medical supplies and other weapon supplies such as ammo piles and laser sights. Additionally, there are a couple of medical stations that will heal you for 10 HP if you hold "use" on them for 5 seconds.



The goal here in Arcadia, after first supplying yourself with enough means to support your team and be able to survive, is to find certain resources throughout the map to construct a bomb to clear some debris, after which you must construct a bathysphere to leave the city. Finding the items isn't that much of a chore; there is one clearly sectioned off area (with a door that opens when you get close to it) that holds two of the items, while the rest of the bomb is created by taking fuses from four Big Daddys. Since this is a let's build map, it is absolute cancer without at least one other human player, preferably with microphone communication to best strategize and let everyone know the plan. I've played this twice, once with three other players and this latest time with one player, and both times strategy was key.


This is one thing I really like about the map. I enjoy instances in games where I know all the information and then coordinate accordingly. The locations of the three build trees (unlock branches) are in vastly different places, so you really have to be on top of things in terms of priority and letting the other players know your plan. When it works, it feels like you really were able to come up with a good plan. When it doesn't work, it doesn't really feel like it was the game's fault; you learn from your mistake and figure out what part of the plan you need to change for next time. 



There are a couple of things that keep this from being great, though. First off, the difficulty really hits you from the beginning. There is just a ton of infected hitting you from all sides almost constantly. You feel this especially with the fewer human players on the team there are. With only one other player, or God help you if you play this by yourself, you may have enough of a frustrating time that it's better to change the difficulty to Easy or start kicking tanks. This is compounded by the other issue, which is that it can just be a pain sometimes to unlock things on the build trees. From the game taking too long to register that you're holding down "use" on an item to outright not even displaying the chart, it sometimes really feels like this is a game mode that's more or less hacked in. When a split second is the difference between life and death, that second where the map doesn't register you as starting to unlock an item is a real pain in the ass.



Lastly, the submersible just takes way too goddamn long to build. Even without infected attacking it feels like it takes a lot longer than it should, as you're building a number of parts slowly. It will be an annoyance for the one person who has to hold "use" the entire time while everyone else covers him. It doesn't help that the bots tend to simply get stuck and aren't able to defend themselves. I suppose the author must have known this because the rescue closet works immediately and indefinitely, so I guess that's a plus, but it still doesn't rectify the initial problems I have with the map.



Difficulty: This is definitely a difficult map that borders on annoyance. I would go so far as to say don't even play this unless you can find another person to join you. It is that frustrating to play with bots. Even with a team, you may need to change the difficulty lower than usual at least to find all the resources. This is best played with a well-coordinated team and will be very frustrating the fewer players there are.

Final Verdict: For a let's build map, this is one of the best in my opinion, if not the best. However, it does have optimization issues. It can lag or even crash. The dispersal of build trees and the goal is good, but the constant waves of infected and frequent tanks is a bit of a detraction. If you're into let's build maps, this one is a must. It's a bit difficult to rate this as a campaign in general because it's so different, but I still recommend this to players who enjoy campaigns if they can find some people to play it with.

Rating: 4.1/5.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Aquarius



Title: Aquarius
Linkhttp://gamemaps.com/details/2488
Author: Richy221
Survivors: L4D2
Notes: Just a cheap, long boss fight against an ugly huge machine.


Aquarius is a single-map campaign that is just a boss fight in a large arena against a huge machine that looks like a giant hamburger with flying orbs. This is a completely intolerable map because it takes ridiculously long to kill the orbs and the boss, the bots are absolutely helpless, the arena slowly loses platforms, and the campaign constantly sends hordes and chargers to try to deathcharge players.


The machine thing sprays out these hideous red beams that do damage to you periodically, as well as missing texture effects. This clutters up your screen and makes it difficult to see anything, not only when you're shooting the machine, but also when fighting the hordes and chargers. This makes playing this campaign, let alone seeing anything, excruciating.


I actually beat this with another player and after three retries, we eventually destroyed the power core. All that’s left is just kill a tank, kill a witch, board the helicopter and watch it circle around and the mission ends.

Difficulty: AIDS level difficulty. The boss hits you with random unavoidable beams, the arena falls out beneath your feet, the boss is nigh-impossible to kill solo, and the bots are absolutely useless, so for all intents and purposes it might as well be considered essentially impossible to play without a team.

Final Verdict: The concept is bad, the map is terrible, and the boss fight is even worse. This is literally one of the worst campaigns I've ever played. This map is literally just like taking a kick to the balls. Avoid this at all costs.

Rating: -2.5/5.

Apocalypse 2



Title: Apocalypse 2
Linkhttp://gamemaps.com/details/17038
Author1SG.Heartless
Survivors: L4D1
Notes: From the same author as Escape From Toronto.



Apocalypse 2 is a five-map campaign that is probably a port of a L4D1 campaign. It is fairly extensive but very simplistic and ugly. The maps mostly all succumb to the same issues, that there are too many ideas and they're not implemented well. There are several environments and they mostly look like a first trial run through making them. The environments are relatively unrelated and there isn't an adequate feeling of sense between the transitions. They're not unrealistic enough to be considered abstract but not realistic enough to represent anything real. Instead it just seems like a bunch of poorly made sections.


There are lots of entities and a lot of shit flung at a wall to see what sticks and the answer to that overall is not much. This kind of results in a ton of open areas and empty rooms. There are some semblances of okay environments, such as an underground tunnel or a sewer that isn't too bad, but the open areas outdoors are all far too big to be challenging.


There are plenty of places where you can peer out over the edge of the world or where there aren't player brushes where there should be. What this means is that you can easily go out of bounds. This is easily reached just by not knowing the way. Very rarely are there actual indications of where to go, so often you'll be running around just trying to figure out where to go. The majority of the time it is not in a building unless it's very obvious.


The best part of the campaign is the sewer section since it's wide enough to give you space to move but also in tight enough quarters for it to actually be kind of a challenge, and even better, there isn't any water to slosh through. Unfortunately this leads to yet another blocky, ugly section that doesn't make much sense.


The fourth map is huge, very random, and full of monstrosities of buildings that make no sense, are incomplete, and aren't even necessary to go into, yet they're huge and have random details. It's hilarious how incredibly easy it is to reach areas you're not supposed to get to but when trying to figure out the actual direction of the map, it's quite headache-inducing because nothing indicates a correct path. I managed to get outside the boundaries of the map just by thinking I was going the right way.


The finale is pretty horrendous because it's a huge bridge map that doesn’t tell you anything about what it expects you to do. The idea is to go down one side of a bridge, climb up some ladders to turn a lever, cross the bridge, do the same thing on the other side, then climb into a barge that magically appears for some reason. It has tanks mysteriously disappear when running from them because the map is so big. The outro is really weak and once it’s done, there’s nothing exciting or fulfilling at the end.


This campaign is really weak and honestly looks like someone cleaned up some discarded scrap maps that wasn't ever intended to be released. Everything technically works, but there's just nothing challenging about it except trying to navigate the poorly directed, oftentimes poorly crafted designs of the maps. None of the saferooms had ammo piles, just a stock of new weapons, which was a weird and unnecessary design choice. There are very few director hints, though I noticed quite a few custom models. It also incorporates the “Funny Louis Voice Mod” as well as some other sounds that were not as funny (such as farting when you save or heal a player, swearing from the common infected).


Difficulty: The most difficult part is the first map, which withholds any weapon from players until the halfway point. Otherwise it's just a pain to figure out the direction you're expected to go. The maps are so big that special infected and commons shouldn't pose a problem.

Final Verdict: For people who love post-apocalyptic settings, you could do worse than this one, but I just don’t think there's that much to enjoy from it. It’s not a completely broken or horrible campaign, but There may be errors for models. It's incredibly mediocre, ugly, directionless, and not very fun in my opinion.

Rating: 2.35/5.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Path To Exit



Title: A Path To Exit
Linkshttp://gamemaps.com/details/19892http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1331266928
Author: Kryogen
Survivors: L4D2
Notes: N/A



A Path To Exit is a three-map campaign that has an abstract setting. It mostly takes place indoors and all of the areas are blocky and primitively geometric, as in the above example (the first room past the starting point). In addition, the walls, platforms, floors, and ceilings are crudely textured and look very basic in style. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it fails to make good use of the Source engine's much higher capabilities, as well as the standard Half-Life 2 textures that were put to better use in so many other campaigns. The saferooms in particular are incredibly basic and feel like so little work was put in to make them feel lived in that it's almost confining.



There were few problems with directionality. Lighting is tends to be on a "hit you over the head" level, with standing lights pointing extremely bright beams in the area you're supposed to go. Again it contributes to the feeling that only the most basic things were added. An adequate number of directional arrows are included for good effect and the game instructor messages are sufficient.



The first two maps contain areas that fall into either bright and well-lit rooms or very dim and extremely dark ones. These are used to good effect for contrast, although it's very clear that the concepts behind the rooms were given more thought than how they work in L4D2. That is, these maps don't promote any special kind of challenge or difficulty in the game, as it doesn't seem like the inclusion of infected, common or special, pose any particular challenge at all.



Rather, it's pretty obvious that the first two maps were created with certain puzzles in mind. They're very basic to figure out, such as shoot the floor or jump over/crawl under damaging wires, etc. These are easy to figure out and at most they entail pushing a button at the end of a path. There was just one alcove that eluded me for a bit because it's hidden and you can't proceed without finding it. I appreciated this break from linearity but everything still looks crude, blocky, and unrealistic, so it just seems conceptual rather than something interesting.


The third map is literally just a holdout in, again, a very primitive setting. There were several invisible wall sections in the previous maps where only infected could come from, but this is made very obvious in the finale. The holdout location is actually here designed with strategy in mind, but it's so easy that you'd have to be brain dead to find it legitimately challenging. On top of this, the buildings don't even have anything other than the wall facing you, so it's very clearly just made for the simplicity of it without much care for polish or visual quality.


This looks and plays somewhat like the typical Chinese map without all the bullshit. It's very easy and not much to look at, but it has some basic concepts of what it wants to be, just without any polish. It's serviceable though mostly too easy. I do think it could potentially work well for mutations, such as Tank Attack (from Rayman's Mutation Mod), Hard Eight or something with a bunch of hunters. The standard way through is just not as rewarding as it could be. I get the feeling that this is the author's first attempt at a map, and that's very clear here. Otherwise, there's not too much wrong with it, it just feels like there isn't much to it. Resources are distributed well but the design isn't polished to deal with certain facets of L4D2. For example, defibs are strewn around because the author must've figured out that the bots will kill themselves off ladders, rather than the ladder being fixed in some way.


Difficulty: Pretty easy all things considered. The only sticking point may be finding all of the buttons to proceed in map 2, otherwise no concerns here. Regular players may find it more rewarding to start on Advanced difficulty.

Final Verdict: A crude and abstract 20-minute campaign, but A Path To Exit has some kind of semblance of a vision nonetheless, and doesn't have any bad tricks or traps. Easy, short, and not very polished, this is probably more valuable as a backup map for some mutations than for campaign. Adequate enough for a one-off if you're desperate for a new map, otherwise skippable.

Rating: 2.76/5.

Amsterdam



Title: Amsterdam
Link: http://www.gamemaps.com/details/4041
Author: Undetermined
Survivors: L4D1
Notes: Unfinished campaign, aka Amsterdamn.


This is a campaign with two working, completed maps and a third unfinished map. As its title suggests, it takes place in Amsterdam on a lake and through some houses, restaurants, and sewers. Since it's only two maps, it's fairly short although the maps are made decently competently. Some wooded areas open up to a more urban, residential area with some interesting architecture that is somewhat reminiscent of European style, including older style street lights and cobblestone streets. The atmosphere conveys a humid, misty morning or evening and although it's nice at first, it's fairly gray and monotonous after a while.


The most noticeable thing that drags this campaign down is that there are no primary weapons in the first map at all, even though there are witch spawns. This looks like one of several probable oversights on the part of the author. The directionality is in some cases also somewhat problematic, when a lot of pointless wandering around in an apartment building or sewer doesn't really yield any results and you're just waiting to run into an arrow to tell you which is the right way.


Some of the areas show promise, such as some creatively designed restaurants and an interesting sewer design. However, it gets marred either by directionality issues, lack of resources, or things looking too bland overall. The second map ends with a short gauntlet run in a small rock venue to find an alarm to turn off. Again, things look pretty boring and dark here, which is understandable since this may just be an alpha of a campaign that was never finished. Ammo piles and tier 1 weapons were scattered throughout the second map, while throwables were nearly non-existent. Ultimately the goal was to make the way around a crashed subway car (I guess it's supposed to represent a trolley) in the middle of the street, which didn't make much sense.


Difficulty: This campaign's difficulty is fairly average, the only thing that makes it tricky is the lack of primary weapons in the first map and lack of tier 2 weapons in the second.

Final Verdict: This campaign has promise but still only strives to reach good quality. The areas overall are passable but since it's only two maps, there's really no point in playing this unless you absolutely have to.

Rating: 3.41/5.