Reviewing campaigns is a very subjective act of criticism. Personal play style, gaming experience, visual preference, difficulty settings, knowledge of the game and map design, and even mood and attitude play major roles in assessing the value of campaigns. As stated elsewhere, although I may have inside information about the efforts and attitudes of the map creators, at the end of the day my business is in reviewing the final product, not the process.
My personal play style and preferences may dictate that my map preferences clash with yours. Through the course of my reviews, you will undoubtedly disagree with some of my assessments. However, I have tried to be as objective and fair as possible. The kinds of maps I enjoy the most have a constant sense of forward progression. By their very nature, maps that aim to do this must be linear, but the best maps will disguise their linearity. I absolutely hate having to stop forward motion in order to hunt down a hidden object like a key, and I also generally hate backtracking, running around in circles, and putting things on other things in order to unlock the next area.
Each campaign is evaluated by its merits played on Normal difficulty without Realism enabled on an unmodded server. This is the most vanilla style playable, the most common used by players, and therefore in my opinion the most appropriate to evaluate a set of maps. Campaigns play extremely differently on Expert than they do on Normal, and even more challenges are brought into the mix with Realism. I have therefore used the most casual and vanilla set of parameters available to me, in order to best emulate the playstyle of the average Left 4 Dead 2 player. Any problems experienced on Normal will naturally be greatly exacerbated on higher difficulties, and the fundamental problems will no doubt show themselves on Normal in the first place.
The following are the criteria I use for evaluating campaigns. The best maps will have:
- intricate, large-scale, and original level design
- careful attention to detail with regard to architecture, lighting, enemy placement, texture alignment, and resources
- a consistent theme, tone, or atmosphere with variety provided therein
- an immersive environment and a feeling that the survivors are really there
- unique and interesting events
- a logical progression in difficulty
- a rational and coherent progression of environments and locations
- obstacles that are challenging yet realistically overcome
- usually a clear goal or destination in mind
- a fun factor that keeps the player entertained and desirous to keep playing (this is the most significant factor, so even if a campaign looks brilliant but plays like shit, has intolerable mechanics, or is otherwise just not fun, it will get an appropriately low rating)
Even if it doesn't have any of that, a decent campaign should have proper functionality, meaning good bot navigation, no missing textures, no glitches or bugs, no floating objects, no broken stats, and (ideally) full compatibility with user addons.
My rating system is as follows:
5/5: Perfect campaign, and I mean perfect. Goes above and beyond anything in the official campaigns, unique and consistent tone and atmosphere, survivor dialogue, custom content, and other aspects give a real sense of immersion, lots of attention to detail, great optimization with no lag or framerate drops, absolutely no problems or room for improvement.
4.5-4.99: Fantastic campaign, as good if not better than the official campaigns, great personality, fun to replay, no logistical or gameplay problems, little room for improvement.
4.0-4.49: Great campaign, as good as most of the official campaigns, definitely above average, it’s clear that lots of time and effort went into making the campaign and that it was planned well; there may still some problems in places but overall the campaign is worth your time.
3.5-3.99: Between average and good, there are still things holding it back, it might be fun but not the greatest, or it can be meh but well-made. The higher end of these are recommended, while the lower can be gotten for a single playthrough (one-off) and then gotten rid of.
3.0-3.49: Below average to average campaign, it tried to be good but somehow missed the mark, bogged down with problems that affect the experience. Sometimes there are generally good ideas but the execution is dodgy, or some maps are plain bad and not fun though execution may be fine. The higher end of these are skippable while the lower are not recommended.
2-2.99: Plain bad campaign, poor level design, bad directionality, not fun, either too hard or ridiculously easy, suffering from design flaws and/or optimization issues. Not recommended.
1-1.99: Fairly awful campaign whose very conception, not just execution, is bad. Usually these have horrible bugs, terrible nav, and missing textures along with appallingly bad level design. Stay away from these.
0.001-0.99: Horrible campaign that has irreparable problems. Usually these are hideous, have game-breaking bugs, are incomplete or impossible to finish, along with being terribly optimized, no directionality, appallingly bad level design, and exceedingly poor bot nav. Most of these make you wonder if they were tested and none of them should be downloaded.
-5-0: The absolute worst of the worst, these campaigns are so awful that they will forever scar your soul. Avoid these like the plague.