Swamp Fever is great. Dead Center is mediocre. Dark Carnival grows on you. The Parish is boring (except for the bridge escape). But Hard Rain is the best campaign in Left 4 Dead 2. Why?
1. Retracing Your Steps
Hard Rain is the only L4D2 campaign that sees the survivors journeying from Point A to Point B, and then back to Point A again. When I first heard that I would be playing the level as a loop, I thought, “Groannn…this is going to be boring as hell. Why can’t every level be like Swamp Fever which is AWESOME?!?”
I stand corrected. Seeing the level from the reverse perspective is like being in a state fair fun house, except zombies replace carnies and you’re not worried that the roof might collapse on your head seeing as it was hastily constructed over the weekend BY CARNIES.
Knowing that you will have to retrace your steps also causes you to play the first half of the level differently. Rather than using every health kit in sight in order to frustrate the guy who keeps his voice chat button held down the entire game, you have a good incentive to leave some behind for the return trip. You may be leaving this safe house with only 50 health right now, but you’ll be relieved you did when you stumble back in with 5 health later. Unless that voice chat guy gets it first…damn.
2. The Rain Effects
Hard Rain isn’t truly Hard Rain until the second half of the campaign. Once the survivors find the gas cans they need…cue the chaos.
This ain’t your little sister’s spring shower…it’s HARD RAIN. The torrential downpour not only obscures your vision, it gets so loud it can drown out the voices of your teammates. Hunter got you pinned in the cornfield? Scream all you want into that Logitech headset…no one can hear you cry through all that HARD RAIN.
Unless, of course, your computer can’t handle the shader settings required to see the HARD RAIN. If that’s the case, you’ll probably hear Nick scream, “Here comes the rain!” and wonder what the hell he’s talking about because all you see is a muddy gray filter applied to the sky that looks suspiciously like ass. Probably time to upgrade the rig, champ.
3. The Sugar Cane Field
Some people gripe that Hard Rain’s elevator wait is the campaign’s only crescendo event. Maybe so, but trying to navigate your way through the rain-drenched sugar cane field is like the most intense crescendo event had a baby with the bridge run finale in The Parish. A CRACK BABY.*
Getting through the cane field would be hard enough without any rain. The plants are taller than eye level and they perfectly mask any oncoming zombies until they’re already clawing at your face. Not to mention any Special Infected who are guaranteed to show up and make your life miserable. I’m looking at you, Boomer.
Anywhere else, you can count on me picking off your roly-poly ass from a mile away. But in the cane field? I spin around and there you are, puking green goo all over my screen. Of course, half the time I shoot you before I even realize what you are, and have to suffer through the mocking “Shove boomers before shooting” message on top of the fact that I am currently lying on my back, drowning in a mob of every zombie that spawned since the safe house, and my stupid pistol only shoots 15 FREAKING BULLETS before I have to reload?! FML.
Add in the aforementioned HARD RAIN that conceals every hint of witches until that sinking moment when you realize you just knocked one in the face with your flashlight, and you get the picture.
4. The Wandering Witches
Everyone remembers the first time they played Hard Rain. It looks like this:
Wow, I’ve never seen a witch this early in a level before. Maybe the Director really hates us. Hey…why is she walking around? That’s weird. Just try to run around her anyway. WHOA, back up, she’s coming this way! OK, OK, I think we’re good, just keep running along this fence…wait! How’d she get over here?! Is she teleporting or something?? Watch out! OK, stick together around this corner…GOOD GOD WHY ARE THERE 50 OF THEM AGGGHHHH [death].
Wandering witches are good for 2 reasons:
- They keep you on your toes.
- They give you an excuse to run ahead of your group like an adrenalin-fueled, shotgun-toting Bruce Campbell. Not only are you a one-man death squad, but you won’t hear a single teammate complain about your hero tactics or your distance from the group, as long as you keep showing witches the best end of your boomstick.
5. The Finale
Hopefully you kept the whole “retracing your steps” thing in mind, because Hard Rain’s finale finds you right back where you started: in the Burger Tank restaurant by the river. So unless you threw every pipe bomb, molotov cocktail, and bile jar in the building right before healing yourself four times in a row on your first time through (remember: this IS acceptable behavior if it annoys the voice chat guy), you should have some things to work with here.
You’re going to need them too, because this finale ensures a frantic pace by squeezing you into the tight confines of the Burger Tank. If you have any sense, you’ll get on the roof, where you’ll hopefully find a few extra goodies and stand some chance of spotting Special Infected before they can force you into a horde. A winner’s strategy revolves around watching for Smokers that sneak up from behind, hauling ass back up the ladder after dropping through the hole in the roof to reload, and using whatever you can find to set Tanks on fire as soon as possible.
And, of course, that bastion of self-preservation, adrenalin. Don’t let anything stand in your way of acquiring an adrenalin shot before the whole shakedown starts. Because just like in any finale, no matter how much your teammates may curse, it’s all about getting YOU onto Virgil’s boat.
I don’t care if it’s your mother that’s tied up by a Smoker and you could free her with a single machete swipe; the second you hear that music change, you jam that needle into your leg and book it to the boat. She’ll get a nice “in memory of” message during the credits, and you can tell her I said to stop swearing.
P.S. Bonus Reason #6: The campaign shares a name with this blight on modern cinema. Christian Slater FTL.
*Crack is not a joke.