The Unfinished Campaign – Dam It

Dam it is, as the title suggests, an unfinished Left 4 Dead map, made for the original game, not the sequel. According to the site where it was released, this three-part campaign was supposed to fill in the gaps between Dead Air and Blood Harvest. After all, at the end of Dead Air, the finale involves you filling up a plane with fuel so you can take off and fly to safety. Knowing Left 4 Dead, that never lasts.

This campaign is designed to have its own unique bits, that required their own scripting in the Source engine to work. Of course, being unfinished means that these bits and pieces aren’t added, and the release of Dam It as an add on rather than a finished DLC means that many of these unique features aren’t added in this playable version.

What you end up with is an obvious unfinished beta. It definitely IS playable, but it all feels very dead, and has no polish to speak of. The original map was planning to have special trigger points, like Smokers setting off smoke alarms, explosive barrels, spreading fires and a bridge that breaks if you kill a boomer while standing in it. Unfortunately, only the explosive barrels exist in the playable version, which work exactly like explosive barrels in Half Life 2. It turns out AI really like to shoot them by accident, probably because they don’t know not to shoot them, the same way they know not to blow up gas canisters.

The campaign length though is respectable. A first time playthrough might take you 30-45 minutes if you’re an idiot like me who gets lost easy. Someone like aabicus could probably speed-run it in about 20 minutes. The majority of the campaign’s meat though is in part two, which feels a lot longer than the first and last parts and features its own mini-finale before making you have to tackle the hydro-electric dam.

Part one of Dam It is relatively simple. The only current issue you might have in this build is that some people might shoot the explosive barrels. It’s not very clear where you’re supposed to go, and this section of the map is incredibly bare-bones. The start in particular, you can see straight into the abyss outside. It plays out in a pretty standard way for a first level, just a bunch of walking really to get a feel for the environment. The explosive barrels only make a small part of the first stage and are quickly abandoned. The stage ends with a run to a country house, through a very wide open field which has a tank in it. You pass through the apple orchard here, but it doesn’t really feel like anything special, especially when you can just follow the road.

Part two is more exciting, with a slightly more varied tone to it. You start off on more country road before you come across the bridge that’s supposed to collapse if you kill a Boomer on it. This doesn’t happen though (and it’s not scripted to either)  and you can cross the bridge with ease. You can also wade into the river – the intended route if the bridge does collapse – but everyone knows that’s a bad idea. You then find yourself on some open road, based on an actual highway, before ending up in a forested trailer park. It’s meant for camping and things like that, and is particularly dark, with low visibility. I missed the sign for the safe house the first time round and had to backtrack a little, but it’s not too tricky. There are a LOT of places special infected can spawn, particularly behind trailers, but that’s countered by there being plenty of campsites with molotovs and pills you can pick up. Clearly everyone around here just did drugs all the time.

You then have to pass through a burnt area. The burnt trees can trick your vision, and both times I played, a witch spawned around here – probably just coincidence though. There’s a burnt house in the middle but you can avoid the infected that hide there, or just ignore the house completely, and walk round, avoiding the puddles of mud and random burning things.

You then come to the mini-finale. Basically, some heavy logs block your path, and you have to turn on a generator for a crane to move them. On the official page, it’s supposed to split the players up, but I really don’t see any need to do so – all four of you can go to the generator and run back to the watch tower to camp there until the panic event ends. Really, it’s probably the weakest part of stage two, a blockade that could easily be climbed over. A few more meters and you make it to the dam.

The finale is an unusual one. The first thing you have to do is get to the damn via what I think is a pumping room or something, looking like an untextured version of the middle of ctf_turbine. For reasons unknown, the path to the dam itself is blocked by wooden palettes and you have to burn them using a gas canister, causing a horde and a tank to attack. I think in the final version, it’s supposed to be a door with an alarm that goes off when you open it, but otherwise I don’t know.

You then move into the actual dam. You’re presented with a long corridor separated into three parts, some weapons and gas canisters, and a radio-like box that all looks somewhat temporary. Activating the radio-like box causes a set of heavy doors between each part to slowly close – getting trapped behind the closing doors kills you. Once the two sets of heavy doors are shut, a door blows open and you can escape through to an elevator shaft. The door seals shut once everyone’s in.

Now, the elevators are a bit… funny. They’re actually invisible, and the AI survivors do not path into the elevator, you need to push them in. You can’t activate the elevator until everyone is in, and there is no prompt telling you that, but in that room, you’re actually perfectly safe from infected.

Once you get the elevator going, you have to walk along a very high up ledge to get to a second elevator that takes you to the top of the dam. Watch out for Smokers.

When you reach the top, more and more infected start to spawn. You need to press a giant yellow button to open a large gate, which summons a horde and a tank. There are several item spawns nearby – some guns, an ammo pile and pain pills. You then rush through the gate and have to press another button, which summons a second tank and a second horde and also closes the gate you just walked through. After a few seconds, a gate to nowhere opens up and a third tank spawns. Kill that and run to the path to nowhere and the campaign ends.

Now, with that summary out of the way, it’s worth noting a few extra things. There are very few hints on what you need to do. No hints for the mini-finale in part 2, and no hints at all for the elevators, the radio thing inside the damn or the giant closing dam doors. Weirdly, the game also doesn’t count your statistics. The normal post-campaign stats screen comes up with 0 or 0% for everything, so clearly something hasn’t been wired up. Although weirdly, you do get the stats on the loading screen in between stages, so I don’t know what’s up with that.

The eeriest thing though is the lack of dialogue. Because the map is unfinished, no dialogue for the map was ever included, which means there’s no spoken prompts at all, outside of the generic reloading/special infected/items/friendly fire cries. This makes everything feel incredibly cold and dead and only adds to the obvious beta feel of everything. You walk through the campaign in complete silence.

There’s one last thing to consider – playing this map in Versus mode. I can’t tried Versus mode (I actually despise it) but I’m going to speculate anyway. If the finished map’s scripted areas worked, infected players would actually stand a much better chance against the survivors, they could make a lot of use of the more cramped areas, or force survivors to have to kill them to trigger panic events, like the smoke detectors in part one. The addition of areas like the low-visibility apple field and the wandering, hard-to-see burnt areas could also come into play. Unfortunately, as it is, I doubt Dam It will catch on in Versus mode.

There is a huge amount of potential in Dam It, and really, it’s a shame that it’s unfinished. I hope that someone, maybe even Turtle Rock themselves, gets round to finishing it and polishing it up and making Dam It into its own unique campaign.

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