2 Curated Mods

Mark Staun Poulsen
LinkedIn: mmarksp

Is Left 4 Dead 2 from 2009 still a relevant game? Preposterous question, I know. I want to take the chance to highlight an important aspect contributing to the longevity of this old game. Or maybe just to share something I find exciting: mods. Short for modifications, these are created by hobbyists for players by using the commercial product and creative design of a released game as a platform, ranging from a simple texture or sound file switch in a game to an overhaul and conversion of the core design. Popular games for mods are (still) Skyrim and Minecraft. 

In Left 4 Dead 2, you play as a survivor in a first-person zombie shooter and work together with 3 other players to defend yourself against hordes of screaming zombies. The gameplay is hectic and requires that players manage and control a crowd and avoid chaos. The game is really good, and it is still hailed as one of the great shooters out there. Its design ideas have resurfaced in popular games such as Back 4 Blood and Warhammer: Vermintide.

The game has also given way to its own fan community of hobbyist modders for 13 years. They have been capable of taming the underlying source engine to develop and release new original content as certified mods (maps, game modes, skins, sounds and more for you to install for free). If you look through the impressive catalog of mods in the Steam Workshop files or on gamemaps.com, you will find a vast abundance of impressively odd ideas. For example, you can squeal in horrible delight as you pick a fight with Shrek while listening to “All Star”; you can turn your character into a velociraptor and gun down a horde of zombie Teletubbies; you can also take a stroll through Silent Hill 1, uniquely designed for L4D2, forcing you to play the frantic game more conservatively and thus increasing the horror; or you can even try a mod I developed for my bachelor project called Witness, that offers a new game type in which you are (almost) hindered from hitting and killing zombies and vice versa – crazy!

But I have two main recommendations:

Rayman1103’s Mutation Mod

Game changer. Literally. The “mutation” mod offers many wacky and strange new game modes to play. Each one is scripted and designed by using Left 4 Dead more as a platform to experiment with than as a recipe for design conventions. The results are many memorable and unfair game types that will make for a fun time together with friends. 

In Suicide Boombers, all zombies are removed except the boomer, and you are incapacitated from performing any attacks against them. Instead, you must keep running through the levels, while an infinite number of these invincible, player-targeting, t-posing, burping flesh bombs float towards you and explode in a roar of fire upon reaching you. True horror. In Plague of the Dead, the running speed of zombies has been reduced, and they now slowly limp towards you, infect you from just a single bite, and will only be stopped by a well-aimed headshot. Classic description, but it serves as a fresh variation to the core design of L4D – you must manage to keep your distance from the zombies even in close quarters, without getting overwhelmed by large numbers. In Psycho Survivor, there aren’t any zombies around. Instead, one player is pitted against the other three with the advantage of being invisible, and able to defeat the others in one hit with a knife. The other players start in different places on the map, carry guns, and must find each other to mount a proper defence. This imitates the legendary The Hidden: Source game mod for Half Life 2, and it works adequately for L4D2 as well.

Helm’s Deep Reborn

Prepare yourself for the siege of a lifetime. With a group of friends, you are all that stands between an endless horde of zombie Uruk-hais and the fall of Rohan. You also have guns. The design renegotiates the rules of Left 4 Dead 2 to construct a new siege-like game type, where you recreate the battle of Helm’s Deep in its stages: Defending the wall, falling back to the keep, and finally sounding the horn of Helm Hammerhand for a grand finale. The level is well crafted despite working within the constraints of a different game altogether. Indeed, I find that the awkward attunements at times serve to enhance the experience. Tip: Always keep a fire going once the wall blows up. Overall, 5/5, I felt like an elf as I gunned down zombies with a mounted .50 machine gun.

These are just a few mods and maps in a sea of many weird and sometimes remarkable creations. Taking the chance to forefront them helps us to get a better hold of the practices and products around which a game from 2009 can stay relevant among a community of players; mods have extended and expanded upon the game, in their own time, for more than a decade. This article simply promotes some content that has provided a lot of joy to my own playing over many years now, but modding around commercial games is an overall great topic for critical examination, and companies have had varied (sometimes aggressive) responses to players taking an active part in shaping their game products. 

I wonder how we can talk about modding in 2022, when curated live service games and accessible game engines abound. Interestingly, we might suggest modding for L4D2 to be a historical concept, something that has taken place at a certain time with access to certain technologies and platforms for distribution. I don’t think many players are creating and sharing varied content for the game anymore. Or perhaps I’ve just stopped looking. At any rate, I think it’s worth remarking that it happened.