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February 07, 2014

Level Review: Dark Carnival (Left 4 Dead 2)


After conquering (or barely surviving) Dead Center, players arrive at the next big destination: Dark Carnival, filled to the brim with eerily happy music, merry-go-rounds, and clowns. 

I hate clowns.

Level Chronology: Second Level (Excluding DLC)

Difficulty: Fair to Crushing

Length: 5 stages, 10 minutes each, excluding retries.

Overview:

Stage 1: Highway

The level begins on a highway (hurr), littered with hundreds of abandoned cars, the first of which is your own. Your fancy blue stock car ran out of gas, and so now you have to travel the rest of the way on foot.

The Highway is very reminiscent of the first episode in the second season of The Walking Dead, where the survivors come across an abandoned highway filled with cars, except with less face-slapping stupidity on display.

Eventually the road curves over to the right, and players have to enter a motel area. The motel section also has a lot of Special Infected to contend with, like the occasional witch who always seems to block the way. Oops.

When players are through the motel, they descend into the swamps, where you have to strategically jump down a sharp declining hill to get to the bottom and not kill yourself on the way down. Through the swamp you go, but it has a noticeable downside; it slows you down significantly.

After ascending again, players finally get to the entrance of the eponymous Dark Carnival, known in-game as Whispering Oaks. A Horde Attack is likely to occur here. After you survive the aforementioned, players enter a trailer and move on to the next stage.

Stage 2: Fairground

The level starts off with, well, the entrance to the carnival! And what an entrance it is: In my playthrough whilst writing this post, Rochelle got grabbed by a Smoker, dragged into Spitter acid, and Coach got the heck knocked out of him by a Charger. All at the relatively small entrance.

After that, you pass through the food courts for a stretch and arrive at some stalls. Here you meet one of the more off-beat Uncommon Infected: The Clown. Shove them in the face and you get a "honk" noise from their noses. Actually kind of adorable, which makes it much sadder when you put a bullet in their non-existent brains.

Further ahead on the rooftops, you get some slides, which are super-cool to ride on whilst you're shooting Infected. It doesn't make sense to do that, but hey, you only live once, right?

Soon afterwards, you arrive at the merry-go-round. Now this is where things get interesting! As soon as you activate the ride, horde after horde of Infected set off in your direction. And I mean, hordes of 'em!

Right after plowing through them, you enter the Tunnel of Love!

...Yeah.

Stage 3: Coaster

So, in the Tunnel of Love (yeah), the first obvious change is that, while still linear, the section has many, vaguely maze-like twists, turns, and dead ends. The Survivors also joke with the whole setting, often ending sentences with "of love". For example: "Grabbing the shotgun, of love!", "Pushing the button, of love!", "Taking the pills, of love!", and so on (yeah).

After the nauseating displays of love (yeah), you arrive outside and hear a chopper. Hope = restored! Until you get to the Screaming Oak, a literal rollercoaster ride of chaos. You have to follow the rails of the ride until you arrive at your button pushing destination.

Let's just say that the journey to the button is often hilarious, frustrating, scary, and downright crazy until you finally slam the safe-house door closed. Phew!

Stage 4: Barns

So, after the craziness of Coaster, things cool down, just for a short bit, before getting crazy again as you travel through the Barns. Bumper Cars! 

Which don't move at all, but still, Bumper Cars! Okay, okay, moving on: After the Bumper Cars, you head out to find a couple of fun little distractions when Infected are not trying to gouge your eyes out, one being a test of strength which I never seem to get right, the other being a whack-a-mole spoof, and the other a firing gallery.

When you are done playing with the preceding distractions, you move on to a small corridor, with a gate you need to open first. The small corridor leads to another entrance, which is a safe-house. Simple enough, right?

No. Just, no.

Stage 5: Concert

After surviving the copious amounts of Infected in the previous section who seem to be coming out of a clown car (hurr), you make your way out through the backstage corridors of a concert stage, like the rockstars of the apocalypse. Except instead of mics and beards, you're wielding axes and chainsaws. Heck yeah!

Similar to Dead Center, most of the final stage takes place in one location. One heck of a final location. You are forced to start a rock concert and kill zombies to the tune of a discount ZZ Top known in-game as the Midnight Riders. Awesome!

When the concert comes to an explosive close, every single Infected and their mother, cousin, father, grandpa and brother swarm the place, just in time for the evac chopper. Players have to fend off a huge swarm one more time before finally making it to the finish.

Replayability/Memorability:

Well, as I've said before, the entrance had so many events happening that it's tough to forget. Poor Rochelle. Being dragged through acid by a sticky, long, gooey tongue and slowly dying of both hanging and being dissolved by acid. At least you weren't in a bathtub...

The rest of the level is a carnival ride from hell, but it's also just silly fun. It's hard to take this level seriously, and thankfully, Valve did not. There are so many areas where you can just goof off and have fun. And that makes it largely replayable. But strangely, the level is not that memorable.

Besides the groovy finale, there isn't much to the level I personally would like to revisit. In fact, nothing really sticks out in my head when it comes to this entire level.

Gameplay Tips:

The majority of the level is an endurance test. You have to stick together, else you're going to die. However, when it comes to the final stage, I can give you a few fun little tips.

For starters, spreading gas cans across the level is a really good strategy when the Tanks inevitably arrive for the big concert. Also, when facing the microphone, to your way right off-stage, is a forklift. When the tank arrives, STAY AWAY FROM THAT FORKLIFT!

Me and my oh-so-smart computer pals once bunched up near the forklift when an incredibly angry Tank came round and smashed it straight through the group, incapacitating all of us and ending the game within 2 seconds.

Otherwise, the best strategy is to stay on the stage and make a run for medpacks when there is a break in Infected numbers. When the chopper finally arrives, grab some Molotovs and burn the area behind you. Move in a close formation, firing at Infected until you reach the chopper.

Oh, and don't forget to save! Wait, no. Doesn't work here.

So that's it! I hope you guys liked my review of the second level. I'll see you guys next week with a new Content Rundown and Level Review!

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