Saturday, 24 January 2015

Valve Presents: The Sacrifice and Other Steam Powered Stories

"Remember that science rhymes with compliance! And you know what doesn't rhyme with compliance? Neurotoxin." - GLaDOS (Lab Rat)

Well, teambook month sees the return of the posts I know you all enjoy, the videogame tie-in. And it's time to stop playing the harpsicord to my falcon and to adjust my cravatte and put in my monocle, because this isn't just any videogame tie-in.  It's a Valve sponsored videogame tie-in, a company well known for their infrequent but superb games such as the Half Life and Portal series.  Just the presentation reeks of quality, it's a gorgeous, oversized hardback volume with thick glossy paper and superb reproduction.  It contains stories from Left For Dead, Team Fortress and an interquel between Portal and Portal 2.  You'd think from the name that Team Fortress would be the one I would be highlighting, but these stories are only half stories, they were designed so the they could be finished by how you played them online and thus are impossible to sum up if you have no in-depth knowledge of the game.  But they sure look pretty and a must if you are a dedicated Team Fortress player.  Luckily the main event here is the Left For Dead story "The Sacrifice" and this also involves a team so it's the one I am going to cover with a look at the Portal story (which is a team-up.. sort of) as a bonus extra.  Ready?

LEFT FOR DEAD - THE SACRIFICE: Left for Dead was an extremely successful zombie horror game released on the Xbox 360 and PC in late 2009.  You pick one of four characters - Francis, Bill, Zoey and Louis and fight your way from safehouse to safehouse against hordes of normal and "special infected" zombies. There wasn't much of a story provided in-game but Valve provided more background on it's website culminating with this 190 page comic filling in the backstories of the team thrown together by extreme circumstances as well as telling the story of the early days of the infection and the titular sacrifice made by Bill to save the rest of his friends.
The end of Bill at the start.
The story starts with a badly injured Bill stating he'd kill "another hundered people to keep you safe" regarding the rest of the team.  He's then attacked by three "tanks" (super powerful zombies) and goes out with one last smoke. We then flashback to a week ago where the team are having a fight with a gang of zombies.  The military arrives, hooray!  Falling back the team take out more special infected including a tank and make it to the prison vehicle.  It's a good scene that gives each of the four a chance to look badass killing zombies.  Inside the escape vehicle Francis sends out a note of cynicism, that they have been rescued three times before and it always went wrong.  The others try and dissuade him from his negativity but he just says that even if they do get to safety, "nothing will ever be the same again".
Zoey, Louis, Bill and Francis
We then get get a flashback to two days after the virus started.  Louis is at work in an office but he is the only one there.  He is talking to another collegue who refuses to come in because of the infection.

Louis: "What if this green flu burns itself out in a week? What if everybody got all excited for nothing? And the only two guys who stayed calm and kept the place was you and me!"

His colleague refuses so Louis goes to the bathroom and there has his first encounter with a zombie, who he manages to batter to death.  Then he goes and looks out of the shattered office window and the implications of the virus finally hit him.
Louis's story.
Back in the nearly present the team upon reaching the safezone are greeted by masked gunemen.  When Bill says something smart, one of them smashes him in the face with a rifle butt and they are told if they make a break for it they will be shot. Next the action cuts to two of the military discussing what to do with the segregated survivors.  One says he sees their very existence as "an act of aggression" and wants them killed.

In a jail-like cell, Francis and Bill start telling their guards about all the crazy special types of zombies there are.  We then see the man - Lt. Mora -who coordinated their rescue trying to deliver a report to a man called Everly about the things he saw, Everly says it's like a work of "fiction"  and tailor made to foster "dissension in the ranks."  Mora stubbornly says he saw what he saw and the survivors should be cut loose.  Everly disagrees and dismisses them.  Lt. Mora though starts plotting something, saying he has no intention of sacrificing his platoon.
The awful truth
Zoey is being seen by a doctor, she tells him she's been "bitten, scratched, bled on, puked on" but she and the others are immune.  When one of the soldiers agressively asks her to show one of her wounds to the doctor she grabs his gun and demands to know whats going on.  The soldier is terrified of her though.  Another gun toting guard arrives and Zooey gives up the gun.  The doctor finally is honest with her, they are not immune but they are carriers, and most likely have been spreading the virus as they travelled.

We then get a flashback to when it all turned to shit for Zoey. Her divorced parents after arguing over her decision to drop out of film school. Her father says she can join the force like him and that she is really good with firearms.  Suddenly a zombie appears and rips a chunk out of her mum.  her dad shoots it but another appears and bites him.  He shoots that one as well.  he then tells Zooey if she remembers the part in all the zombie films where one person had to shoot the bitten person before they turned.  And so she kills her father to prevent him becoming a zombie.
Zoey's tale.
Back at the military base, the doctor reveals himself to be a survivor too.  He wants their help to escape.

Doctor: "It's already not safe here.  Some of the soldiers.. They'll keep us alive as long as they think I can stop this.  When they figure out I can't... They're going to put us up against a wall and shoot us."

Then a lound alarm goes off.  Zoey says it will attract infected from miles around.  Lt. Mora and his soldiers are tooled up and relieve Everly of his command saying they have sounded the alarm for evacuation.

Louis and Francis are still locked up and (somehow) find out they were spreading the virus as they went.  Louis think this is why previous rescue attempts failed, that they infected those rescuing them.  Then they hear the alarm and he and Francis desperately try and talk their way out of their cell.  Then a Witch appears, she's a zombie who is insanely strong but will not attack if attacked first.  The soldiers heed Francis and Louis's advice and leave her alone.  For their expertise they are released, they then proceed to take down a Spitter earning the soldier's respect.
Louis and Francis get stuck in.
Bill and Zoey are fighting their way to the armoury using improvised weapons.  Once at the armoury they meet up with Francis and Louis and the soldiers with them.  After some good natured banter they and the soldiers plan their escaped from the compound.  One of the soldiers says their planned direct route to the train depot is suicide.

Bill: "Jeff, the four of us walked here from Philadelphia.  I think we can make it across a courtyard."

Francis then admits that the zombie apocalypse is the best thing that's happened to him.  And we get a flashback to him two days after the infection started.  He was something of a villain, robbing a store for a flatscreen TV.  hanging out with his gang, he goes for some alone time with a woman.  But she pukes on him and turns into a zombie.  His fellow gang member shoots her, and when Francis realises a full blown zombie apocalpse has started and hundreds are coming over, he makes his friends drag a jukebox up onto a nearby roof so he can have music on while he shoots them.
Francis's tale.
In the military storyline, Lt. Mora get's his mask ripped off and his squad refuse to take their chances with him and leave him to die.  Our zombie slaying team now fully armed set off for the train depot.  The bump into the armed but slowly zombifying Mora and Bill lays him out with a punch and they move on.  Mora is still alive, at least until the zombies catch up with him.

They bump into a Tank, Louis grabs a vehicle with a leaky petrol tank and rams it with it, bailing before it blows.  The survivors and the soldiers seperate and our heroes reach the train station under heavy zombie attack.  Back at the base the soldiers are being overwhelmed by zombies.  Zooey want's Bill to stop the train so they can save some. He refuses.  Later she confronts him.

Zoey: "Damn it.  I trusted you!  We let a doctor die, you asshole.  We let soldiers die.  And for what?  So we can run off to some island and hide?"
Bill makes a hard choice.
She says they could save more people with the train.  He says that they tried things her way and got locked up and nearly killed.

Bill: " We gotta look after our own or we will die.  That is as simple as I can make it."

She angrily says she wants her world back and who else is he going to leave behind to save himself.  This triggers Bill's flashback to just after the zombie infection began. He was in a vetrans's hospital undergoing an undefined proceedure.  Just as he is being sedated, zombies attack.  He manages to kick one of them's head off while still on the operating table.  Then after arming himself with some improvised weapons, he heads off out into the zombie infested night.  Which brings us back to the nearly present.
Bill's tale.
As they battle through the zombies, Zoey tells Francis she is furious with Bill but also that she thinks of them all like a family. They find a yacht but it is full of zombies and Louis gets his leg messed up finding this out.  So they find a less ostentatious craft with guns and a dead man aboard.  They need to lift the bridge blocking the harbour exit.  They find a generator and start it up and run back to the bridge as the noise of it rising brings them to the zombies attention.
So near, yet so far.
The generator stops when the bridge is half up and many, many zombies have congregated below them.  Realising they are out of options and not wanting the others to die, Bill leaps down and leads them away, getting to the generator and starting it up again.  He tries to get back but a Tank punches him hard and badly injures him and this is where we first came in with Bill dying from his wounds and under attack.  Realising he is dead, the other three sail away sadly, hoping to find a zombie free island to go live on (hopefully it won't end up like the Dawn Of The Dead remake for them).  The End.
Off into the sunset they go.
PORTAL - LAB RAT:  Portal and Portal 2 are both games that are difficult to characterise.  Viewed from a first person perspective you use a "Portal Gun" to create two portals in a room and teleport between them solving each rooms puzzle, often with the aid of special cubes and moving on to the next.  What has made the games so well loved was the quality of the script.  Your character, Chell never speaks, but you are constantly being hilariously needled by a homicidal computer AI called GLaDOS who is obssessed with testing, and you are her only test subject left. In the first game she even promises you cake. This turns out to be a lie though and she tries to kill you instead.  At the end of Portal it looked like Chell had escaped the facility, but Portal 2 starts with her in waking from some sort of suspended animation a long time in the future.  This comic tells the story of what happened between games as well as solving the mystery of the strange "dens" you find in some rooms covered in graffiti and rubbish.

Ratman: "Reality is a story the mind tells itself. An artificial structure conjured into being by the calcium-ion exchange of a million synaptic firings.  A truth so strange it can only be lied into existence.  And our minds lie.  Never doubt it"
Ratman, present and past
These are the thoughts if the main character ins this story, A schizophrenic scientist called Doug, or "Ratman" as he is known to gamers  He was an employee of the company that created the portal gun, testing chambers and GLaDOS.  He takes anti-psychotics to keep his head straight but because he has been eluding GLaDOS for weeks, he's had to ration them and has taken to carrying a Companion Cube around with him that talks to him.

His mental state is cleverly represented by the art and layouts.  In the flashbacks the story is neat, the panel borders are straight and simply aligned, there is only one colour used.  In his agitated present the panels are bright, chaotic and jumbled together. As Chell makes it to GLaDOS he takes his last precious pills to get his head straight.  His Companion Cube says "this will be the end of us".

As GLaDOS dies Ratman remembers back when they first built GLaDOS and how she would instantly try to kill all the scientists.  Later flashbacks shows they built a conscience for her (didn't work) and that the neurotoxin she used to kill everyone with was supposed to be for a run of Shrodinger's cat investigations.

GLaDOS: "Do you know that thought experiment with the cat in the box with the poison? Theory requires the cat be both alive and dead until observed. Well, I actually performed the experiment. Dozens of times. The bad news is that reality doesn't exist. The good news is we have a new cat graveyard."
With GLaDOS dead, Ratman can finally leave...
Ratman and his Cube reach the surface and "Freedom!".  But then he spots the unconcious Chell being dragged back into the facility by robotic arms. His Cube says he doesn't have to go back in after her, he says he must. "Then you really must be crazy" it says.  The Cube's voice begins to fade as the pills start to work.  He sees Chell asleep in a cryochamber but life support is offline.  He goes to where he can switch it back on and gets lasered in the leg and falls down a hole.  We get a final flashback to the time where GLaDOS has killed the other scientists but him, with GLaDOS somewhat peeved by his survival during the weeks since the deadly neurotoxin incident.  He breaks into the file room and searches for a suitable candidate to take GLaDOS on and highlights Chell's name.
....but he can't leave Chell behind to die.
Back in the present, Rat Man wakes up and talks with his Cube.  The Cube wants to know why Chell?  Ratman says he had a hunch. The Cube tells him he can patch Chell's life-support into the reserve grid:

Ratman: "But even if I do, there will be no wake-up date.  She'll be in there indefinitely.  So it's the long sleep.. or the long sleep.  And I don't know which is worse.  Forgive me."

It works and an exhausted Ratman decides its time for him to sleep too and he climbs into a cryo-pod possibly to die.  We finally see why he picked Chell, her evaluation report is left behind and it shows her tenacity is almost off the charts and that "Test subject is abnormally stubborn. She never gives up.  Ever."  And thus the mystery of Chell's reappearance in Portal 2 is solved in a rather melacholy little tale.  The End.
I wish we could have saved him in Portal 2...
So there we go. Starting with  "The Sacrifice", we have a perfectly enjoyable slice of zombie nonsense that can be enjoyed if you like zombies, even if you have never played the game.  The brooding, brown palette suits the story very well and the script is well written showing the affection this disparate group of people have come to feel for each other, while the backgrounds of them are brief slices of a world going mad and fallen over the brink of disaster.  If you are a fan of Team Fortress, the comics are great fun and highly recommended.  Actually though the most vital story here is the team-up between "Rat Man" and his Companion Cube.  How Chell ended up in suspended animation in the actual games is never alluded too, making this tragic little story the most interesting of the lot.  It is an expensive package overall though, as I said the presentation its gorgeous. Only Valve die-hards need apply here.


  1. anon here. i love portal! I always wondered what happened between games, now i know :) i haven't played the other two games tho, a half life 2 comic would have made the collection even more awesome!

  2. Hello G. Yes a Half Life comic would have been amazing. Especially one set between the games. I love Half Life 2, think I might go play it now!

  3. I'm concerned that the zombie comic encourages nicotine abuse.

    I'd go mad with boredom living on a zombie-free island. There would be no books. I guess I would adapt, but still...

    Actually, the way I feel today, I would welcome the zombie apocalypse. Bring it on! I mean, with some people you wouldn't even be able to tell the difference. It might be a bit of an improvement, you know?

    Portal is one of those games that I'd play if I had the equipment and the knowledge, you know? Like Skyrim. But not World of Warcraft, 'cos that stuff be worse than crack.

    I wish I knew what a calcium-ion exchange was. Sounds cool. I agree with Ratman — secretly, I'm an ultra-materialist. Change the physical arrangements in the brain and, for that brain, you've changed the reality it perceives. Like that student in the news who has permanent déjà vu. And I heard if you zap a certain part of the brain with electricity it can produce a religious experience. I guess reality is the illusion shared by the greatest number of people.

  4. Yes, I'd rather hole up in a library with a shotgun and a huge number of books than go to a zombie free island. I think if I was in America and had guns I'd be a bit like Francis and enjoy and good zombie apocalypse.

    Maybe next time you come round I'll show you Portal, the first game is great, the second game has a much bigger story and is so, so funny and sad at the same time. Plus it makes balloon animals out of your brain, which is good. It has a co-op mode but I've played that with myself, to get some acheivements and it needs a pretty adavnced level of concentration to do it splitscreen.

    WoW was worse than crack, because it's cheap and sociable and I once played it non-stop for 37 hours and passed out on the floor. It was all I played for nearly 4 years. Damn. I still miss it sometimes, but prefer my Xbox now.

    I'd heard that about the brain being able to "fake" a religious experience. Hell, even I have them sometimes due to certain med combinations and lack of sleep. I don't believe in them though...

  5. I'd really like to see Portal. I already know the song off by heart.

  6. Well, you may have to remind me but I would be quite happy to load it up and let you have a go next time you come over. It's deceptively simple to control, and the first game doesn't complicate things too much.