In my reviews I stated that the various campaigns of Left 4 Dead felt like disconnected events rather than an ongoing story, which is certainly correct when viewed as criticism, but technically there is a consistent narrative to the game. Post-launch Valve released the Crash Course campaign to stick together No Mercy and Death Toll and here we have The Sacrifice, which explains exactly why Francis, Zoey, Bill, and Louis end up having to be evacuated over and over and over again.
Picking up at the finale of the Blood Harvest campaign, The Sacrifice takes the crew to a military outpost where they are held captive for research into the nature of the flu and why it doesn’t seem to be affecting our heroes much. This segment serves to fill the gap between Blood Harvest and the campaign that shares this comic’s name, so of course things go horribly wrong at the outpost and the survivors need to stage another escape.
The two games are famous, in part, for their use of environmental storytelling and dynamic dialogue. All the storytelling is handled within gameplay, never taking away control from the players until the moment they hop into the rescue vehicle and speed off. This means the comic has the unique opportunity to do some world-building and flesh out the characters using more traditional storytelling methods. Especially fantastic are the flashbacks that show how each of the four survivors dealt with the initial spread of the infestation, with Louis’ part in particular standing out as a cool surprise. A feat that couldn’t be accomplished within the design of the actual games.
While the backstories help further endear the cast and the events that transpire at the outpost are pretty cool, overall the story leaves a lot to be desired. Characters act very unlike themselves in several scenes, including a terrible part in which Zoey and Bill randomly decide to assault a soldier, without any kind of greater plan. They weren’t trying to escape or anything, it was just a baffling sequence to give the writer an opportunity to explain the oxygen masks the soldiers all wear. Zoey as a whole is presented as more of a sexy, badass action girl, spending most of the story being uncharacteristically angry, and I am also not a fan of how improbably incompetent the military is made out to be. Seriously, how can they not know about special infected? Have you seen how many of those bastards are lurking around?
While details like that may be easy to ignore for some, the quality of the art is a much bigger problem. The stylized look doesn’t quite match Left 4 Dead to begin with, and a lot of it feels rushed and messy. Characters can look wildly different between panels, with Zoey (again) sometimes looking almost twenty years older or five years younger, again varying from panel to panel. Details like eye colors keep changing and others, like Francis’ ink, is just absent completely.
Many action scenes, such as the one pictured above, also read chaotically and are really unclear, hampering the enjoyment of what should be some really tense moments. By contrast, calm scenes that focus more on quiet horror rather than bombastic action fare much better, such as the few moments that involve witches.
How much can you complain about a free comic book? Well, about this much really. The issue with The Sacrifice is that it has noble intentions and especially the back-stories for the survivors is an excellent addition to the Left 4 Dead experience. While replaying the game I was confused as to why I remembered the cast so fondly despite their lacking characterization, and having read this comic again, I was reminded it was all because of this. I even remembered this comic as being the bee’s knees, but looking more closely now the art is just a total mess and most of the story isn’t far behind.
If you cared enough about the two games to want even more Left 4 Dead, then The Sacrifice is not great, but it does some things well enough that a fan ought to at least breeze through it once.