Remember when Valve used to make games? The Left 4 Dead series sits in the upper echelons of the zombie shooter genre, with the unique co-op angle proving impossible to replicate in the years after its release. Left 4 Dead 2 only refined the formula and is still played consistently on Steam. The game provides an unparalleled bout of adrenaline in Versus mode with your friends, where players take turns controlling survivors and zombies, crawling to the safe room doors, filling up and repelling tanks and having a whale of a time. Yet the game is about to turn 10 years old in November of this year, with no sequel in sight. Our only hope is Turtle Rock Studios themselves, who since splitting from Valve created the flash in the pan Evolve but are now focusing on Back 4 Blood, which seems to be a spiritual successor to the zombie-battering franchise which is loved by so many. Follow on as we run through some of the rumours spun about Left 4 Dead 3 and divine about what we would like to see in a potential sequel.
Left 4 Dead 3 Rumours
There have been a number of rumours pertaining to Left 4 Dead 3’s development, with many credible sources teasing its existence. The issue is the lack of official word on the matter, even after years of hearsay.
The first interesting tidbit arrived in 2014 thanks to an anonymous source posting a singular image to Neogaf with the garbled caption “jU$st fel acros myd esk, mbight b a thin.g”.
The image is a screenshot of an open Powerpoint presentation, seemingly an internal, confidential Valve document which showcases levels from Left 4 Dead 2 enhanced and rebuilt in Valve’s Source 2.0 engine. The main event appears to be the Plantation mission, the final stakeout in the Swamp Fever campaign. With no official word on the matter, we can’t be sure that this came from Valve, but given how well-made it looks, it must have been the work of some incredibly talented modders and developers if not.
If we flash-forwards to 2016 we can then address the wonderful investigative sleuthing of Tyler McVicker of Valve News Network, who collected a number of leaks from the Steam VR Performance Tool, which appeared to blow Valve’s entire future development plans wide open via a number of Source 2 files. As well as a “retired engineer” character found in the Left 4 Dead 3 directory, a new Special Infected is also referenced, known as The Nocturnal, whose abilities may have been tied to a day/night cycle, one of the features of the new engine. It’s worth checking out this run-through of the leaked content on the ValveTime website if you’d like to know more, which includes a potential Left 4 Dead test map, possibly bound for VR, and containing strings referencing a Moroccan lantern.
In what appears to be a gaffe on the side of Valve, references to the game (and Half Life 3, for Pete’s sake!) were found in the file directories, which led many to assume that the game was in development. Later that year, a tutorial posted to Valve’s official developer community website contained an image which referenced a ‘l4d3’ folder before it was swiftly replaced, too. Later in 2017, user Barnz posted a discussion thread to the ValveTime forum pointing to the portfolio website of one Moby Francke, an ex-Valve artist who appears to have drafted up some concept characters for a potential Left 4 Dead 3. The two characters are armed to the teeth and look fit for fighting zombies. At that time it was surmised that the previously leaked VR files matched the actual textures for the 3D models of these characters, further turning the rumour mill.
Earlier this year in April 2019 we saw perhaps the most credible leak yet in a series of woefully boring screenshots of a walled middle-eastern city. These were once more provided by Valve News Network host Tyler McVicker and despite lacking confirmation, it certainly lines up with the conceptualized character designs. The problem is that at this point, it looks like the project was probably canned, as the images are from an old 2013 build of the game. At this point, it’s probably not worth getting your hopes up about Left 4 Dead 3, but there is a chance it could still be the “flagship” VR game Valve has said will arrive this year, or one of the games in it’s wheelhouse given that they have said they are working on developing games once more. Here’s hoping!
Left 4 Dead 3 wishlist
1. New and returning characters
One of the Left 4 Dead series’ best features are the interesting and diverse cast of characters available to players. Though their backstories have previously been explored via easter eggs, external media and back and forth voice lines, characters like Louis and Bill have still become beloved in the eyes of fans, even appearing in other titles. Given the time since the previous game, Valve will have no doubt had time to dream up an even more unlikely teams of protagonists from all corners of the globe, not just America. The avenues for exploration of their moral code via in-game side missions, environmental storytelling and more have opened up significantly since the days of Left 4 Dead 2, and the concept introduced in The Sacrifice of losing a player as part of the narrative and making genuine choices mid-gameplay could certainly be expanded in the next game.
2. Intercontinental maps and biomes
As well as an even more culturally diverse cast, it’d be great to see the game spread it’s wings from North America and travel to other continents. Whilst Valve risk muddying the waters by making the campaign an international journey, perhaps a change of scene would be good for exploring different biomes and their related infected (see the clowns at the carnival and the context-specific swamp zombies.) Even if it was set in Europe, or as the leaks suggest, the Middle-East, it’d be a fascinating new lens to present the unique zombie apocalypse that Valve has crafted. We already know that iconic maps can come from humble beginnings like No Mercy’s claustrophobic hospital, so by taking a step back, perhaps we could be in for some even more death-defying set pieces.
3. New special infected types
As referenced in the leaks, The Nocturnal is evidence that Valve already had plans for more special infected beyond the already stacked roster of Jockeys, Tanks, Spitters and the like. It’s worth noting that zombie dog sound files have been found as cut content from the game, and more notably The Screamer was cut from the game, a special zombie that alerts the horde to its position by yelling. With enhanced logic potential and increased player-infected interaction, the gate is open for swathes of new enemy types that learn from years of iteration and play mind games with the survivors rather than being purely physical like the Tank or Hunter.
4. VR capabilities
Given Valve’s focus on VR with SteamVR, the HTC Vive and now the Valve Index, it’d make sense to see Left 4 Dead 3 offer some kind of VR support. Whether that means cross-play with PC players or a specific game mode for designated VR players, it’d be fascinating (if not nauseating) to zip around the map as a hunter, scaling buildings and leaping through the air to land on prey. It’s certainly possible to load up a VR player with the abilities of the infected, and given Valve’s rumored work on a Half Life 2 VR release, perhaps the tricky design issues of implementing shooter gameplay into VR might have been remedied by the point of its release, allowing VR players to exist in an asymmetrical map and contend with one another. It would certainly be an ambitious concept to pull off, but well worth it if it works.
5. Horde and director intelligence enhancements
Left 4 Dead’s AI director is by far and away the most impressive and ambitious part of the zombie shooter’s formula, a dynamic means to control the pacing and difficulty of each round of survival, as the players strive to get to the safe room and proceed to the next map. Even though the A.I. is still fairly unmatched as far as online asymmetrical co-op multiplayer goes, the mind boggles as to what Valve could do with the directorial systems in-game given enhancements in machine learning since the previous game’s release. Horde and special infected management as well as the spawning of Tanks and Witches could be even more clever and adrenaline-pumping than before. Beyond the infected, the director is also in control of items, map events like car alarms and rain and music, which is the main means to figure out if you’re about to get swarmed or not. Technically, this is the most tricky part to work on but if done correctly, even slight improvements upon Left 4 Dead 2’s already stunning A.I. base would be a welcome shock to the system for co-op shooter fans.