Left 4 Dead was an amazing game when it was released. Developed by Valve South and released on Steam, the game would go on to win numerous awards and critical praise for its depiction of a zombie apocalypse with four survivors fighting to reach a safe haven. The game was incredible. Mixing a first-person shooter with elements from a survival horror. Not only was it an enjoyable shooter, but no two games were ever really the same. The system used a piece of AI called ‘The Director’ that would control when zombies would spawn and what rewards and pickups would be dropped along the way. It made each experience unique, even in their own tiny way.
So, the 2008 smash was followed up with a sequel, the originally titled Left 4 Dead 2. This game debuted in 2009 and was met with the same level of acclaim as the first, and also linked the narrative with the cross-play level ‘The Sacrifice’, a story that bridged the two teams together. The games were frenetic and rank (certainly in my book) as one of the greatest shooters of all-time. Not only are they fun to play, there’s a wit and humour that will keep you entertained all the way through. Imagine if Sam Raimi had directed the Dawn of the Dead movie and you get the idea.
So for the last eight years we’ve been patiently waiting for a sequel. The team behind the first two games have since left Valve and formed Turtle Rock, the company that brought us Evolve, so it’s highly unlikely we’ll be seeing a new entry in the franchise from these guys, but that doesn’t mean there’s not enough talent left at Valve to give us something new… something very new. A new take on the franchise.
It’s never going to happen… or is it?
So let’s start with a decent story. What would I do with the franchise if Valve decided to release the third part? Well, I’d change it up a bit. The problem with the first two, and it’s only a minor niggle, is there was no variety between the two. The characters were interchangeable and the maps all followed the same format with a slight variation of the end goal of each level – get to a car, get to a chopper, and so on. Well, i would give this new version a little twist to it, I’d throw in the flavour of making it a road trip. I’d keep it in the States, set it starting off in Texas, and then we’d follow a great road trip across the border to a safe haven supposedly existing in Mexico. Gaming has come on leaps and bounds since L4D2 was released so you could really flesh out the missions as you fight your way across the border to reach this legendary place. Not only this, but you wouldn’t just be restricted to just four team members… oh no, I’d go full-on with this and take a beat from Destiny and turn this into a shared world shooter. I’m not proposing a game similar to H1Z1 or 7 Days to Die, I’d rather see an experience where you can join teams to survive the haul south of the border, and also run into other teams along the way. Take the Director and make it huge – HUGE. Give us a living, breathing world of the apocalypse. Fill our play schedule with juicy raids and strikes against the undead. Weave a real narrative throughout that makes us feel like there is an actual purpose.
One idea I had, that I briefly touched on in the podcast attached to this blog (look for The Game Dump on iTunes if you’re curious), would be a mission in Mexico City. I imagined the Day of the Dead festival through the city. With the parade having never ended and the procession, now just walking corpses, going over the motions they would have taken in life. There’s nothing more creepy than the idea of an actual corpse wearing the flaking makeup and costume of a corpse. I would make this level essential, where you have to cross the city, but the numbers are too great to risk gunfire, so it’s a melee-only level, where the slightest noise, be it a car alarm, gunshot, or explosion could set off this diabolical horde that will steamroller over you if you’re not careful.
And what about characters? Whilst it’s good to have characters we can love and cherish, give us a bit more humanity to them. Make us really care about who they are and what they are doing, and why they are trying to survive. I’d keep the standard four-player teams, but for really big missions, like a supplies raid, you could maybe amp it up to six or eight members of the team.
So, how would Left 4 Dead 3 work? Well, I’d have a full map of the area that shows the route the players need to take to move from the starting point in Texas and reach their destination in Mexico. Along the way I would have story points that must be checked off, these story points would be vital to unlocking the next part of the map. Each story point would give you combinations to unlock better weapons later on in the game that would allow you to survive harder zombies and hordes. So, for example, you couldn’t just jump forward to a later level, even though the option would be there, you would be punished for doing so as surviving these later levels would require a certain level of weapons and boosters that would come from earning the combinations for safeboxes along your route. Then once you’ve got the weapons you can then jump back and forth between the story levels if you so choose. The same goes for ammo raids and strikes, you can join in with these, but thi will require you having the weaponry to be able to keep up. So let’s say for example you’re entering a warehouse that’s got a beefed-up zombie mutation in there, well, it’s been scaled as only weapons above X can hurt it, so sure you can give it a go, but without the right firepower to keep up you’ll soon be toast.
What about the central point? Well, that’s where you can work from one main depot. I’d have a Survivor Point A in Texas and Survivor Point B would be located in Mexico. The aim of the game is to connect the two so you can open up lines of communication again. That way you would have two places where you can fight out from. Survivor Point A would be for newbies, whereas to even reach Survivor Point B you need to have survived the hell to reach it.
The whole point of Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 though was the intense gunplay. And that’s something I wouldn’t want to see gone. I’d like to see elements of stealth thrown in there, like the Day of the Dead level, but the stealth would only serve a purpose… to build up for the eventual hell that would come from disturbing the horde. And oh how it would come. Imagine the amount of zombies you could have onscreen using today’s technology. Not only that, imagine the horde mechanics, it wouldn’t just be sprites throwing themselves at you, this would be a well-organised horde that would have a nature of its own.
Vehicles? No, I wouldn’t bother. I’d try and focus on the feudalistic feel of this new era. Society has fallen, so why shouldn’t our luxuries go with it? I’d be a bit tight with the ammo, too! Who wants bullets everywhere? Teach the players to learn to conserve their bullets and really think about what they’re doing before firing off a shot. Sure, it’s fun to unload bullet-after-bullet into the face of the horde, but how about incorporating a raid or two to get ammo for weapons. There’s a whole game to be built out there that’s a shared-world first-person zombie shooter and I think it should be Left 4 Dead 3.