There’s a cutting internet joke that Valve doesn’t know how to count to three. You only have to look as far as Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and—dare I say it?—Half-Life 2 to see the truth of this (side note: does Dota 2 count?). No matter how many years pass and how many times Valve’s head honcho Gabe Newell teases a game with a ‘3’ in the title, it hasn’t yet come to pass.
Hopefully, that’s about to change. Late last month, Turtle Rock Studios listed a job for a Senior Level Designer. Normally, this wouldn’t matter much, except that Turtle Rock is the studio that built the original Left 4 Dead and then there’s some of the phrasing of the job ad. This includes things like “globally known franchise”, “unannounced AAA title”, as well as “competitive and balanced map layouts”.
The internet (and me) reckon it points to Left 4 Dead 3. I’ll readily admit I’m more hopeful than certain, but considering how excited the news makes me, let’s treat it as fact. For now. Besides, if Valve isn’t going to be too focused on making games anymore, surely they can outsource some of their IPs to talented devs to build for them. Running with that idea, here are some of my pitches for Left 4 Dead 3.
No matter whether you played it solo, cooperatively or competitively, Left 4 Dead has always been an asymmetrical experience and, at least for the first two games, one that involved two factions: human survivors vs zombies. What I reckon would be a cool addition to Left 4 Dead 3 is a third faction. In my mind, it’s the military playing the stereotypical zombie-story role of trying to either clean up the mess or stop it from spreading further—either way, that doesn’t bode well for human survivors—but a third faction could just as easily be another group of survivors.
Personally, that’s not as exciting to me because that means two of the factions are identical, but it still presents interesting gameplay possibilities. Given the power of new-gen systems—and, let’s face facts: if Left 4 Dead 3 does happen, it’s going to be multiplatform—it’s logical that there would be more zombies. Hopefully, not just more of the usual easy-to-dispatch fare, but a mix of hordes and an increased count of those special infected, old and new. That increase in the number of brain-munching threats also means disparate teams of survivors would be incentivised to work together.
This way, there are opportunities for competing teams to work together and, at other times, there could be temptations to betray each other. Perhaps there are only a certain number of seats on an escape vehicle (or something similar) to ensure that distrust is kept at an all-time high throughout. Weapons, ammo and health could also be deliberately limited, but couple that with the prospect that you stand little chance of surviving without working with another team and things become a whole lot more interesting.
Make that third faction the military, though, and you could have similar situations where survivor and military teams have to work together to survive but, ultimately, the military still has to cleanse the place. Military players could be better equipped from the outset but slower, meaning they’re forced into fighting hordes more than survivors. Perhaps they could access shortcut pathways that survivors can’t to ensure that survivors feel hunted by zombie and soldier alike.
Another addition that could help add distrust could be an infection mechanic, similar to those seen in games that are based on that glorious horror movie The Thing. This could work atop the aforementioned double-survivor or third-military-faction options, too. The idea is that one player is randomly infected and will turn at some point. Maybe the player is made aware of it—for strategic purposes—or perhaps they’re kept in the dark so it’s as much a surprise to them when they turn as it is to their friendly players.
The infected player could turn at a certain point, likely into one form of boss zombie or another, or perhaps there could be partial antidotes that buy more time scattered around the map. If they’re located in optional places that involve tough fights, it might add a risk/reward for teams that have to balance saving everyone with the reality that they run the risk of losing everyone. Alternatively, it could be as simple as losing a teammate means they become a randomised special-infected character and are rewarded for dispatching their ex-teammates.
In terms of other ideas I think would be fun to explore, it’d be great to see Left 4 Dead 3 give the director role to a player, kind of like what was done in ZombiU, albeit with greater depth. This player would have an RTS-like overview of hordes and could have an economy of sorts that would allow for more hordes or could be saved to buy more bosses. Either way, having control over the where and when that zombie ‘squads’ attack, would make things even more intense.
As much as I want to believe that Turtle Rock is working on Left 4 Dead 3, I’ve had too much hope for a Valve game with a ‘3’ in the title for too long to put too much stock in it. Still, given the wait between sequels, I hope that the developer has ideas on how to elevate Left 4 Dead 3 beyond the iterative Left 4 Dead 2. What I’ve listed above is some of what I’d love to see in Left 4 Dead 3. What would you like to see?