Where is Left 4 Dead 3? Left 4 Dead 2 came around so quickly it felt like whiplash. Remember the 25,000 signature petition to boycott what was perceived to be a rushed sequel? Perhaps Valve took it too much to heart. It’s been the best part of a decade since four unlikely heroes cut a route through Savannah and New Orleans to rescue.
For more PC news, reviews and features go to the PCGamesN homepage.
There’s been the odd apparent leak to suggest that Valve might yet overcome their notorious difficulty with the number three - at least in this series. Most recently, Portal 2 designer Tristan Reidford enlivened a demo on VR Workshop tools with a glimpse of his ‘left4dead3’ folder, and somehow racked up more time on Left 4 Dead 2 in one week than there were actual hours in a week.
It’s suspicious, and excuse enough for us to power up the specula-tron and work out what we want from Left 4 Dead 3.
Left 4 Dead 3 gameplay
The thing every Valve shooter has in common is a tremendous sense of forward momentum. While in Half-Life it’s brought about by an ineffable combination of level design, music and narrative urgency, in Left 4 Dead it’s more tangible - the presence of an AI director, either sweeping you up in the tide of the dead, or planting lone zombies along the path to act as breadcrumbs, guiding you ever onwards.
Clearly, we’d want to keep that. But the other pieces of the puzzle that really define pacing and play in Left 4 Dead are the special infected - and they’re subject to fundamental change.
Each of the original special infected had a gameplay function: the Boomer’s trick was to bring down the horde on incautious teams, the Tank’s to pull them together against a mini-boss, the Hunter’s to reward twitch accuracy, and so on. But in Left 4 Dead 2, the monsters started to double up: where’s the necessity for the jockey, for instance, when the smoker already works perfectly well to isolate survivors from the main group?
L4D3 deserves special infected who change up the paradigm and tempt survivors out of practiced playstyles, just as that first set did.
Left 4 Dead 3 characters
There are going to be four of them. Four thrown-together, bickering companions. It’s in the name, right?
In the past, Valve have made an effort to pull together contrasting personalities and attitudes in their playable L4D characters, sticking loosely to four archetypes: the self-centred and sarcastic cynic, embodied in Francis and Nick; the loyal if naive optimist, seen in Louis and Ellis; the supportive team-player, manifested in Zoey and Rochelle; and finally the Bills and Coaches of the post-apocalyptic world - realists with a personal code.
For Left 4 Dead 3, it’d be nice to see Valve depart from that b-movie screenwriting formula - successful though it’s undoubtedly been. Imagine a selection screen featuring more than four survivors, closer to that of a fighting game than Left 4 Dead’s.
Not diluting the quality and clarity of L4D’s design with an overlarge cast is an important consideration, of course. But perhaps, as with BioWare’s games, different configurations of companions could pull different reactions and relationships from each character.
And would it kill Valve to have more than one woman per team? They make up more than 50% of the non-infected US population, y’know.
Left 4 Dead 3 story
Perhaps just as important as who Left 4 Dead 3’s characters are is the way they’re introduced to us.
You can piece together that Coach is a 44-year-old former PE teacher whose early hopes in American football were cut short by a knee injury at college - but that’s not handed to you in heavy-handed exposition or extensive branching dialogue. Instead, it bleeds from the game’s avatars dynamically, in lines of VO that appear in some playthroughs and not others. Over the course of many campaigns, you build up a fond picture of the people you’re playing as.
We’d like to see that trend towards background storytelling continue in the new sequel. Good news on that front: Doug Church, one of the most experienced environmental storytellers in the industry with a background at Looking Glass on the Thief games, was linked to Left 4 Dead 3 in an apparent Valve database leak a few years back.
Left 4 Dead 3 maps
One thing Left 4 Dead’s AI director has done very effectively over two iterations is conceal the complexity of the series’ maps from us - even as the sequel embraced alternate pathways.
It’s this ability, to apply the linear mastery honed on Half-Life in increasingly dynamic and player-directed ways, that we’d like to see Valve push the boundaries of in Left 4 Dead 3. How many real choices can a map incorporate while still telling a compelling story at a decent pace? That’s something we haven’t yet seen the upper limit of.
It’s worth mentioning that the same database leak that attached Church to L4D3 also named Clint Hocking - the man who wrote the formula for Ubisoft open-world games with Far Cry 2. Let’s hope the project hasn’t abandoned Left 4 Dead’s taut, curated level design for wide open space, and instead gleaned something from Hocking’s expertise in making first-person games tactile and unique.
Those are our ideas on how to keep the magic in Valve's witch-hunting sim. Let us know your own in the comments.