Left 4 Dead remains a popular game series despite not seeing an entry since 2009. The first two games launched to critical success and quickly achieved cult status. Now the original developers behind the game are creating their own spiritual successor, Back 4 Blood.
We recently looked into the appeal of Left 4 Dead and many failed spiritual successors since whilst looking at promising indie title Pandemic Express. This year also saw another AAA attempt in World War Z, but that mantle remains untouched.
Instead, here we’ll be looking at the story of Turtle Rock Studios and their occasionally strained relationship with Valve. And why that could mean Back 4 Blood is the spiritual successor we’ve all been waiting for.
World War Z
First, let’s get the obvious elephant out of the room and discuss World War Z. A video game tie-in based on the movie and novel of the same name. Developed by Saber Interactive, a studio best known for remasters, successors and ports.
Developing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, The Master Chief Collection and more recently The Witcher 3 Switch port. And of course Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn. A studio whose reputation is one more of competence than excellence.
And that’s what we got with World War Z. The fast-paced scrambling zombies offered a unique visual twist, reminiscent of the movies. But the gameplay was largely uninspired.
World War Z still offers a fun romp the first time you tackle the campaign if you have four friends to play it with. But it’s doubtful we’ll be talking about it in 10 years time like we still are Left 4 Dead.
Turtle Rock Studios and Left 4 Dead
Back 4 Blood promises so much more because it’s being redesigned by the original developers of Left 4 Dead. Perhaps more crucially it’s finally being designed the way they intended. Without the creative shackles of an industry juggernaut.
Left 4 Dead began life as a Counter-Strike mod called Terror Strike. Using the series’ famed gunplay mechanics but implemented in a horde based survival mode. Turtle Rock Studios began developing the mod into a fully-fledged game before Valve stepped in.
Turtle Rock Studios were dissolved into Valve and the two worked simultaneously on Left 4 Dead. Studio founder Phil Robb has since spoken out about some of the frustrations and creative restraints of their decision to join Valve.
“The culture changed a lot when we became Valve, and not all of it was what we felt was the right way to go. There was a lot of tripping over each other. They take their time – Valve time’s a well-known thing. And it wasn’t the way that we wanted to work.
“At the end of the day, after we shipped it [Left 4 Dead], no-one was really happy with how it worked.” – Phil Robb, as quoted by Eurogamer.
Turtle Rock Studios have since split from Valve. They independently developed another co-op based shooter, Evolve for 2K Games. The Asymmetric monster hunting game looked promising but was marred by pre-order bonuses and microtransactions.
What We Need To See From Back 4 Blood
Turtle Rock Studios have been pretty active on Discord where some hopeful fans have voiced their concerns. The first thing we need to see is a serious departure from the money first model of Evolve.
As a game, Evolve is actually a fun and unique experience but it’s best remembered for its’ controversial marketing. The base game that retailed for £39.99 was desperately lacking in content. Content which was later sold at an additional premium.
Turtle Rock Studios have refused to rule out paid DLC and post-game content, which won’t be a huge problem as long as the base game has plenty of content. The other pressing issue is how different the final game will be.
Terror Strike was a significant departure from Left 4 Dead. But some of those changes the team may not have necessarily liked turned out for the better. It’s impossible to know what their thinking is but the team has promised a different experience.
Again it’s not a bad thing because the zombie genre has become tired and stale in the past decade. But we don’t want to lose the essence of the game or else Back 4 Blood will just become another poor clone.
The AI Director mechanic that defined the series has to make a return. It’s been the key element missing from many successors including World War Z. With a linear game design, the incentive to replay missions is limited.
The AI Director was the perfect way to shake up that formula so that the game presents a refreshing challenge each time.
When Will We Be Back 4 Blood?
Crucially, we must take a lot of this information with a pinch of salt because Back 4 Blood is a long way off. Contrary to Robb’s criticism of ‘Valve Time’, Turtle Rock Studios have only produced one game since leaving Valve.
This announcement was as much an open call for staff as anything, so work on the game is yet to even begin. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has been announced as the publisher for Back 4 Blood so a big name studio is backing the project.
At this point, it will probably land on the next console generation, we’re optimistically putting the release year of 2021 on it.