Shooting down endless waves of either aliens or the undead is a lot of fun. But you know what’s better? You guessed it: doing the exact same with three or four friends supporting you right alongside. Valve – and more specifically Turtle Rock Studios – were some of the first to recognise this over a decade ago now, offering up a near-perfect slice of cooperative multiplayer shooting in Left 4 Dead. A mythical third entry is just a hopeful dream within most player’s minds, but in lieu of that dream sequel, this year’s E3 has proven plenty of other developers are happy to step up and satiate people’s hunger.
This year’s event has seen the promotion of not one, not two or even three, but at least four different upcoming PvE shooters in Back 4 Blood, Rainbow Six: Extraction, and the newly announced The Anacrusis from Stray Bombay, and Arkane Austin’s Redfall. As such, all signs point towards a boom for this classically chaotic genre. It’s especially exciting because no longer is it just indie teams looking to provide their own addictive spin on the setup either, as the likes of Ubisoft, Warner Bros. and more are all jumping into the fray to lend this style of multiplayer action the Triple-A production values and sensibilities modern players crave.
Admittedly, we should have seen this long-gestating genre surge coming. Outriders did gangbuster numbers by launching straight into Game Pass early on this year, while the wonderfully absurd Second Extinction (which challenges three-player squads to fend off against giant mutated dinosaurs) has already cultivated a devoted audience in Early Access form. With so many co-op PvE shooters set to release within the next 12 months, though, should we be worried about them suddenly flooding the market? Not really. Almost every entry showcased both outside of and during this weekend’s events is separated by both a difference in tone and the distinct range of enemy types you and your pals will get to fight.
Back 4 Blood was the one we knew the most about going into E3 2021. Developed by the same staff that worked on the original Left 4 Dead games, Turtle Rock has been candid about just how much of a spiritual successor it is to the much-beloved duo of coop shooters. The biggest indication of this stems from the enemies you’ll be fighting: zombies, plain and simple. Yet even then, gameplay innovations have been made on the ruleset side of things, with Back 4 Blood separating itself from its inspiration through a new “corruption card” system that affects the challenges ahead.
The latest deep-dive may have focused intimately on Back 4 Blood’s new PvP “Swarm” mode, but there’s no denying that it’s mostly built on the proven formula of having players simultaneously blast away at different types of the flesh-eating undead as a party of four. Being a relatively known quantity and coming from Left 4 Dead’s original creators also renders Back 4 Blood the safe choice for players wanting to indulge in this classic style of co-op shooter. Luckily, for anyone craving something a bit different, E3 2021 has so far offered up a deluge of alternatives.
Redfall is the clearest example of what can happen when a developer like Arkane expertly merges a known genre – in this case, a multiplayer co-op shooter – with traits and gameplay elements they’ve become personally known for. We may have only witnessed a pre-rendered CGI trailer at the end of the Xbox/Bethesda showcase on Sunday, true, yet already it’s obvious how Redfall looks to be taking heavy cues from Dishonored and 2017’s Prey with regards to the suite of supernatural abilities at your disposal.
Described by Bethesda as “an open-world co-op shooter”, Redfall is set to arrive on Xbox and PC next Summer and will trade zombies for blood-thirsty vampires. The E3 trailer didn’t shy away from how much of an influence B-movie horror and ‘80s slasher flicks have on the game, with almost every moment of action punctuated by deep-red title cards or a cheeky quip between the four main playable characters. Redfall’s slightly more playful attitude, coupled with each hero’s unique power sets, should come together to make slaying vampire legions in glorious four-player co-op more palatable than ever.
Finally, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, E3’s 2021 Ubisoft Forward presentation did a decent job at illustrating how the basic bones of Rainbow Six: Siege are being adapted for something more Left 4 Dead-like. Unlike the other upcoming co-op shooters previously mentioned, however, Rainbow Six: Extraction is set to appeal to gamers craving a more tactical take on the PvE milieu. It helps that the spin-off already has an established roster of operators for players to tap into, with fan-favourite squad members like Sledge, Ela and Alibi all bringing over their special skills into the franchise’s new alien-hunting format.
At first it might seem strange to see a realistic military shooter venture off into Sci-Fi territory so strongly, but it makes sense considering that defeating the Archaeon threat will still involve a vast amount of strategy and teamwork. You can’t just spray and pray as with some other takes on the genre, as ammo is limited.
We haven’t seen much of The Anacrusis, the debut title from Stray Bombay, founded by former Valve writer Chet Faliszek(who wrote Left 4 Dead no less) and Riot technical designer Kimberly Voll. What we do know, is it’s got a distinctly Left 4 Dead vibe, and from the looks of the below trailer, the inane banter actually seems to be… pretty funny?
It doesn’t take a genius to realise there’s a lot of joy to be had from firing endlessly towards an unstoppable force as part of a three- or four-man squad. And it says something that, given Valve’s refusal to treat gamers with a true Left 4 Dead threequel for so long, this drought is finally about to end thanks to the efforts of other studios. If anything we’re now spoilt for choice! As E3 continues to highlight, though, most of the PvE romps looking to capitalise on the concept all offer something unique that the others don’t. Vampires, aliens, or old-fashioned zombies, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to slaughter and come together as a team.
All of the games mentioned above are coming out… eventually. You can check out our E3 coverage here.