It’s been a difficult time for Left 4 Dead fans hoping for a sequel as of late. The Final Hours Of Half-Life: Alyx revealed that Valve had been working on Left 4 Dead 3, an open-world sequel set in Morocco. But the game was eventually cancelled as the developers shifted focus to Half-Life: Alyx.
Valve then went on to “explore some Left 4 Dead next-gen opportunities” but ultimately dropped those as well, issuing a statement to IGN in January noting that a sequel is “absolutely” not in the works.
But all hope is not lost. In late August, I was delighted to learn that 2009’s Left 4 Dead 2 is set to receive an official content update in 2020, featuring the first new map since the launch of the Cold Stream campaign in 2012.
But The Last Stand Update is not simply one last hurrah for a game from 2009. It’s more of a statement of intent, and a testament to the thriving community behind Left 4 Dead 2. It might surprise you to learn that Valve’s classic co-op title is still being played by tens of thousands of people on Steam every day, nearly 11 years after launch!
With over 300 hours played myself, I still can’t get enough of it, and running through a few campaigns with my friends in Versus Mode is a bi-weekly ritual. The game has stood the test of time like Portal and Half-Life before it, and if you boot it up in 2020, you’ll find a good-looking game with a gameplay loop that has constantly been imitated, but never beaten.
To find out more about the forthcoming update, I spoke to Valve developer Kerry Davis and a few community members from the project (Raymond “Rayman1103” Nondorf, Jaymes “JAiZ” Hayward and zeekrocs117) to get some exclusive details about how this project came together, and what Left 4 Dead fans can expect when it launches.
Nondorf is a Steam community moderator for both Left 4 Dead games who initially pitched the update to Valve to coincide with Left 4 Dead 2’s 10th anniversary in November 2019. According to Nondorf, the initial idea was a “straight up port of the survival items from Left 4 Dead with some additional Left 4 Dead 2 items for a rushed November release”.
Davis liked the idea at the time, but unfortunately, the studio couldn’t commit to helping them. “The entire company was in the final push on Half-Life: Alyx, so we wouldn’t have been able to give the necessary attention to an anniversary update.”
After learning that Valve had its hands tied, Nondorf suggested that he could put together a team to add the lighthouse survival map ‘The Last Stand’ from the original Left 4 Dead into the sequel, asking Davis for the Valve Map Format files as it was the only mission that was never ported over.
Once Alyx had shipped, Davis took a look at the work the community had been doing and decided to commit to helping them out. “On Valve’s side we’ve been providing code support and working on bug fixes, but everything else is the work of community members that’s being integrated into the official game.” Back in June before the project was formally announced, a set of official Valve servers were found to be running the lighthouse map on a new build of the game that players couldn’t access. This stoked rumours that Valve was finally working on an update for Left 4 Dead 2.
Davis demystified this for me over email, revealing that it was all part of The Last Stand project. “We wanted to validate our work on an official dedicated server. With a normal project we can do all that on our internal version of Steam, but of course none of the community members have access to that so we switched over a small group of our public servers to our beta build,” Davis explains.
Unlike the original The Last Stand map, which was just a one-and-done Survival map that centred around a lighthouse, the Left 4 Dead 2 port is being fleshed out into a full-blown mission. “What we’re doing for this update is making an entirely new campaign with the original lighthouse area being our basis,” Hayward tells me.
“We worked our way backwards from the lighthouse, by adding various areas leading up to it, until we reached the point of it being long enough for it to be its own standalone campaign.”
The team has created new models and sounds for The Last Stand, with Hayward teasing that there would be “something for every type of player”, regardless of the mode of play. Davis added that the project was also an opportunity to update Left 4 Dead 2’s scripting features, so that the game’s workshop contributors could have “more flexibility with their creations”.
Zeekrocs117 is the animator behind The Last Stand’s first two teasers, which have given players a gorgeous glimpse at the team’s newly created areas from the forthcoming map, including a slick animation of legendary survivor Bill wrestling an axe from a zombie’s back. According to Zeek, there’s another video in the works. The Source Filmmaker animator has been offering creative input to the team and notes that working on The Last Stand was a “really great opportunity for me to tackle new things… and get support from other experienced individuals”.
Hayward’s view is that the beauty and longevity of Left 4 Dead 2 suggests that fans don’t really need a new entry in the franchise, but new updates to the solid foundation can’t hurt. “I don’t think a new instalment for the series is needed […] the fact that people refer to L4D2 as ’the game that refuses to die’ shows that there’s something about it that makes people want to keep playing it, even with similar games of the genre being available on the market.” Titles like Payday 2, Warhammer: Vermintide and GTFO all exist within the same space instead of dominating the field, which means there’s still space for Left 4 Dead to thrive with renewed energy in 2020.
Hayward says that they have a specific release date in mind, and that they just need to wrap up the content, do some final testing and QA, and it should be “good to go”. As for the future of Left 4 Dead 2 beyond The Last Stand, Davis notes that Valve hasn’t got anything planned just yet, but that he’s happy that the team could put something together for the game’s anniversary. “I’m very pleased that we could pull this together and provide something that will benefit new players as well as longtime fans of the franchise.”
The Last Stand is so endearing as a passion project, because it’s created by people who wanted to give something back to the game they love. “It may sound cheesy, but many of us grew up playing the Left 4 Dead series, so it’s got a special place in our hearts, and being able to contribute to it is like a dream come true,” Hayward tells me.
The team is keen to work on more updates for Left 4 Dead 2 if Valve gives them the green light, and I sincerely hope that happens. Given the response to the first few teasers, it’s clear the demand for more Left 4 Dead content is still there, even after all these years. In the end, that’s down to the community of fans who have kept it alive – the same players who are now poised to defibrillate the franchise with The Last Stand.