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John Carpenter’s Toxic Commando Could Live or Die on its Characters

John Carpenter's Toxic Commando

John Carpenter’s Toxic Commando definitely has our attention but it’s also making us a little nervous.

We’re not talking about the horde of the undead featured in the trailer for John Carpenter’s Toxic Commando, revealed at last night’s Summer Game Fest Showcase. We’re zombie aficionados, so we’re not thrown by the presence of a few thousand shamblers, even though we’d probably die in the first wave of infection.

What’s worrying us is, in the light of Back 4 Blood’s middling reception (development ended this year), is that this will be a similarly damp squib. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of co-op horde shooters either. This co-op zombie shooter is being developed by Saber Interactive, the team behind World War Z. But we’re hoping it’s more than a retread of that game with John Carpenter’s name slapped on it.

What made Left 4 Dead, the definitive zombie co-op shooter, really shine was its characters. And it’s those interactions that Toxic Commando needs to absolutely nail. We’ve not played it in few months but we can still remember the banter between Bill and Francis. Likewise Left 4 Dead 2 – Ellis and Coach in particular are a delight to play as.

The same is true of the best zombie film – it’s the survivors that make the movie and, in some cases, end up dooming the whole team. The problem with Back 4 Blood, as far as its characters go, are that there are just too many of them. Could they be better written? Definitely. But even so, with eight to choose from, there’s neve a constant team dynamic. It has other issues but we can’t, honestly, name a single one of its protagonists.

John Carpenter, on the other hand? His movies – the good ones – have characters that never fail to leave an impression. Sure, in Prince of Darkness Donald Pleasance was basically an alternative-universe Sam Loomis. But it’s hard to forget his performance as a priest whose faith has been absolutely turned on its head.

And The Thing? The escalating sense of paranoia works because, prior to the creature making itself known, it was clear how this team had come together. Even base commander Garry, for all his flaws, was likeable in his own way. By contrast, the 2011 prequel’s cast were depressingly anonymous.

It’s our fervent hope that John Carpenter, famously a games fan, has done more than just glanced at the script. Sure, the 80s-style aesthetic, singalong included, seems like fun. But what we really want is Carpenter to have penned the characters and, preferably, the dialogue.

It’s early days for the game, which is set for a 2024 release on PC and console, but we’d absolutely love for this to succeed. So, Saber Interactive, let Carpenter go wild with his words and give us characters that rise above the anonymous dead. That’s what Toxic Commando needs to really live. And if Keith David’s in there, so much the better.

Weekend Editor // Chris has been gaming since the days of the Acorn Electron, which was allegedly purchased to 'help him with his homework'. You can probably guess how well that went. He’ll tackle most genres – football titles aside – though he has a taste for games that that are post-apocalyptic, horror-oriented or thought provoking in nature.