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Valve’s Leaked Upcoming Game Could Revive an Ailing Genre — but It Probably Won’t

The world doesn’t need more hero shooters.

key art from Team Fortress 2

It may seem like a distant memory now, but Valve was once known for making games rather than just selling them on Steam. And not just any games, but great, genre-defining games. Its recent projects, like Counter-Strike 2 and the Steam Deck tech demo Aperture Desk Job haven’t quite lived up to that legacy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the once-great developer is down and out. Evidence is mounting that a new game from Valve could be on the way, and it’s an entry in a popular genre that the studio itself helped create. But whether that’s something to be excited or worried about is still unclear.

Valve’s worst-kept secret is a game reportedly called Deadlock. Though the studio hasn’t acknowledged Deadlock’s existence in any way, leaks have allegedly revealed screenshots, in-game footage, and details on how the game will actually play. Last week, Valve leaker Gabe Follower also shared a trademark filing for Deadlock, seemingly confirming that the game is real. It’s always possible that the filing could add up to nothing. Developers — including Valve — frequently file trademarks for projects that never see the light of day. But what’s most interesting about this latest movement on Deadlock is that the game could represent either a rebirth for a struggling genre or a sign of the games industry’s decline.

Deadlock feels as close to confirmed as an unconfirmed game can be.

Assuming the leaks are accurate, Deadlock is set to be a hero shooter in the same vein as Overwatch. While being compared to Overwatch is more of a burn than anything else these days, there was a time when Valve making a hero shooter would have been an exciting development.

Valve essentially created the model for modern hero shooters with 2007’s Team Fortress 2. While the original Team Fortress featured distinct classes for all of its characters, the sequel made the differences between each more distinct and imbued each character with much more personality. Character trailers laid out storylines. Rivalries between different heroes became ongoing conflicts in the game’s world, something that would be taken to further extremes with Overwatch.

There’s a version of this story where Valve returning to the hero shooter is a very exciting development. Valve revolutionized the first-person shooter with 2004’s Half-Life 2, and again with Left 4 Dead, so a return to a shooter subgenre that the developer more or less invented could signal that Valve has some big ideas to explore. Leaks for Deadlock suggest that it’s blending hero shooter standards with mechanics from Valve’s Dota 2, which could very well be the reinvention the genre needs, if done right.

The announcement of a new hero shooter is met with more skepticism than excitement lately.

On the other hand, aren’t we all a little sick of hero shooters? The PvP shooter Concord was recently revealed at PlayStation’s State of Play and met with a combination of skepticism and annoyance. The upcoming Marvel Rivals (basically Overwatch with Spider-Man) has built a bit more hype thanks to its already popular characters, but enthusiasm is still muted outside of Marvel fans. The once mighty Overwatch has been in a dire state at least since the launch of Overwatch 2, and even Star Wars Hunters has failed to generate much buzz despite being tied to one of the most gargantuan franchises in existence. And there are almost too many failed hero shooters to count, with games like Paragon, Lawbreakers, and Battleborn crashing and burning after launch.

It might be too reductive to say that we’re past the point of a good new hero shooter, but it still seems unlikely. Publishers have latched onto the idea that — since they can be constantly updated with new characters and skins — hero shooters work best as money-making machines used to sell content to players piecemeal. On top of that, few hero shooters actually stray far from established game modes, with scores of nearly identical tweaks on capture the flag dominating the genre.

Even once-beloved hero shooters like Overwatch are struggling to survive.

Activision Blizzard

While Valve has a history of bringing something new and exciting to existing genres, the hero shooter may be too far gone to be saved. With more multiplayer games — and more types of multiplayer games — available now than ever before, it’s hard to see how even an excellent hero shooter from Valve could find the kind of success the studio is likely looking for. The developer could put its distinctive touch on Deadlock and make the hero shooter genre exciting again, rather than a sign of a creatively stagnant games industry. It doesn’t seem likely, but you could be that optimistic if you wanted.

Ultimately, though, it feels like the time for an innovative new hero shooter is long past. Even if it had all the personality of Portal, the worldbuilding of Half-Life, and a brilliant mechanical twist, any game following in the footsteps of Overwatch is going to be met with well-earned cynicism from players. I’d love to be proven wrong, even before it’s been officially announced, chances seem worryingly high that, like so many hero shooters before it, Deadlock will be dead on arrival.

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