A fair bit of excitement came with the announcement of a new multiplayer game led by Master of Horror John Carpenter, a co-op shooter called Toxic Commando. It has a very Carpenter-like premise. A giant corporation tries to harness the power of Earth’s core, hoping to control a near-unlimited source of energy they can then make money out of. Instead, they release an entity known as The Sludge God, a being capable of terraforming large stretches of land and of creating anything it kills into reanimated monsters. Insert guns, team mechanics, and hordes of fleshy targets and you’ve got an 80’s horror-inspired video game.
The origins of the Sludge God’s reign of terror and the commandos that take up the fight against it is getting its own prequel comic from Dark Horse, titled Toxic Commando: Rise of the Sludge God. It’ll be a three-part book and it’s slated for release on March 13, 2024. Michael Moreci takes on writing duties with Alberto J. Albuquerque on art and Nate Piekos on letters.
Rise of the Sludge God aims at building upon the world of the game, populating it with a sense of lore that hopefully packs every bullet in the game with purpose. It’s what anyone would expect after seeing Carpenter’s name attached to it. Promotion for the game has leaned hard on how the horror icon was brought in to shape a legit horror world that harkens back to the action-splatter films of the 1980s.
The decision to go with Moreci on script is an interesting one. The writer of Roche Limit and Wasted Space has had ample experience with licensed work, including on franchises such as Star Wars and Stranger Things. More importantly in this case, he has written video game tie-in comics as well. His excellent Dishonored Vol. 2: The Peeress and The Price, for instance, builds upon the game Arkane Studios built with a focus on the city of Dunwall and the types of threats that would naturally emerge from it. Moreci showed a deep understanding of the game’s culture and its characters, which ramps up the excitement for the Toxic Commando prequel comic.
As a quick note, tie-in comics can enrich a game world considerably when done right. In fact, it’s somewhat of an underrated idea when you think about it. Tie-in prose novels have kept entire franchises alive in the absence of new movies, TV series, or video games. Star Wars and Alien are just two licenses to have greatly benefited from this. On the gaming side, Halo and Final Fantasy have gone deep enough into their universes to produce fan-favorite characters that go on to feature in movies and series. Dan Watters and Piotr Kowalski produced an amazing and fun Wolfenstein comic back in 2017 (to coincide with the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus) that showed the license could be sustained beyond gaming consoles. Even Ram V had one, a Quake Champions comic that was released in 2018. A more intentional approach to tie-in video game comics could go a long way in building the lore and the myths of game worlds that need more of it to connect with fans.
A lot of these zombie horde co-op shooters that Toxic Commando seems to be taking a lot from feature some kind of story, but they tend to be paper thin. They’re really just there to tell us why the player is facing legions of easy-to-kill-but-increasingly-difficult-to-outlive monsters. Moreci and Albuquerque have a chance to establish something with more substance in Rise of the Sludge God. Here’s hoping it also signals the game’s intention to invest more time in story than is usually the case with these types of multiplayer experiences.