The influence and legacy of Left 4 Dead was never in doubt, but there’s a notion that the classic Turtle Rock and Valve cooperative zombie shooter had a nebulous quality that can’t be articulated; a formula that no one has been able to replicate.
In the run-up to the release of Back 4 Blood, the new game from the people who co-created the subgenre, I came back to re-experience Left 4 Dead. I was not impressed. Left 4 Dead is still fun, but in the same way that a PS2 game can be: quite engaging for an hour or two before you realize how difficult it is to give up years of design, visual progress, and value for money. production for a touch of nostalgia. .
Back 4 Blood is and is not the Left 4 Dead successor you were waiting for. It’s the most modern interpretation of those principles, but it’s also a game due out in 2021, mindful of as many modern expectations as possible without ruining the flow.
Back 4 Blood’s game flow is fundamentally different from its predecessors. It’s a zombie shooter balanced around stop-and-pop action, encouraging the identification and treatment of threats from a distance.
Level design, enemy variations, and encounters cover that. Almost every area in the game opens up to reveal a large, open section in which you are encouraged to explore the different paths, search for hidden loot, and examine as much of the objective as possible before activating the great horde.
There is an attractive variety of settings, all seemingly inspired by the American cliché: the restaurant, the noisy greasy bar, the brick houses near the center, the suburbs, the small town church, the misty forests, it’s all there. Scattered around those levels, another critical component of Back 4 Blood comes to the fore.
This is a game with a fairly long list of weapons, divided into the usual categories. Weapons come in different rarities and their accessories are random. You’re constantly on the lookout for a more powerful version of your chosen firearm, or something radical enough that you drop what you have.
Maybe you will find the SMG you like, but inexplicably it has a long range range. Perhaps the reload speed of the shotgun is slower than you would like. Or maybe, this purple M1 rifle is so good that you decide to be the point man of your team and embrace the long distance lifestyle. You never stop looking for something in the Back 4 Blood levels, and weapons are just part of that.
The locations of the various rooms and hiding places are also random. Some require special tools to open, others will set off an alarm if you open them, and some are easily accessible, but they don’t always hide something interesting.
The more difficult a room is to access, the more likely it is to have valuable loot. Usually, you are looking for different accessories for your weapons, which have the potential to change the way they play, especially if they are higher on the scale of rarities. You also come across ammunition, grenades, and single-use items like propane tanks and more.
Before you leave the safe room, there is essentially a buying phase where you think about where to spend your copper. Copper, a currency found in all levels and obtained at the end of each section, can be spent on weapon accessories, the weapons themselves, grenades, ammunition, and upgrades for all equipment that increase the effectiveness of your weapons. various items of equipment, or more. the number of them you can carry.
Back 4 Blood doesn’t have many quiet moments, but this is one of the most pronounced. With a coordinated squad, we were pooling our excess Copper to get one more gear upgrade, heal a teammate in need, or buy someone the scope they’ve been fighting without.
I imagine Turtle Rock didn’t want the attachment sharing process to be too complicated or time consuming, but not being able to unequip any of them until something else takes up that space is a missed opportunity.
You ride this on me
Much of the moment-by-moment action in Back 4 Blood revolves around sensing danger from a distance and struggling to find an efficient way to deal with it. This is not a run and shoot shooter game where you take whatever is thrown at you while reserving it at Mach 2.
This is where the game’s zombie design, called Ridden, really comes into play to make encounters memorable and varied. Each special zombie has a couple of different variations, which the game randomly throws at you in the form of Corruption Cards (modifiers). These variants share a similar look, but each has essentially a different function. Fundamentally, the location of your weak spots varies, so you don’t always rely on a gold strategy to deal with them.
For example, Tallboy is a towering monstrosity with an abnormally long arm that you really don’t want to hit. The standard version is slow, but its weak point is difficult to spot because it is only visible from one side. There is another variant that is much faster and will crash into the closest player, but has a weaker point that is easier to hit. The game master dictates the different variant combinations you come across, and things could get unfair on difficulties higher than Recruit.
There doesn’t seem to be anything stopping the director from actually trying to ruin your career, and I think a balancing hand is needed to prevent certain situations from turning into bad luck. In general, the frequency of special zombies spawning is also another area that Back 4 Blood needs to be in control. It is not exciting to find three in a row and again a few more minutes on the level. This is something that Turtle Rock has already addressed, but I have yet to play around after the release of the review.
Sometimes it’s just about not having enough ammo to deal with it all, and since there is no way around most of these fights, the game tends to push you into a corner seemingly unnecessarily.
Cards against normality
Back 4 Blood’s claim of fame is its cards and deck-building system. It’s almost false to call it that because this isn’t really what comes to mind when you think of deck building. The Decks in Back 4 Blood are more like an organized set of perks, rather than a group of bonuses that the game chooses at random.
Initially, the system may seem cluttered, but you quickly become familiar with what it wants you to do. Cards are drawn the way you arranged them, so choosing their order is key. You can play your cards in each safe room, and this always happens after you are shown the Corruption Cards that the director is going to play against you, so you have a chance to respond. These modifiers can change everything from a level’s time of day, to adding fog, spawning certain zombie variants, increasing the number of trapped doors, and even removing certain Tank-type bosses at some point in the level.
You can say that some of these enemies are designed to take advantage of certain player weaknesses or to punish tendencies. There is a zombie that explodes when shot in the head, creating chaos for players who like to be precise. I had to bet on body shots specifically when facing them.
This is just a small example of the different situations that the game wants you to adapt to. My party and I came across Sleepers’ particularly difficult combination: hunter-like enemies clinging to walls and bouncing off you, and thick fog. It took us three times as long to navigate that level because everyone had to be more cautious.
The Cleaners form the final pillar of Back 4 Blood. Their characters and personal sensibilities shine through in their dialogue and in how they react to the different situations you find yourself in. Many of them are clichés, sure, but they play their part well and add variety to incidental dialogue.
Cleaners are also a crucial element of the game, because they are essentially classes in everything but name. Each cleaner has unique abilities that help them and some that affect the entire party. Many of them are standard bonuses, but they are welcome nonetheless. Increased ammo capacity, better healing efficiency, the ability to spot special zombies from a distance, and similar boons is what you’re looking at.
I have yet to see one whose abilities are expendable. The playstyle you’re looking for and the makeup of the rest of your squad will ultimately decide which one to pick. You can take this one step further by building a deck around each of their strengths.
You can tell the game is pushing you to turn Doc into a healer-style class, and Holly into a life-leech baseball bat melee demon. Spend enough time playing and you will unlock more cards that will make the specialization more rewarding.
Even if it wasn’t released on Game Pass, Back 4 Blood would be an easy recommendation. In an age where every co-op shooter needs a grueling roster of progression systems, reward tracks, and limited-time events to keep players hooked, it’s surprising to see one co-op game accomplish its core goals so well without looking like another. Destiny clone. .
Back 4 Blood takes an old-school approach where it makes sense and modernizes where it doesn’t. It’s encouraging to be involved in a game simply for its playability and variety, and not to fill in a progress bar somewhere.
Disclaimer: Windows 10 PC version tested, code provided by publisher. Also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PS4 and PS5.