Back 4 Blood is yet another zombie horror survival game to enter what feels like an already diluted pool of that genre. We’ve become mostly burnt out from that category from nearly two console generations ago at this point. We’ve had games like Dying Light, the Killing Floor series, and even the Dead Rising series to name a few. Nothing really hit quite like the Left 4 Dead series, though. Fortunately, Back 4 Blood might reignite that spark of interest for zombie horde game fans.
Back 4 Blood is a cooperative, zombie horde survival, first-person shooter created by Turtle Rock Studios. If that developer name rings a bell, then you should be well aware that they are the people who created the Left 4 Dead franchise. That franchise is perhaps one of the most legendary ones that have stood the test of time and really popularized the zombie horde survival genre.
Carrying that momentum forward and becoming their own independent entity outside of Valve, Turtle Rock mostly nails it with Back 4 Blood. This will probably be the closest thing we’ll get to a Left 4 Dead 3. Think of it as being the spiritual successor of the popular zombie survival franchise.
Back 4 Blood basically preserves every major aspect of the Left 4 Dead series. You can team up with three other players and take on hordes of zombies. While they were called infected in L4D, the Back 4 Blood zombies are called the “Ridden”. The story premises are basically the same, though instead of four characters, B4B presents eight base characters to choose from.
Each character has their own personalities and interactions with others on the playing field. They are actually referred to as “Cleaners”. This time around, every character is equipped with a loadout, abilities, and perks. The starting cast basically covers the majority of tropes in class-based shooters.
Another aspect that is almost taken one for one is the structure of the game’s campaign mode. Like previous Left 4 Dead games, Back 4 Blood also makes use of dividing the campaign into multiple acts with chapters in them. Each chapter will have a set number of missions which all typically end in going from safe house to safe house, of course with escaping a locale being the means of an act’s completion.
The game does have a rather short campaign despite having it broken into Acts, so it might be a deal breaker to some. But this is where one of its most unique features comes into play. Back 4 Blood contains elements from the roguelike genre for its campaign.
Every campaign instance created is called a “run”, similar to what you’d call them in other actual roguelike games. Runs are divided between the Acts. Once you complete an Act from start to finish, the run is completed. However, if players fail to get to the end by running out of lives, that run is over. You cannot continue that run and have to somewhat start over.
The game doesn’t truly punish you like a typical roguelike game would. Back 4 Blood does save your progress to an extent. If you and your team lost at the midway point of an Act, you can resume there if you please, but you won’t have the exact loadout that you had in a previous run.
It’s actually quite the welcoming feature that Back 4 Blood doesn’t punish you for getting a game over because this game is actually quite tough. This game is no cake walk. If you have someone on the team who oftentimes wanders off on their own or thinks they can fend off the Ridden on their own, good luck keeping the team intact. This game presents so many possibilities for stragglers and wanderers to get trapped, overwhelmed, and ultimately killed.
The name of the game is to at least stick together at most times. Being singled out is a death sentence. Strength really does come in numbers as the Cleaners or the Ridden.
Speaking of going solo, Back 4 Blood really punishes— or rather, doesn’t reward— players to play this game locally. Maybe we don’t want to play with others because of the lack of communication and common sense to stick together in public groups. Maybe we don’t have the best internet connection, but still want to have a good time playing games like these. Perhaps some people don’t have friends to play with.
Playing this game via the Solo Campaign mode is absolutely useless. As of writing this review, you literally cannot make any progress or earn any Requisition Points, achievements, or Accomplishments. This really is one of the biggest downsides of Back 4 Blood. For a game that provides you with competent bots as fill-ins for co-op, this is a disappointing oversight.
It’s understandable since the Solo Campaign is a much easier atmosphere compared to the online part, but it is rather hard to make significant progress in a run without replaying parts you already have. This also makes farming difficult because you can’t really control where you want to start off unless you want to create your own matchmaking instance and hope people are searching in similar areas to be paired up with you.
This ties in with another gripe of the game. It is always online. You literally cannot play this game at all if you are not connected to the internet. You will not be able to get past the title screen. Not only do you not get rewarded for playing solo, but this game will literally be rendered useless without a proper internet connection. Of course, this is to curb DRM bypassing and cheating, but players who want to play alone shouldn’t be penalized. Meet us halfway, please, Turtle Rock.
The card system, broken down, adds “extreme replayability” according to Turtle Rock. Builds are created by putting together a maximum of 15 unique cards that add unique effects to your characters. For example, you can equip cards that increase your base health, give you an extra slot for grenades or curatives, increase your gun reload speed, and so many more. Of course, you’re going to want to mess around with the many cards you unlock to create builds catered towards certain playstyles and your Cleaners.
The nifty addition of cards goes beyond the builds. As mentioned earlier, these cards can also work against players. Back 4 Blood introduces a “Corruption Card” system that adds some kind of layer of difficulty on top of its already difficult premise. Think of this card system akin to something like the Hell Mode Pact of Punishment system from Hades. These spice up the game’s difficulty and require you to be a little more mindful of how to approach each area of the game.
Back 4 Blood isn’t fully a cooperative game. It has a serviceable PvP for the more competitive people. For those who might be itching for a campaign versus, it unfortunately isn’t present in this game. This PvP mode, called Swarm, is a 4 on 4 mode where both teams alternate between the Cleaners and the Ridden.
This mode is played in a best-of-three format where the Cleaners have to survive as long as they can against player-controlled Ridden foes. The players on the Ridden side have to kill off the enemy Cleaner team as fast as possible. Once the team is wiped, they are given a time of how long they fared before falling. The teams then change sides.
Players on the Ridden will now play as the Cleaners and vice versa. They have to survive longer than the set time from the other team who are now playing as the Ridden. The team that has the longest survival time scores a point. The map also changes per round, making strategies change.
The only downside to this mode is the fact that the card system is active. If you’re a player barely starting out, you may want to avoid this mode until you have a grasp of the game’s mechanics and most of the Cleaners familiarized. There is no doubt this mode will be getting some balance changes if there ever is some kind of dominating meta revolving around the cards and player synergies. As it stands right now, the mode plays fine and isn’t too broken, but it’s too soon to tell.
Finally, the icing on the cake from Turtle Rock Studios was the inclusion of day one crossplay functionality. That’s right, the game supports full crossplay across all platforms. This is huge because many big releases can have their overall reception impacted from a lack of crossplay especially if there’s a massive online component to them. Kudos to the team to make this possible.
It’s safe to say that we’re probably not going to be getting a Left 4 Dead 3 in our lifetimes, but Back 4 Blood is going to be as close as we’ll get in the time being. The game preserves mostly everything that made the two Left 4 Dead games so great while integrating it into the modern gaming sphere. Despite some really questionable components of the game like preventing progression behind solo offline play and the always online aspect, Back 4 Blood will really help revitalize the zombie horde survival genre.
If you plan on playing this game by yourself, you may want to rethink it until issues about solo play are addressed. However, if you plan on playing this in a group setting, you’ll definitely have an adrenaline-fueled blast mowing down hordes of the Ridden.
- Score: 4 / 5
- Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC (Steam, Epic Games)
- Published By: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Developed By: Turtle Rock Studios
- Genre: First-Person Shooter, Survival Horror
- US Release Date: October 12, 2021 | October 7, 2021 (Ultimate Edition)
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "It’s safe to say that we’re probably not going to be getting a Left 4 Dead 3 in our lifetimes, but Back 4 Blood is going to be as close as we’ll get in the time being. The game preserves mostly everything that made the two Left 4 Dead games so great while integrating it into the modern gaming sphere."