Every year at Halloween, I open the creaky door to the world of horror games. I love to try horror games, but I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to play most of them all the way through. Step up, Back 4 Blood (B4B) from Turtle Rock Studios. I’ve had a great time so far, but I have a few concerns if there is enough here to keep a high player base moving forward. It was released on the 12th of October 2021, and in everything but name, it’s a sequel to the extremely popular Left 4 Dead (L4D).
Fans have been eager to see if this would be a return to glory like L4D or a misstep like Evolve. After ten or so hours slaughtering more of the “Ridden” than I’ve had hot dinners, I would confidently say it’s better than Evolve but falls a little short of L4D.
If you’ve played any of Turtle Rocks previous titles, you’ll be familiar with the set-up and premise. 4 Player Co-Op against hordes of bad guys while travelling from point A to B on maps. During the chapter based story, you’ll face off against both run of the mill enemies and stronger enemies known as “Special Infected”, essentially stronger, quicker and more powerful mutations of the Ridden.
Also returning from their earlier game is the AI director, this makes changes on the fly to the game. Things like where items will be in a level, and the number of enemies spawned. It’s a great premise for a feature and should mean that each play-thru on a level goes a little differently.
The biggest change in formula sees the introduction of the card system which can make your play-thru easier or harder and is key to a level of replayability. Cards are gained by playing Supply Lines which looks to be B4B’s version of a battle pass.
The AI director draws two corruption cards, including rewards for completing a level in a time frame or extra copper (Back 4 Blood ‘s currency) for getting to the next safe house. They can also affect the gameplay more directly with changes to the level weather or worse….. huge changes to the difficulty level.
After this, each player draws five cards from their deck and chooses one to have active for the rest of the campaign. At the start of each campaign level, the same happens again, so cards can be stacked and used to build styles for campaign runs like maybe melee or even sniper builds. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s a lot to take in at the start of the game.
Moving on to performance and gameplay, this is where I’ve been most impressed. Back 4 Blood is a good looking game, but it’s not got the AAA level of graphics on offer like in Resident Evil Village from earlier in 2021. Outside of a few stuttering issues on the introduction video, the performance has been rock solid, and you won’t need the newest hardware to get the most from the game. I’m playing at 1440p Ultra and get about 190FPS to 240FPS, and it feels so smooth. The game is out on most current platforms but no word of a Switch release as of yet. Play on the best system you can as shooters like this always feel better with a high refresh rate.
I love the weapons so far. The different guns all feel distinctive with a bit of weight when emptying a clip or round. The firing range included in the game main hub Fort Hope has let me mess around with most of the weapons in the game, and I look forward to trying out more as I get through the Back 4 Blood campaign!
The gameplay is a modernised version of L4D, with the biggest difference being that you can now aim down sights and sprint (tied to the stamina meter also used when melee killing). As I mentioned earlier it’s the same fight from point A to B, while collecting weapons, copper and cards. The player characters the “Cleaners”, seem to be a more capable bunch of characters, in terms of taking on enemies, as the frightened characters from L4D are out and this bunch tend to make jokes and small talk during huge horde battles. I like the card system and it’s good fun to change up gameplay, but it’s yet to grab me and make me desperate to play more.
I started to learn the game while playing on my own and herein lies the games biggest problem so far. All progression is locked behind the game’s multiplayer. This locks pretty much all meaningful stuff behind an online wall. Supply points, stat tracking, Achievements/Trophies and the collecting of cards become pointless as it’s all unlocked from the start. This needs address soon as although the bots in offline play aren’t great, not all players are lucky enough to be able to have good enough internet to allow online play. Fans have been quick to feedback their unhappiness about this, and developers have said they will look to address it soon.
Once you take the game online with a handful of friends it changes, and it was like slipping on a pair of my favourite football boots from 10 years ago. Rough around the edges but a joy to have once again. In more ways than one, it’s kind of the perfect game for GamePass too. It’s not something I could play every day and night, but sitting having drinks on a Friday, wasting hours wasting bad guys with friends is great fun.
The final point I’ve noticed is a MASSIVE ramp in difficulty. If you jump into B4B, make sure to learn your way of the lower difficulty first, if you don’t, you’ll be in for a rude awakening jumping straight into veteran or nightmare. Overall, there is plenty of fun to be had if you miss Left 4 Dead, but it might take a few patches and content drops for Back 4 Blood to be considered a must-try experience, especially considering the wealth of other games which have or are due to come out shortly.