Back 4 Blood Review: Is Back 4 Blood the true Left 4 Dead 2 successor?
Back 4 Blood is finally out, with months of beta testing finally out on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. Has the long wait been worth it? Just how good is Back 4 Blood? Let’s find out in our Back 4 Blood review.
What is Back 4 Blood?
Back 4 Blood is the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead 2. When developers Turtle Rock Studios realized that Valve is allergic to the number 3, they left the company to form their own studio. With Turtle Rock Studios, they made the ill-fated asymmetric multiplayer game Evolve. From what they learned in the failure of Evolve comes Back 4 Blood. But did they learn, really? Let’s find out in our Back 4 Blood review below. Ready to jump in? Then you can buy Back 4 Blood here.
First off: the gameplay. Back 4 Blood is played in parties of four players, each one using one of the eight characters. Each of the characters has their minor difference from the others, like boosted stats and starting weapons. Virtually, each character plays almost exactly like the others, and it doesn’t change your experience so much. The four players go through one act: eight pre-determined levels with different objectives. Campaign Runs are saved independently, which means you can jump in and out of a run anytime you like, and you can return where you left off the next time you come out to play.
If you’ve already played Left 4 Dead 2, you’d have an idea of how these acts play out. Each level will require you to move from one safe house to another. There will be some other objectives that you’ll have to complete in between, but it’s mostly killing hordes of zombies from Point A to Point B.
So what changed from Left 4 Dead 2 to Back 4 Blood? Back 4 Blood introduces decks of cards. There are three types: Stage Cards, Character Cards, and Player Cards. The Player Cards consist of a deck of cards each player brings with them into each Act. They draw five cards from their deck at the start of each level. They get to pick one of the five to bring with them to that level. The cards bring about minor boosts in stats or modify the game’s rules a bit. One of my favorite cards heals the rest of the party when one of you gets downed.
The other two cards: Stage Cards and Character Cards, aren’t part of the players’ decks. The Stage Cards are always on. One of the Stage Cards is specific to that level, giving each level a special rule. The other Stage Card gives players a secondary mission that they can do to earn more Copper, the in-game currency. Character Cards are always on depending on the character each player chooses to play as in the game.
Now, each stage plays out for about ten to fifteen minutes, which I think is a great duration for levels of this type of game. The structure of each level is predetermined, so playing through them over and over again gets tiring eventually. Thankfully, Back 4 Blood‘s gunplay and movement are crisp enough that it’s easy to forgive the repetitive levels. Gun feedback feels especially good, with each hit feeling very satisfying and earned.
Speaking of gunplay, Back 4 Blood offers a large arsenal of weapons for players to either buy at safehouses or pick up throughout the level. The weapon variety is amazing, with a lot of different options, from handguns to shotguns, melee weapons, throwables, and rifles. Back 4 Blood also introduced attachments to the game, which adds even more customization options for the weapons you bring with you to defeat hordes of zombies.
Apart from the “Common” zombies, or as the game calls them – the Ridden – there are several different special zombies that you might encounter in your run. Their appearances add an extra layer of suspense and action in the game. What’s amazing here is that the special Ridden now come in “families.” Some special Ridden look the same or have the same general characteristics, but could attack the players in three different ways. For example, the agile Riddens could be a melee-based Hocker, a spitting Stinger, or a pouncing Stalker. This adds more variety and uncertainty, making players second guess their approach to these special zombies.
Outside of the campaign runs, the game also offers a PvP mode that is best avoided – it’s unbalanced and not really fun to play. One side plays as the Cleaners and another side play as the Ridden. The Cleaners play as good as they do on regular gameplay, but controlling the Ridden is utterly bad. The game’s PvP is almost like a callback to Turtlerock Studios’ Evolve, which just goes to show how much the team still needs to learn in designing a fun and balanced assymetric multiplayer game.
The game also offers a progression system that lets you unlock new Cards to add to your Player Deck, as well as new characters with their own unique characteristics. You start off with five available characters to choose from, with three unlockable characters.
Overall, Back 4 Blood is a fun game to be played with friends or other random players. However, the game’s AI still is one of the worst aspects of the game. If you’re playing levels alone, it might be hard to complete, as the game’s Player AI is terrible. Thankfully, the game offers three different difficulties – if you’re forced to play alone you can choose to play at the lowest difficulty. All three difficulty levels offer significant changes in the challenge you’ll face in your runs. Save for some issues with how playing alone can hamper your progress, Back 4 Blood contains a lot of fun content, various unlockables to keep things fresh, and replayability that could last lifetimes.
Now, the elephant in the room. Back 4 Blood overall is a great game, but sooner or later you’d start wanting to play new Acts, new maps. The game’s DLC system gatekeeps players’ total experience, locking behind a paywall a significant portion of the game’s content. At launch, everyone will have a level playing field, with everyone having access to all of the currently available maps and Acts at launch. However, this will change once the first of the three planned DLC packs arrive over the course of the next year. New acts and maps will come through the $40 annual pass – which comes with the game’s Deluxe and Ultimate Editions. Now, it’s still difficult to gauge whether or not the DLC will be worth the cost.
However, it doesn’t feel like this will be much of an issue since having just one party member with access to the DLCs will unlock it for the entire party. This can only become a problem for those who play alone – or those who want to choose to play the maps they will run. However, at the moment, we do not yet believe that the game’s monetization will have a significant impact on a player’s enjoyment of the game. If anything, the future stories will be exclusively for those who want more out of the game who will be exactly the same people who’d be willing to purchase whatever’s going to come out next.
Games like this don’t really offer Story as their strongest suit, but Back 4 Blood at least has a solid foundation to play on. Unlike most zombie shooters where you play as an ‘everyman’ who happens to survive the zombie apocalypse, you play as one of the Cleaners – a group of trained and well-armed survivors who go out on missions to eradicate the Ridden and find survivors and supplies. This actually gives each level a distinct purpose – Act 1 actually asks the team to blast off a luxury cruise ship full of Ridden, as well as destroying a mine that’s infested with zombies – using a howitzer no less.
The story also plays out through different cutscenes that play out in some portions of the game. They’re well made and add a lot of character for the game. However, it’s unfortunate that there doesn’t appear to be a way to re-play these scenes once they’re done.
The backstories of each character also play out in the game’s banter. Multiplayer games like Back 4 Blood have each character interact with each other and throw witty one-liners. However, even only after several hours of gameplay, we feel like we’ve already heard all of the game’s voice lines at least three times. At this point, it doesn’t really take away yet from the overall experience, but probably hearing some of the “unique” lines several more times could eventually get irritating.
There’s nothing to complain about with the game’s graphics. You can also find most modern graphics settings in the game including HDR and DLSS, but ray-tracing is notably absent. It would have been awesome if ray-tracing were on, provided that lighting is pretty important in dark games like this. Still, the game’s hybrid of semi-realistic but kind of colorful and cartoony character designs stand out in the game – although character models will be covered in blood almost right after you open up the safehouse doors.
Music and Sound Design
The game’s music is ambient at best, which is something that fits a game like this. Sound design is pitch-perfect, and it’s easy to tell where zombies are coming from or where the hordes will be coming from just from the audio. Weapon sound effects are also great, with each cackle of a shotgun and reload of a weapon feeling extremely right.
Back 4 Blood offers some accessibility options. Subtitles can be toggled to also show sound effects and the names of speakers. There is both text to speech and speech to text options, which also extends to the game’s onboarding tutorial. Visual effects can be toggled for the hypersensitive, controls can be rebound, as well as colorblind options. Finally, the game offers three difficulties, with the first one being a suitable challenge for younger and less-experienced players. The game can be played using either an MKB setup or with a gamepad. Button mapping is also available, as well as aim assist for controller gunplay.
Verdict – Is Back 4 Blood worth your time and money?
Is Back 4 Blood Left 4 Dead? No, and that’s for the better. Fans of the classic Left 4 Dead might find a couple of problems with the more modern take of the genre. However, Back 4 Blood offers a lot of its own features and mechanics that make it a very great game in its own right. With just the base game content, there’s a lot to unfold and to enjoy, with many unlockables, personalization options, and weapons to try out. Future content will be rolled out in due time, with the game’s DLC system becoming a major topic or concern in the future. However, at its current state, players have no reason not to try out Back 4 Blood, as it contains one of the most fun multiplayer gameplay today.