Back 4 Blood Review

Richard Walker

Back 4 Blood is the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, developer Turtle Rock Studios' gleefully intense co-op zombie shooter, which provided unpredictable thrills via its innovative AI director. And so Turtle Rock is back 4 more, beefing up the very same experience it introduced back in 2008, bringing a handful of new tricks to the zombie-killing table, including the ability to build a deck of cards that activates a series of modifiers during each run, in a bid to help keep things fresh. It's not been that long since we last blasted a load of zombies, but B4B feels like something of a homecoming for the makers of Left 4 Dead, after the somewhat under-appreciated Evolve. It is, for all intents and purposes, a third Left 4 Dead game – and that's most definitely a good thing.


Stick together, just like good waffles.

While playing as a ragtag band of survivors, affectionately referred to as 'Cleaners', you may note that Back 4 Blood goes slightly heavier on story than Left 4 Dead did, punctuating its missions with cut-scenes, before hurling you into the action, (via a safe room, of course). Away from the clawing rotten fingers of the 'Ridden' – B4B's undead monsters are infected by a parasite known as the 'Devil Worm' – you can stock up on weapons, ammo, and other useful items, in preparation for the trials that lay ahead. As well as a generous array of assault rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles, you can take along the usual support items like medikits, defibrillators, grenades, and gear that aids the team as a whole, while defensive tools like barbed wire, stun guns, and kits to open locked doors enable you to strategise.

A natural evolution of everything Left 4 Dead did so well, Back 4 Blood spins things out in every conceivable direction, offering a more expansive - but no less replayable – four-act campaign, filled with relentless hordes to blast into oblivion. The same special zombie archetypes are almost all accounted for, including the club-armed 'Tallboy', the brutish 'Reeker', the griefing 'Stinger' (all of which also have three different permutations to deal with), and the hideous 'Snitcher', who'll alert the horde when disturbed – it all makes for a pretty stern challenge, even at the lowest 'Recruit' difficulty, and the 'Game Director' does its best to keep you on your toes, spawning random hordes and special Ridden types at every turn, with glowing pink weak spots you can target to more efficiently dispatch them.

As such, Back 4 Blood is a game in which co-op teammates are a must, especially since the AI bots are pretty useless, frequently getting stuck in doorways or glitching out when you're on the floor screaming out for a revive. Criminally, too, playing the solo campaign is rendered entirely pointless due to a lack of progression (something which Turtle Rock has acknowledged and is working to address), meaning you can't properly engage with the card system, or make any meaningful headway through the game. Unless you're able to play online with other players, you're better off avoiding Back 4 Blood altogether until something is done about its single-player progression.


Initially seeming like a cynical effort to shoehorn in a perfunctory card-based mechanic, the card system is actually a remarkably worthwhile aspect of Back 4 Blood, allowing you to tailor specific character builds and bolster any deficiencies you might have. Sick of running out of stamina? Pop a stamina boost card in your deck. Want to earn more copper to spend on weapons and perks during a run? Play a card that increases the piles of currency you'll find knocking about in each level. Fancy helping the whole team with a 10% ammo capacity boost? There's a card for that. Building decks fast becomes an engaging part of the game, which you can dispense with, by randomly assigning cards, if you'd prefer. Regardless of whether you choose to get into deck-building, the card system certainly succeeds in bringing an extra layer of strategy to Back 4 Blood – and 'Corruption Cards' introduced prior to each level bring unexpected challenges and penalties to contend with.

Completing each level also earns supply points, which can be used to unlock 'supply lines' for new cards and cosmetic items back at the game's Fort Hope hub, so you can constantly broaden your options and experiment with different builds. Put it all together, and Back 4 Blood's replay value is huge – the fact that you're unable to earn supply points when playing solo is yet another bizarre oversight. Weapon rarity also keeps you striving to bag something better as you progress through each run, and the struggle to stay alive is given extra weight, thanks to the knowledge that dying means losing your precious gun and all of its attachments, or that coveted epic-level machete that carves through zombies like, well, a machete through rancid, decaying flesh.

The game's competitive 4v4 Swarm mode also has separate thrills to dabble in outside of the campaign, although the lack of a PvP campaign option is something of a shame. Swarm mode substitutes the versus campaign from Left 4 Dead for a showdown on a relatively confined map, one team playing as the Cleaners while the opposing team chooses their own Ridden monster with which to ambush the squad of humans. It all plays out much as you'd expect, and while Swarm is a decent enough competitive multiplayer diversion, it's unlikely you'll revisit it as much as the co-op campaign. Had Swarm been a versus campaign, we could imagine delving into it far more often, but as it stands, it's an option you'll probably only have a few brief dalliances with.


The Ogre - loves chucking a big pus-filled ball of disease at you.

Swarm is an example of one area in which Back 4 Blood doesn't compare favourably to Left 4 Dead. In the campaign proper, the tension that L4D generated at the end of each level, as the four of you fought to stem the tide of undead while waiting for a helicopter, boat, jeep or whatever to whisk you away to safety, is rarely engendered to the same degree. Instances where there are objectives to complete or imposing boss characters, like the Ogre and Breaker, to topple (with their own health bar, no less) come close to replicating that level of intensity, but we couldn't help but pine for those old extraction sequences. In a sense, the legacy of Left 4 Dead is something of a hindrance to Back 4 Blood, as you can't help but put the two side-by-side, and, ultimately, Left 4 Dead remains the better game.

While the purity of those original Left 4 Dead games remains unrivalled, Back 4 Blood is a sensational co-op experience in its own right. Delivering enough new ideas and fresh spins on the formula to set it apart, as well as rock-solid shooter mechanics, endlessly gratifying melee weapons for bashing heads, and a slew of modern systems, Back 4 Blood is an assured effort that manages to feel both new and exciting. If nothing else, it’s proof positive that the simple pleasures to be offered by zombie slaughter (with friends, of course), are never not wholly appealing, and, to that end, Back 4 Blood should fill a big Left 4 Dead-shaped hole in your life.

Back 4 Blood

A blistering return to zombie-slaying nirvana, Back 4 Blood is an excellent spiritual follow-up to Left 4 Dead that ticks almost all of the right boxes, except for the one labelled 'solo progression' – if you're planning on playing offline on your own, you might want to steer clear for now. Otherwise, jump right in.

Form widget
80%
Audio
70%

Music is subtle and unobtrusive, while guttural zombie gurgles and roars will keep you on edge. Audio cues for special characters don't induce panic like you'd hope, however. Remember when a tank or witch turned up in Left 4 Dead? It's not quite the same in Back 4 Blood.

Visuals
75%

A very nice-looking game, Back 4 Blood succeeds in generating a wonderful atmosphere of foreboding during its levels, taking you to cool locations like police stations, lakeside docks, abandoned gas stations, and graveyards. Every now and then, there's the odd glitch, but we encountered nothing major.

Playability
85%

Immediate and instantly enjoyable if you know how to play a first-person shooter. The card system, with its helpful cards and gameplay-altering 'Corruption Cards' help mix things up a bit, lending a little extra depth to proceedings. Crucially, Back 4 Blood is good, solid fun.

Delivery
75%

The lack of solo progression is an unsightly blot on an otherwise superb game, leaving lone wolves out in the cold. But, if you can stand to play with random people or (better still) rally around a team of friends, then there are countless hours of entertainment to be had.

Trophies
80%

Dig in for a tough old time if you want to bag every one of Back 4 Blood's trophies – completing every act at the rock-hard 'Nightmare' difficulty is a requirement, for starters. And, there are secrets to be found, as well as some creative tasks to complete. A good mix of objectives, but it's no picnic.

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