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Every now and again there are games that seem and feel like a direct rip-off of each other. When Back 4 Blood was announced, the comparisons to Left 4 Dead quickly arrived on the scene, and rightly so. Both games have the same development team behind them, just under different studio team names. So given that fact, we can safely take a look at the game that was dubbed "Left 4 Dead 3" but is really called Back 4 Blood, and see how different two games made in the same genre, style, gameplay, and studio can be.
You can't have a game without characters. Sure, you could just leave the 4 people involved in an undead/infected apocalypse as nameless generic stereotypes that the player can put themselves in the shoes of, but sometimes it helps to give those characters personality, giving the player an easier way to connect to each character in their own way. Each game has its own 8 characters to choose from, and at the moment, I think a lot of the backstory and in-game banter between the Back 4 Blood crew isn't available, so it's going to be harder to compare the two groups at this point.
But given what we have between the two groups, I think that the Back 4 Blood group is more "common" and easier to connect to, and given the situation, people are going to find a character that they will connect to personally and enjoy playing. However, the counterpoint is that with Back 4 Blood, each character has a bunch of stats connected to them, which could leave people wanting to be biased toward specific characters when playing online, something that the Left 4 Dead crew lack even though they are a bunch of walking movie stereotypes.
Winner: Left 4 Dead
I know it sounds weird, but I like the idea of the walking movie stereotypes as the characters for a game like this, it gives that game a bit more of grand, over-the-top nature, with a hint of personality. I know that things might change when we get closer to the proper release of Back 4 Blood, but for the moment I have to go with what works the best at the time.
The hordes of the undead/infected will be on your ass throughout the whole of both games, so it wouldn't be fair to compare the two as both are just your common variety zombie-like creatures that most games will have. The biggest difference will be the Special monsters that make their way through each level of the games to give you a challenge. Just when you think you have been given a reprieve from the onslaught, you'll find one or more of these creatures barreling down at you, causing you and the squad to have to either get defensive or work out if its time to run away and live for another day. With each of these Special monsters, there are different things you need to do and avoid, giving a good variety in the way combat needs to play out with them.
Winner: Left 4 Dead
The big difference between the two games is their special monsters. Left 4 Dead has a really good variety with the Smoker, Boomer, Hunter, Tank, Charger, Spitter, Jockey, and Witch. Back 4 Blood on the other hand only has a couple of Special infected to work with like the Snitches (Might have been removed in the beta), Retches, Bruisers, Stingers, and The Ogre. The thing here is that 3 out of the 5 special monsters in Back 4 Blood are copies of things from Left 4 Dead. The Retches are Boomers, Stingers are Spitters, and The Ogre is an oversized Tank. A case can also be made that Bruisers are like Chargers too, leaving Snitches as the only innovation for Back 4 Blood to have.
When facing down the apocalypse, you'll probably want a good firearm at your side. After all, both games are set in 'MURICA! and for some reason, if you 'MURICANS! don't have access to your guns, then you think that the world is truly going to end. Both games have a good selection of guns on offer, mostly found out in the wild or grabbed before a level begins in the safehouse. Starting with things like pistols as your secondary sidearm, and other things like shotguns, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and more on offer, what gives the bigger band for your buck?
Winner: Back 4 Blood
Left 4 Dead has a fairly basic arrangement of guns available to mow down the undead, however, once you pick something up, then you know exactly how it's going to shoot, how much damage it's going to do and how effective it's going to be in that specific level. With Back 4 Blood, not every gun is the same. You might get 2 sniper rifles in the same weapons crate, but one might have better range, firepower, reload speed, or other stats than the other. Mixing this in with the ability to add silencers, compensators, sights, butts, and more to each weapon really makes you think about if you want to keep what you have, or take the risk on something else and maybe upgrading it over time.
As the levels get longer and more complex, you need to get something to help yourself and your teammates even the playing field. Looking at upgrades always gives you some choice to adapt on the fly to your situation as well as have some control over what you're going to need next.
Winner: Back 4 Blood
This one is completely obvious. Back 4 Blood has multiple systems in place to help upgrade your character, the squad, and your weapons in order to face down the infected in bigger and better ways. The card system that is used to give upgrades to yourself and sometimes your squad is one of the most interesting innovations that has been brought into Back 4 Blood. With a good team who knows each other and is willing to communicate, you can build a good squad with a lot of good strengths and compensate for any weakness. The same goes with the weapons, as mentioned before, you have a lot of options to work with there.
Gameplay - General
When you jump into a game of either game, you expect a lot from both. Having to fight off the hordes of common and special monsters is the basic gameplay of both games, with some challenges in either the level design or situations given in the game. Left 4 Dead gives that challenge with both situations and its original program: The AI Director, artificial intelligence that decides when the game is getting slow and when to ramp up the challenge by throwing more undead hordes or special monsters at you. Back 4 Blood has the same basic principle but uses the card system to change up the overall situation of each game, ramping up the challenge if your group does too well in the previous level. Then there are the layouts of the levels, which are designed to put you into situations where you feel trapped, isolated, or need to take a risk in order to continue.
Winner: Left 4 Dead
There is one key difference between each game. The Left 4 Dead AI director only has one job, and that's to throw more undead at you. While Back 4 Blood adds "Infected Cards" to each level, giving you a challenge or negative impact to each level. Both are really good ideas at a basic level, but there is something that needs to be said about the situations you face in the game. In some situations, you'll be forced to do something that is going to bring multiple waves of the horde down upon you and you must survive to move on. In Left 4 Dead, you face these situations at a time when you are probably going to need to plan many steps ahead in order to defeat these moments, but in Back 4 Blood, these situations will be the same, but the difference here is that you'll find a lot of extra containment gear like razor-wire barriers, heavy sentry machine guns, and other things that will make these situations easier. So Left 4 Dead gets it with it being about survival.
Gameplay - Finales
One of the big things about both games is that each act has a big finale in the 4th part of the act. These set-piece moments are designed like the ending of an action film where you and the squad will have to face down almost endless waves of the undead/infected while doing a task that will probably get a large majority of people killed. These final moments will require communication and knowledge in order for the whole team to escape alive, but when you're playing with randoms on the internet, they are usually the moments in the game where one failure will cause the group to fall apart.
Winner: Back 4 Blood
So far, the finale moments in Back 4 Blood feel like something you would see in a 1980s action film. The boat level where you have to plant explosives and then escape inside 60 seconds is one of those heart-pounding moments where one wrong move can spell doom, so you need to plan these out as much as possible before even setting the first charge. The other moment, where you have to load, fire, unload, and reload a heavy cannon 5 times in order to close a never-ending stream of infected is one of those moments where panic will rule over all unless you have a strategy and communication with the whole squad outlined from the get-go. A lot of Left 4 Dead didn't do things like this as most of the finale moments either had you running to an escape chopper, or waiting for a chopper to arrive while surviving multiple waves of infected. Creativity gets the win here.
Arriving at the final moments, we are at a stalemate. Left 4 Dead winning in 3 areas, and Back 4 Blood winning in 3 as well. So what goes into working out which game is going to do it better? Well, I can give my opinion on the subject, but remember that these games, like all games, are subjective to each of us. While I'm happy to give my result, you might think differently, and that's fine. Enjoy Left 4 Dead and Back 4 Blood, or don't, it's up to you. Play what you want to play.
Winner: Back 4 Blood
The reason I picked Back 4 Blood is potential. Having played this game in Alpha, Closed Beta, and Open Beta phases, I think that there is a really solid game here and we only have seen the bare minimum that the developers have created for us to play in October. The card system really brings layers to what could have been a very simple shooter game, and the selection and difference in the weapons is something that will have hardcore players working on for hours do min-max for the stats. Then there is what could come from the workshop, aka the modding community, which really did some amazing things with Left 4 Dead and I can't wait to see what is going to happen when they get their hands on Back 4 Blood. Good things are on the horizon people, and I can't wait to play this more with The Outerhaven when it releases.
Everything discussed in this piece is based on the Back 4 Blood closed and open beta. Back 4 Blood has already gone gold and will be released on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC this October 12th, 2021.