After being dead and buried for 12 years, Turtle Rock has resurrected their 4 player team-based survival-horror game Left 4 Dead… I mean… Back 4 Blood. Sorry, that is going to happen a lot when you first boot up Back 4 Blood. The Left 4 Dead brand has been so ingrained into our minds when it comes to killing hordes of the undead and special infected that its hard to tell the two apart, and mostly because Back 4 Blood is the same game as Left 4 Dead, just with a new engine, a few tweaks, and a new name.
Name: Back 4 Blood Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One Developer: Turtle Rock Studios Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Game Type: First-person shooter, survival horror Mode(s): Single-player, multiplayer Release Date: October 12, 2021
Make the undead dead again…
Much like Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood doesn’t really have a story to go with it. All we know, thanks to a campaign trailer, is that some idiots discovered a worm that can take over, control, and mutate the human body. As usual, the Government kept this worm a secret until someone forgot to lock the jar lid and the worms got out, infecting the world’s population into what they are calling “ridden” (We know they are zombies, so that’s what I’ll call them) and “mutates”, special mutations that spawn a variety of different abilities like Reekers (Boomers), Ogres (Giant walking tanks the size of a mountain), Hockers (Spitters but with a more spider look), Tallboys in both Bruiser & Crusher variants (Charger), Hag (Witches), Stalkers (Hunters), and a few others I’ll leave as a surprise.
You play as one of 8 “Cleaners” (Doc, Evangelo, Hoffman, Holly, Jim, Karlee, Walker, and “Mom”), aka people who are immune to the worms, and you go about either taking down the hordes of the mutated and ridden or do other tasks along the way. You do meet up with a few other people during the main campaign, like an Army guy called Phillips, who treats you as nothing more than grunts who can do fetch quests and be a distraction to either find or help other people escape the area. Each cleaner character has its own unique set of stats and abilities that are used as a base for you to build upon.
Unlike Left 4 Dead, which basically forces you down tunnels over and over again going from saferoom to saferoom, Back 4 Blood changes the locations up a bit by changing up some levels a few times over where you might have to go past a saferoom first before you actually get the to location of where you might find some survivors, need to fortify a location, or find some cargo and take it to another area or to the saferoom to continue. Each level has a very specific set of conditions in order to complete before you can move on. My favorite so far is a holdout defensive mission in a bar where you distract the ridden by playing “Black Betty” on a Jukebox while the survivors you saved in the previous 2 missions escape from Fort Hope.
Blood and Gore!
Considering the last time, we experienced something like Back 4 Blood was over 12 years ago, so of course, Turtle Beach has upgraded the graphics engine that powers Back 4 Blood. Going from the Source engine that powered Left 4 Dead 2, to the powerhouse that is Unreal Engine 4 really makes everything pop, splatter, and cover people in blood when facing down a huge group of zombies, or get hit by some of the special infected’s attacks. The other advantage of using UE4 is that there is barely any visual lag when having to face down oncoming waves of zombies, or having to move your way through some of the thickest fog I have seen in video games since the old Silent Hill days on the PlayStation 1, except this was intentional and not a limit of the system.
One of the things that really makes Back 4 Blood interesting graphically is when you face down a huge group solo or with a melee weapon, your character will get covered in blood, which looks awesome from a third-person perspective. Other small effects are interesting too, like the way doors break down more naturally when shot or hit against, or the difference in scuff marks left by a baseball bat or machete. Back 4 Blood takes a moment every now and again to show something that you wouldn’t normally notice or show the improvement in development that Turtle Rock has had by changing engines and also leaving Valve.
For the love of God, don’t disturb the birds!
Gameplay in Back 4 Blood is pretty much the same as Left 4 Dead in the terms of having to face your way through hoards of the undead, special infected, and boss level monsters while either having to survive to a safe room, or having to tackle tasks like moving vehicles out of the way, playing defensive as it happens, blowing up a mine that is spewing the undead, or placing explosives in order to sink a boat and save the mainland, and much more.
What makes Back 4 Blood different from Left 4 Dead is the card system. Between each round, you’ll be assigned random cards that will give you beneficial effects like extra ammo, health, stamina, or bigger effects from a deck of cards you make over time. But it’s not all gravy with the card system. To balance things out, Back 4 Blood will deal out negative effects or challenge cards, which range from having to do a speedrun, to making sure no one dies, covering the level in thick fog, or one of the worst: giving all the zombies and special infected super armor or poison effects. Basically, the better you do, the harder Back 4 Blood is going to make you work for success in each level.
To help you fight your way through the undead, Back 4 Blood has a weapon system that not only gives you random weapons through each level (also with random attachments) but allows you to purchase and stock weapons, attachments, throwing weapons, healing items, and more through coins that you collect in each level. If you are feeling very flush with coins, you can buy a team effect that carries over through each run. This ranges from extra throwing weapons, overall health upgrade, faster run, and more. My hint would be to have someone carry a lockpick kit to open one of the special doors that pop up a few times through each level, giving you a huge load of coins, items, and weapons that could be better than what you have.
Sorry kid, you’re infected.
The retail edition of Back 4 Blood has changed a lot when it comes to what we experienced in the beta. Since the beta, the connections that are made with crossplay have become very problematic, with connections dropping or players having to rely on a cloud connection system to backtrack segments in order to keep gameplay going, which results in problems where it eliminates lag, but at the same time just has people appearing “active” when they aren’t, causing teams to wipe. But another good thing with the connection is that no game is without people, as Back 4 Blood has the ability to back-fill people into the game when a spot is open, so you’re never really stuck with a bot for too long.
Speaking of bots, Back 4 Blood does have a single-player mode that allows you to play with bots and just experience the gameplay and story in Back 4 Blood without going crazy from dealing with stupid people. However, it comes with the drawback that it disables just about everything. No character progression, no new cards added to your inventory, no currency to unlock anything, nothing. What makes it worse is that while the objectives have been adjusted so that they aren’t overwhelming for the AI, the AI isn’t going to help you at all, so be prepared to do ALL the heavy lifting in this mode for no reward. The only good side to doing this is that you do get a chance to see the levels and work out the layouts before jumping into the crazy multiplayer bullshit.
Now I’ll rant more about how much I already hate the multiplayer already in the next section, but I’m going to explain why for the moment. A lot of what leads to horrible multiplayer games in Back 4 Blood is the communication system. Unless you go hunting and get everything set up for voice chat in the game, meaning changing settings in the game and also in your console or PC itself, you’re left with a single button that will tag things like items, weapons, enemies, coins, etc, with an icon and if you don’t understand anything to do with this system, or other players are just too far away to care, then you’re going to be left having a bad time.
Back to the game changes and flaws, the first thing I want to mention is the stamina system. If you run or swing a melee weapon, you expend a stamina bar that goes down very quickly but takes forever to recharge. This creates an imbalance where you are punished for defending yourself without a gun, which sucks because unless you pick up something like a Tech 9 or Glock, melee weapons are a very good secondary and AOE weapon to use. Speaking of using guns, I also noticed that since the beta, the weapon damage has been reduced by at least 25%. As someone who likes to sit back and use a sniper rifle, unloading high damage from a long distance. My favorite rifle was the highest damage in the game (The Barrett M95), with an output of over 220+ damage from a minimum distance, and 170+ damage from the furthest distance. In the retail version, this was reduced to 190+ damage ON CRIT with 170+ damage at a minimum range, and a pitiful 120+ damage from maximum distance. I think this was done to make people favor things like the Assault Rifle group, in which an M4 Carbine does the exact same damage with a burst bonus.
The final problem I had with Back 4 Blood that hurt the playing experience for me was a technical one. Upon loading the game and going through all the screen settings, PC users will notice that there is a HUGE amount of screen tearing happening from the get-go. A small change of enabling V-Sync through the video menu will correct this issue, but it’s something that shouldn’t be a problem in the retail version as the beta had no video issues at all. I’m not sure why but there were a lot of changes from the beta to retail that really didn’t need to be done.
How long will you survive?
Your experience with Back 4 Blood is going to depend on how you want to play it. If you’re wanting to play solo, you can but they punish you for it. If you want to play the intended multiplayer with random people, then you’re going to go crazy with how stupid 99% of the general gaming public are. The best experience is going to be playing Back 4 Blood with either a group of friends or people who have access to something like Discord for communication. Back 4 Blood is one of those games where communication is key to survival, and without it, you’re just going to experience frustration and grief at levels that are going to cause you to throw controllers, smash keyboards, and just stop playing Back 4 Blood all together.
Back 4 Blood is a good return to the 4 player co-op survival-horror genre since Turtle Rock mastered the game over 10 years ago. However, while making minimal improvements with the graphics engine and some interesting changes to the gameplay, one of the biggest issues with Back 4 Blood comes from forcing people to play multiplayer without having a good communication system in place, as not everyone has voice-enabled or available on their PC or console of choice. This leaves too many people joining games and just going rouge during times when you need coordination in order to complete sections, making Back 4 Blood a session in frustration than an enjoyable gaming experience. If you have the patience of Buddah, Ghandi, and Mother Terrisa all rolled into one, or three (or more) other friends who’ll spend time on Discord while playing, then you’ll get your money’s worth out of Back 4 Blood, otherwise I’d highly suggest either waiting till Turtle Rock makes better bot mechanics, or skipping Back 4 Blood completely.
Review Disclosure Statement: Back 4 Blood was provided to us by Turtle Rock for review purposes. For more information on how we conduct and handle reviews here, please visit our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info. Thank you.
Back 4 Blood is a good game, it improves on the Left 4 Dead formula in a way that is challenging and creative. However, the move to forcing people to advance the overall game by going online, being forced to work with randoms in a very badly connected cross-platform multiplayer games where without a solid communication base, resulting in Back 4 Blood being an experience in frustration rather than a very enjoyable game. If Turtle Rock allows for private games where you can do under 4 players with bots instead, then maybe this game can truly be something that is a must-own. But at the moment Back 4 Blood is only worth playing if you have a premade group of friends.