The concept of Back 4 Blood is a slam dunk. Give the team in charge of pioneering the zombie co-op shooter with Left 4 Dead one more chance at the genre, adding a variety of modern trappings and a new crease to it from the earlier work of the Turtle Rock To distinguish studios. But can the frenetic first person shooter regain the magic after countless tech tests and some massive footsteps? Back 4 Blood, while not perfect, is really fun with friends and offers enough new tricks to make fans come back.
The Back 4 Blood shootout is a big highlight. The weapons should be familiar to anyone who has played titles like Left 4 Dead, but the moment-to-moment engaging battles with the undead are satisfying. Everything from crushing ridden skulls with your nail-covered bat to mowing down hordes of zombies with an LMG has the right weight, controller rumble, and sound effects to immerse you in an immersive experience.
Back 4 Blood is difficult, especially at the beginning, and I was surprised by its relentless hostile mobs. I loved the heated moments when victory is called into question, but the difficulty balance isn’t right. The changes to the challenge come from the game director. This system tinkers with players’ experiences from level to level, throwing everything from fog to flames infected at you, which means that two rounds of the same phase can be completely different. There have been too many hiccups through a level only to be overwhelmed within minutes of the next segment and vice versa. The director also seems to be over-correcting after zombies got too oppressive, and my squad would easily go through the rest of a level with little more than a scratch after a big fight. The game can strike the right balance, but I wish these ups and downs had been tuned to provide a more consistent experience.
This difficulty curve is easier to manage thanks to the map system, Turtle Rocks fold on the classic formula. As players progress through the co-op campaign, they will receive supply points that can be spent on upgrade cards for each cleaner. These range from minor 10 percent boosts to vital skills like restoring health through kills to adding an extra life if your team misses its target.
The experience clicked me when I started creating courses that fit my situation. In Act 3, I’d put together enough maps to build a tank with shotguns that could sprint into the fray, mow down dozens of zombies, and run back without losing much HP, thanks to a map that gave me health for landing hits with mine gave boom shot. Another time, my team and I failed to take down a boss just to run over him when we all added a card that did 20 percent damage to the particular Ridden’s vulnerability. The more my team varied our decks and equipment, the less we had to give ammunition to each other and we became a more efficient unit. Even after facing the final boss, I still had plenty of cards to unlock and new reasons to go back to the previous levels.
As with most co-op focused games, B4B shines brightest when you have a full team shredding through the special Ridden. Whether we were shouting commands at each other or laughing at someone screeching after being attacked by one of the wall-hung sleepers, Back 4 Blood reminded me of why I’ve spent so many hours fighting the undead in the past and why me so excited to do it all over again in 2021.
Solo players, on the other hand, may have less reason to be upset. Back 4 Blood’s AI companions are knowledgeable and helpful when you need an extra health boost or ammo. But the lack of stat tracking, supply points, or even unlocks from achievements kept me a long way from solo action. This is disappointing for players looking to enjoy the game on their own.
Finally, I passively enjoyed Back 4 Blood’s Swarm mode, in which Cleaners compete against the Ridden in subsections of the campaign to fight in turn-based encounters. The teams take turns playing either as ridden or cleaners, and the person who can hold out the longest wins the round. I enjoyed playing as the undead, but I don’t like how some of the special Ridden ones like the Tallboy are in control and longed for the intense matches of the campaign. The mode isn’t grossly bad, but it pales in comparison to the rest of the game’s addicting co-op package, and after a few rounds of this PvP mode, I was content with ditching it and going back to PvE.
Back 4 Blood is one of my comfort food games of 2021. It’s an excellent time with friends that I’ve been itching since the glory days of Left 4 Dead. While it never reaches the peak of its inspiration, adding cards makes me hungry to play more, even when the game isn’t at its strongest.