It’s been a long time coming, but the spiritual successor of the Left 4 Dead franchise is here! But can Back 4 Blood live up to the fanfare of the games before it? Of course, without some new flare, it could feel like it’s stuck in 2008. Created by the same development team, Turtle Rock Studios, and published by Warner Bros., it’s easy to say that while you can easily see the influence of Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock has brought this first-person shooter into the modern day.
Multiplayer, co-op stories are a dime a dozen nowadays. A lot of the FPS genre feels like it focuses primarily on PvP aspects. And while Back 4 Blood does have a PvP mode, the big draw is its cooperative campaign. It’s an old setup that worked back in the early 2000s, and it works even now because there’s not much like it available.
Cooperation is the name of the game. Up to four players can team up, taking control of one of eight different characters. You’re then thrown into the center of a war waged against the Ridden, i.e., zombies created from a deadly parasite, some of whom have special abilities. With humanity’s extinction just around the corner, it’s up to you and your friends to bring down as many Ridden as possible and reclaim the living world from the dead. So, while this is not a direct sequel to Left 4 Dead 2, where the plot is involved, the mechanics and setup are overwhelmingly a call-back to the series.
The first most apparent through-line is the Act system. Currently, there are three Acts available. That may not seem like much, but each Act has ten or more parts to it. While some sections are oddly short, most are long, requiring various objectives from just making it to the safe house to saving people. And while the base map in each section never changes between playthroughs, some nuances do. For example, there are often new rooms to explore that were once boarded up, and other rooms become inaccessible. While these aren’t massive changes, it does add a little spice to each playthrough.
With players able to pick from a variety of characters, many of whom have very fun mechanics and bring an excellent balance to the team, the game leans heavily on its cooperative draw. Add on special zombies that can incapacitate a lone player, and the lone wolf is rarely a viable playstyle. Every aspect of Back 4 Blood focuses on better cooperation with your teammates, and it’s refreshing. The more you’re willing to help each other out, the faster you can accomplish many objectives. From loading a howitzer to carrying cases that impeded your ability to shoot zombies, teamwork makes the dream work, as they say.
Of course, you can play the campaign alone; you’ll just have three bots to rely on. And while the AI is actually pretty good—they’re excellent at staying out of your way on greater difficulties and helping with healing—but nevertheless, playing with friends or random people is definitely a more enjoyable experience.
And teamwork is all the more important because, even on the easiest difficulty, the enemies pack a punch. And if the RNG gods voice their disdain and land you with a few difficult Corruption cards, then you’ve got a real challenge on your hands. And that’s where the new trappings come in—a card system. Players earn cards with various special abilities and affect a character’s base stats like stamina or health. Some cards can be found during Acts amidst the action. But many will come from one of the many vendors in the starting zone. Buying cards require supply points which are achieved simply by completing Act sections. So, the more you play, the more cards you can buy.
Players can create decks of 15 cards that can be selected before starting the campaign. At the start of each section of the Act, you’ll be allowed to choose one card out of a randomly generated hand made up of 5 cards from your deck. This is a great way to build out the type of character you want, for example, one with high stamina or a focus on melee damage. It also adds a flavor of chance into it with its roguelike elements. On top of picking a player card, Corruption cards add some extra difficulty to each level. They’re random and include cards that add a challenge, like find and bring a specimen container to the end of the level, or cards that enhance the ridden in some way, like adding armor to their weak spots. The card system adds some significant challenges to the base game, and you never know what the next section will throw at you.
The enemies also add some novelty but are mostly the same. The basic enemies are little more than fast-running zombies. But it’s the special zombies that will have you simultaneously reminiscing about Left 4 Dead and screaming, “Here comes a Tallboy!” Back 4 Blood has a similar number of special zombies to attend with, and many of them work similarly to those in Left 4 Dead. Like the Retches, whose Left 4 Dead equivalent would be the Boomer. My only qualm is that some of the special zombies look very similar to each other, so it can be a bit hard to tell just what you should be watching out for.
But beyond special Ridden, you’ll have to deal with a lot of enemies, especially if a horde is alerted. This system is not new, but there are a plethora of additional ways to alert the horde that makes it a real possibility that your teammates become your worst enemies—watch out for those birds!
The gunplay is instantaneously familiar while also adding some flair with the numerous options for guns, melee weapons, and mods. Of course, you have a few basic options to choose from at the start of each Act. But you’ll find better guns throughout the levels via randomly spawned crates you’ll have to search for. Additionally, mods can be found throughout, and each of these, along with guns, has a rarity to them. While the base gameplay is familiar, add on some minor additions like buying perks in the safe rooms, and the additions bring the gunplay into modern-day expectations, creating some very satisfying action. My only qualms here is that there seems to be no way to remove a mod from a gun without switching it out for another mod, and if you have a particularly greedy teammate, they may hog all the good guns to themselves since guns, and other items including ammo, can’t be picked up by everyone.
Overall, Back 4 Blood is a wonderful call-back to the games that have come before it. And even though it’s not a direct sequel to Left 4 Dead 2, it brings back the most important elements of the series. But it shouldn’t be seen as only a spiritual successor because it adds so many new features that make it an extremely satisfying modern-day FPS. While a few elements impede the gameplay, they can be easily overlooked when you have a great team to play with.
Back 4 Blood is available now on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S via Gamepass, PlayStation 4 and 5, and PC.
Back 4 Blood
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
Back 4 Blood is a wonderful call-back to the games that have come before it. And even though it’s not a direct sequel to Left 4 Dead 2, it brings back the most important elements of the series. But it shouldn’t be seen as only a spiritual successor because it adds so many new features that make it an extremely satisfying modern-day FPS. While a few elements impede the gameplay, they can be easily overlooked when you have a great team to play with.