Left 4 Dead 2 is an iconic zombie game that peaked with over 160,000 concurrent players on Steam, and even in the last 24 hours, has amassed over 28,000. The game currently sits with a 97% positive rating after 360,000 reviews on Steam. Back 4 Blood, by Turtle Rock Studios, aims to be a spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead franchise and it is even created by some of the developers from the franchise.
The Open Beta includes the first Act, a few supply lines (how you unlock new cards), and a versus mode. Back 4 Blood‘s basic gameplay structure remains the same as Left 4 Dead. Players pick from multiple characters with unique abilities, fight hordes of diverse zombies with weapons, and aim to reach the safe room. There are a few extra aspects in Back 4 Blood, such as the cards, but the premise is the same.
“This is quite a lot of gameplay for a beta, but definitely not enough gameplay for a full game.”
The first act is surprisingly quite long, with over 8 levels, taking you around 10 minutes per level. There are three difficulties; Survival, Veteran, and Nightmare. However, with a decent squad of friends, it’s not hard to smash through each of the difficulties. Survival is incredibly easy, and Veteran can also be quite straightforward if everyone pulls their weight.
Unfortunately, if you do lose a player, for whatever reason throughout a game, you are left with arguably the worst AI bot in video games. A bot isn’t going to be of any help to you in actually killing zombies. They will just stand out in the open, shooting quite slowly and inefficiently, as you and your fellow squad members struggle with one less person. Luckily, the bots do make for a nice human shield, so you don’t have to take damage yourself.
This is quite a lot of gameplay for a beta, but definitely not enough gameplay for a full game. With the release date of October 12 fast approaching, I am hoping Turtle Rock Studios have prepared more acts for launch. Otherwise, they are going to run into a few angry customers, myself included.
“Every character has three abilities, with one of them affecting the whole team.”
Cards are the biggest separating factor from Left 4 Dead. These add an RNG (random number generator) element to the game as you complete each level in the act. You can place these cards in a specific order for them to appear, and thus, build towards a certain goal for your character. Although, it’s not always smooth sailing as corruption cards can throw a spanner in the works. Unfortunately, this isn’t always balanced. On some levels, you’ll receive one or two corruption cards and manage to just scrape through a level. To celebrate your victory, the AI director will award you with countless corruption cards, making it near impossible to pass the next level. This needs to be adjusted ahead of full release as, right now, it is a little too random.
The playable characters in Back 4 Blood are interesting. While their designs can be questionable — Holly’s jumper never seems to come loose from around her waist — their abilities add a lot to the gameplay. Every character has three abilities, with one of them affecting the whole team. This adds a tactical element to the gameplay, so you have to think for the whole team, rather than just picking a character you like because of the way they look.
“The Back 4 Blood Open Beta also allows players to try out the multiplayer PVP game mode, Versus.”
While the designs for the characters are distinct, the special ridden need some rethinking. They are often hard to spot and don’t have a lot of personality. Comparing this to Left 4 Dead‘s special zombies where you can easily hear the Witch from a mile away, it feels a bit lacklustre. They also aren’t very unique. I couldn’t tell the difference between the special ridden variants, especially in the heat of the moment. I feel like this needs to be tuned ahead of launch by adjusting the audio design and a possible retexture.
The Back 4 Blood Open Beta also allows players to try out the multiplayer PVP game mode, Versus. This mode puts two teams of four against each other across three rounds, alternating between playing as the cleaners (humans) and the ridden (zombies). This mode is adequate. There are a lot of interesting ideas in play here, some work, and others do not. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough time to pick your character and choose your cards. Especially, if you load in late or are contemplating your character choice or a few different cards.
“Unfortunately, the Open Beta does feel like an Early Access or Alpha.”
I think the multiplayer would be more engaging with one longer round instead of 3 separate rounds on different maps. At the time of writing, I still haven’t been able to play a full multiplayer game as players usually leave after one round. I’m not sure if it is because of the current matchmaking issues in the Open Beta or if people are just quitting because they are bored.
Overall, Back 4 Blood is a decent game, and as someone who thoroughly enjoyed Left 4 Dead 2 and other Zombie-based games, it’s quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the Open Beta does feel like an Early Access or Alpha. As someone who still enjoys pre-ordering games — even after Cyberpunk 2077 — I’d say to hold off on pre-ordering Back 4 Blood unless they announce more Acts for launch. However, those who want to play the game on day one, without paying the large price tag, can pick it up on Xbox Game Pass at launch via Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, as well as Windows 10 PC.