Zombies have been at the forefront of mainstream media for almost 20 years. Similarly, zombies have been the cannon fodder for our bloodied bats in video games for quite some time. One of the biggest zombie-based video games is Left 4 Dead. I always wanted to play Left 4 Dead, but just never found the time. That’s why when Turtle Rock Studios announced Back 4 Blood for consoles and PC, I was quite excited. Having a shooter with a story that could be played cooperatively with friends was an exciting prospect. Fortunately, not only is Back 4 Blood an excellent game, but it also lives up to that prospect.
“Back 4 Blood absolutely respects your time and does a good job of spreading out the narrative across each level.”
Back 4 Blood starts its narrative a year into an apocalypse caused by an alien parasite. There are small pockets of humanity left that are doing their best to survive. To assist them, Cleaners are sent out on missions as they are immune to the parasite.
The overall narrative is told across 33 levels split into four acts. While there is a lot of content to complete and a story to see, I never felt forced to push on. Back 4 Blood absolutely respects your time and does a good job of spreading out the narrative across these levels without making you feel too tied down. It manages to simultaneously hold your attention while never forcing you into the “one more go” mindset. As it saves after the end of every chapter, you can quit and come back whenever you want.
Additionally, I felt Back 4 Blood did a great job of feeding you the story piece by piece, throughout each level. From destroying the Washington Crossing Bridge and sealing the mine known to be a source of the Ridden, there is a steady sense of progression that ties together quite satisfyingly. Furthermore, Back 4 Blood has a clear endpoint, with you spending the game working towards destroying the threat of the zombies for good. For its entire run-time, Back 4 Blood does a good job making you feel a part of its wonderfully realised world.
“Each character has a strong collection of seemingly off the cuff lines that they say whenever reacting to a specific situation.”
The characters in Back 4 Blood felt incredibly unique, especially when compared to games of a similar vein. One thing that Turtle Rock Studios did really well was making sure that each character felt fully fleshed out. I never felt that any of them were one dimensional, rather that they each had a personality of their own that was engaging.
Each character has a strong collection of voice lines that they say whenever reacting to a specific situation. They’re oftentimes hilarious and help build upon their personality and bond as a group. For example, things such as friendly fire, or a character getting covered in blood is likely to elicit banter between them. There are even unique lines that you get depending on which characters you have in your team.
One aspect that I felt was rather ingenious was that whenever a cutscene plays, the characters you have in your team are the ones featured in that cutscene. The only times this didn’t apply was when I first played the game and the cutscene at the end of the game in which all the characters are present. It is a small touch, but one that ensured I retained my sense of immersion the entire way through.
“What truly sets Back 4 Blood apart from other titles within the genre is the implementation of roguelike elements.”
As you would expect from any FPS game, there are of course the typical weapon mechanics at play here. Weapons are split into many categories – pistols, shotguns, SMG’s etc – with each category having several different weapons within it. Additionally, there are rarity tiers for each weapon. I found this to be a good way of not only incentivising me to work towards getting a better weapon, but also to try different weapons of a higher rarity. The same can be said for weapon attachments as each one has its own rarity level which changes how your gun performs in both subtle and noticeable ways.
However, what truly sets Back 4 Blood apart from other titles within the genre is the implementation of roguelike elements. This is done in the form of the battle card system, adding an element of randomness to each level. During each level, you get to choose cards to play from a deck of 15 that you create. Each card can add different effects, such as more health and damage dealt, to even being healed for every shotgun pellet that hits.
Additionally, some cards can affect your whole party instead of just yourself. These not only make the game far more enjoyable, but easier for those struggling. However, for those who want more of a challenge, there are corruption cards that add various debuffs to your run. I, for one, was stuck on one level for about 2 hours due to a particularly challenging corruption card.
“It sometimes pays to play as a character you may not have as much experience with as your run may actually depend on it.”
Each time you play the game, whether it is a campaign level or a match of the PVP Swarm mode, you acquire several supply points. You can then use these to unlock different cards and character customisation options. It works in a similar way to how the battle pass system in a battle royale game would, but without the annoyance of keeping certain items in the pass behind a paywall.
The card system is also where the characters come into play a bit more. Each character plays fairly differently, having their own primary and secondary weapons, as well as a skill that’s tied to their character. All characters also add a card into play that adds extra effects not only to themselves but usually to the party too. That’s why as much as you may have your favourite character, it sometimes pays to play as the one you may not have as much experience with as your run may depend on it.
Outside of the main campaign, you can play the Swarm mode if you fancy a nice change of pace. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I first queued for it. However, once I finally got into a match I was pleasantly surprised. You’re split into teams of two with each team taking it in turns to be the Cleaners or the Ridden. The mode aims to either last as long as possible as the Cleaners or to kill the other team as quick as possible as the Ridden.
“My only issue with Back 4 Blood is the matchmaking.”
What drew me in the most when it came to playing this mode was the Ridden. Being split into 3 groups, each with 3 types of Ridden to choose from meant there was a lot of variety on offer in terms of classes. Each Ridden also plays differently enough for you to want to try out each one, and change up your style to win the game. It does feel a bit basic, but it’s a nice change nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Back 4 Blood has a major issue with matchmaking. Every mode I tried, I noticed there were some issues with connecting with other players. While there were plenty of times where I got into a full lobby, there were also times where people either disconnected or left the game entirely. This results in you having to finish the level with bots. A proper option to join a match in progress would greatly help with this problem as the bots are horrendous.
Overall, Back 4 Blood proves to be a flourishing spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead. The price can easily be justified after playing through the campaign. Especially, when you consider the amount of free content already on the way. If you’re a Left 4 Dead fan, this is one zombie game you don’t want to miss.
Back 4 Blood is available now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.