Let’s not mince words: Back 4 Blood is Left 4 Dead 3 in every way but name, and even then, it isn’t attempting to be subtle. Obviously, Turtle Rock Studios does not need to be, given that it is made up of many of the same people that worked on Left 4 Dead. Them’s also unsurprising to see the company return to the cooperative zombie-killing that placed it on the map in the first place. Even after a 12-year hiatus, the parallels between the original game and its spiritual sequel are limitless, but it’s their overt contrasts that prove to be the most intriguing aspect of Back 4 Blood. It retains all of the recognizable traits of Left 4 Dead, but these foundations are now intermingled with current concepts appropriate to the present period, culminating in a game that depicts what you could anticipate from a reanimated Left 4 Dead in 2021.
Back 4 Blood‘s chaotic framework may be the most obvious parallel between the two games, as you and up to three pals must survive voracious zombie hordes while frantically fighting your way from one safe area to the next. The campaign is divided into four acts, each with a different number of chapters. For example, the first act is the longest, with 13 chapters, while the last act is only a single boss battle. Back 4 Blood has lots of replayability when you consider the other two harsh difficulty levels and the game’s natural diversity. Finishing the full campaign on the game’s standard (and simplest) mode will probably take you about six to seven hours. The AI Game Director returns from Left 4 Dead, making on-the-fly choices on where and what opponents spawn, ensuring that each chapter is notably different on repeat visits, as hazard placement, weapon availability, and zombie frequency vary with each playing.
The inclusion of a deck-building system is the most noticeable new element. As you accomplish chapters, you’ll gain supply points, which you may use to buy additional cards to make your own 15-card deck. The most basic cards give little boosts to important attributes like health and ammunition capacity, but as you progress, you’ll gain access to more complex cards that have a direct impact on the game’s current state. This may be a card that transforms your bash into a knife, thereby giving you a third weapon slot or a team-wide effect that increases everyone’s damage by 30% anytime someone is incapacitated. To become the team’s de facto medic, concentrate on healing-based cards, or enhance your health and use a card that heals with each melee kill to become a frontline tank.
Meanwhile, throughout each chapter, the AI Game Director employs corrupted cards to highlight Back 4 Blood’s diversity by presenting you with extra challenges. One corrupted card creates a thick fog that makes it hard to see more than a few feet in front of your face, while another adds burning zombies to the mix. On higher difficulty levels, the risks get more clever, but it’s impossible to plot and fight particular threats with your own cards when the corrupted ones are picked at random, which reduces the system’s dynamism.
On every difficulty level, this also adds to some noticeable balance flaws. Back 4 Blood’s fiercest zombies came at you in an endless stream of Tallboys, Hockers, and Reekers, unlike Left 4 Dead, which flung specific infected at you every now and again. When these abominations are virtually always there, battling each variety rapidly becomes repetitive, and that’s without even considering the majority of their one-note assaults that just pin you in place. In Left 4 Dead, the exceptional infected didn’t do much more than this, but they were rare and each one seemed distinct. The Witch’s wailing theme pierced through the quiet, and the Tank declared its terrible presence with a thundering orchestra, creating an atmosphere of seething dread. Back 4 Blood doesn’t employ musical cues, which is likely because of the large number of special infected that arrive at once.
Playing with friends mitigates these flaws to some level, and Back 4 Blood’s co-op clearly succeeds in this regard. If you don’t have three friends to play with, cross-play matching takes just a few minutes, and the game’s ping mechanism allows you to communicate effectively without having to chat with strangers. However, the quality of your teammates will always fluctuate, which is an issue since you can’t vote to kick guys who are AFK. This is a strange omission, particularly because Back 4 Blood deliberately discourages solo play. While playing the whole campaign with three bots is an option, it prevents you from obtaining all of the game’s prizes, including supply points and Trophies. You won’t be able to unlock any cosmetic items or new cards for your deck as a result, so you’ll have to play with other people to make any progress. Back 4 Blood is designed to be played collaboratively, thus penalizing those who prefer to play alone is pointless, especially because it lacks the means to deal with players who waste everyone else’s time.
In addition to the storyline, Back 4 Blood includes a PvP Swarm mode in which players take turns playing as humans and special infected. Rather than using the Left 4 Dead way of making the narrative competitive, Swarm immerses you in a multiplayer arena where the person who lives the longest as a human wins the round. It’s nice for a few matches, mostly because playing as the undead provides a unique experience, but this isn’t a mode you’ll return to.
Back 4 Blood’s major attraction is its campaign, but to really appreciate it, you’ll need a bunch of buddies. It checks practically all of the requirements as a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead. The current features provide variation to the game and guarantee that each run is distinct, while the on-the-fly gunplay is fierce and tremendously satisfying. The overabundance of special infected, as well as their disappointing blandness, is depressing, and the absence of certain quality-of-life elements makes playing with strangers more irritating than it should be, particularly when you’re punished for playing alone. Back 4 Blood may not live up to the heights of Left 4 Dead at its apex, since the cooperative shooter scene has altered dramatically in the last 12 years. Nonetheless, Turtle Rock’s return to the genre it established is still a lot of fun, as long as you have other people to play with.