Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Publisher: WB Games
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available on: PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Release: October 12th 2021
Back 4 Blood is the latest release from Turtle Rock Studios and WB Games. Turtle Rock Studios are the former developer of the Left 4 Dead series and are back with what many believe to be it’s spiritual successor. Back in August I spent some time playing the Back 4 Blood beta, you can check out my full thoughts on that here. Well with the full release just hours away, Back 4 Blood is a solid improvement on this already stellar beta.
You play as one of 8 characters known as “cleaners” ; you're naturally immune to the virus that is plaguing humanity. Exploration is key as you travel in a group of 4 moving through the zombie riddled maps. These maps range from city blocks to countryside and even include locales such as libraries and ferries, as mentioned earlier, exploration is a must if you wish to find better gear and upgrades to the gear you already have.
More than anything else, the full release differs from the beta in terms of just how many zombies there are to take on. The beta sometimes felt a little too controlled and just a bit easy. The full release is absolutely an improvement here. Compared to the 1 or 2 “boss enemies” featured in the beta, the full game has you pitted against many, many more. Sometimes even 4 or 5 at a time meaning strategy and teamwork are much more important.
Just like the beta, one part of the game that took me a little time to get reacquainted with was the card system, I once again found myself with little to no explanation as to what the card system was or how it worked, luckily I had experienced it before otherwise I would have found it very confusing jumping in blind. Having said that, after a few games I was quite aware of what it was and it ended up being in fact one of my favourite aspects of the whole thing. Basically, each card is a different perk; some cards grant the player bonus ammo, some speed and some even grant you an extra life etc. This gave every run a slightly different feel and allowed me to really personalise my entire build and loadout as I saw fit.
Playing with a group of friends is the perfect way to play, that exploration and upgrading is much more expansive when doing so. Certain cards add “Team Abilities” or “Team Stats” such as extra team ammo or team damage upgrades etc, this doesn't really make much difference in the solo campaign as the bots seem to scale to the enemies, but online it's super important and can be the difference between life and death.
Back 4 Blood is obviously best played online with a few friends, however it's just as easy to play alone. Unfortunately though, this does remove the ability for any real progression which is a huge bummer. All achievements, Supply Points and stat tracking are locked behind the multiplayer campaign. Meaning that while solo is fun, it's rather pointless at the moment. There are reports online however that suggest that this is something TurtleRock are looking to rectify.
As for the maps, I absolutely loved them! They do a fantastic job of directing you where you need to be, while giving the feeling of being much bigger and much more open world than they are. This is down to the draw distances and the detail in those distances, but also the many unlockable doors and explorable rooms just off the beaten track. All the while it's very clear in which direction you need to go.
This family of Special Ridden delivers an agile assault on players. With shocking mobility, intimidating speed, and the ability to attack from a distance, these nasty Ridden pose a real threat to isolated characters. Thankfully, they don't have much in the way of health and go down quickly with proper team coordination.
Hocker: A melee-focused attacker that can pin down targets with a sticky projectile.
Stalker: A fast melee attacker that can pounce on players and drag them away from the group.
Stinger: A mobile ranged attacker with a nasty projectile that obscures the target's vision.
Anyone who's ever loved or hated The Boomer from Left 4 Dead 1 and 2, will be uncomfortably familiar with this family of Special Ridden. These intimidating beasts use their toxic insides to damage and debilitate players. From acidic vomit to exploding corpses, you don't want these Ridden getting near you or your teammates.
Retch: A melee attacker that uses a vomit stream to cover an area in a pool of caustic liquid.
Exploder: A melee attacker that can charge forward and manually trigger a large explosion that deals a significant amount of damage.
Reeker: A melee attacker that can charge forward, knocking cleaners away and dealing damage. It explodes on death, covering players in sticky pus that slows them down.
This brutish family of Special Ridden shares some similarities to the Chargers from Left 4 Dead 2. With generally low movement speed, these tanky enemies are easy enough to run away from, but for Cleaners unfortunate enough to get caught in their mighty grasp, these towering creatures deal massive damage and require some serious firepower to take down.
Bruiser: A powerful melee attacker that can use a deadly smash attack with a large area of effect.
Crusher: This is the fastest in this family of Special Ridden, and can grab and squeeze a nearby player, rendering them helpless and dealing damage over time.
Tallboy: A large, slow melee attacker with a dangerous overhead attack. Can charge forward in short bursts to cover distance quickly.
Snitchers are rather obnoxious Ridden that act as an alarm for other enemies. If a Snitcher sees you or receives damage from a player without being killed, it will let out a blood-curdling scream that will call a horde of Ridden upon you. If you see one of these Special Ridden, quickly and quietly take it out.
While Back 4 Blood is undoubtedly filled with terrifying and disgusting creatures, the Hag might be the most nightmarish of them all. This imposing Ridden will grab Cleaners with its lengthy arms and attempt to swallow them whole. Be sure to aid your teammates as soon as they're grabbed, otherwise, they'll end up as a nice snack for the Hag.
Sleepers are strange Special Ridden that lay dormant in fleshy pods attached to walls. If you make the mistake of walking underneath a Sleeper, it will burst from its pod and pin you to the ground. From here, it'll be up to one of your teammates to rescue you from its clutches.
The Breaker is Back 4 Blood's answer to Left 4 Dead's Tank. This gorilla-like Special Ridden slams the ground with incredible force, creating a powerful shockwave that damages and knocks players back. With high health and defense, your entire team will want to focus on this enemy and defeat it as fast as possible.
Ogres are bigger and more intimidating than anything we ever saw in Left 4 Dead. These gargantuan monsters emerge from the ground and destroy anything in their path. They deal enormous amounts of damage and in most circumstances, it's best to just run from these encounters. These beasts can be slain, but it'll take a whole lot of ammunition and explosives.
The gameplay loop can become a little repetitive, there were a few times that I was put into a map and wondered if id missed something as i was here just half an hour ago, but while it was the same map, there was a different objective etc, but this didn't stop it from feeling a little too similar. I guess, it seems strange saying this after recently playing Deathloop, a game designed around a repetitive loop of doing the same thing day after day. It's not a game breaker by any means and is much more noticeable when playing solo it's just worth mentioning.
Speaking of repetitive, one of the things that absolutely bugs me to my core in a video game is when a CPU character's dialogue is repetitive. Back 4 Blood has some of the most repetitive dialogue for the non player characters when playing solo mode that I have ever experienced. My biggest example of this is Holly, I played as walker and walking through the maps, Holly would randomly proclaim “ I dressed up as a nurse for Halloween once, seems like a fu**ing stupid idea now”. The problem here is not what she says, it's the regularity with which she says it. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say 10 times in the first hour alone. It gets very tiresome especially when she says it sometimes during the most tense gameplay moments.
Overall Back 4 Blood is a hellishly good time, taking what was built with Left 4 Dead and building on it with this new game. I have tried to avoid comparing it to Left 4 Dead too much (character descriptions aside) because I think it's unfair. I think it has enough of its own identity to be its own IP. You might find it a little repetitive eventually, but I think there's enough variety (especially when playing with friends) to keep you interested. Back 4 Blood is fun, it's intense and its some of the more explorative level design in any co-op shooter to date.