Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, whether it be viewed through rose-tinted glasses or based unusually high expectations. For Turtle Rock Studios’ Back 4 Blood, navigating into a sea of battle royales and first-person shooters could not have been easy, but thankfully, this new team-shooter manages to survive in more ways than one.
In a world besieged by the undead, or the Ridden, it is here where a group of survivors called the Cleaners are making a stand. There is no deep plot going on here save for some expected exposition, but players will hardly need a reason to shoot zombies together with friends and have a good time.
It is this premise that allows Back 4 Blood’s four-act campaign to make it all happen. Just like the esteemed Left 4 Dead franchise, you are looking at a fun, entertaining, and sometimes tense affair of mass undead murder while listening to friendly character banter and self-enforced competition, and no wonder, as this game is by the creators of the original Left 4 Dead.
The game certainly does not take itself seriously when it comes to the stakes involved. The Cleaners are perhaps too accustomed to this nightmarish world full of the Ridden, spitting one-liners and trading barbs like a regular day out. And if players can approach Back 4 Blood with the same sentiment, there is really much to like about the entire experience.
As far as pick-up-and-play experiences go, as long as you can move competently and fire a gun, you can enjoy almost everything Back 4 Blood has to offer. The various weapons are all pretty much enjoyable to wield, especially the melee weapons, and unless you are charging headfirst into dangerous situations all the time, a well-coordinated team is perfectly suited to survive what the developers can throw at you.
It would not be too interesting if it was just the vanilla undead coming at you. Back 4 Blood features plenty of special Ridden that require more nuance and care when taking them down. Tallboys will always give you a good walloping, while the random Reeker appearing out of nowhere is always good for a shock.
By picking up on and learning the various behaviours of said enemies, you will then be able to prescribe the right kind of hurt to settle the situation. Maintaining your distance is always a must, as is staying together as a group, the team aspect of Back 4 Blood is quite essential to one’s enjoyment of the experience.
How you configure your team in terms of the Cleaners also matters, with each bringing different bonuses and abilities to the table, in addition to their funny dialogue.
Having a healer like Mom or Doc is always great, whereas Holly would make for a great cleanup option if you want to keep things generally quiet. You can definitely enjoy yourself without having all these considerations, but should you choose to do so, Back 4 Blood has surprising depth to it.
This is most reflected in the card system that is a headlining feature for the game. It may not look it, but deckbuilding for success in a first-person team shooter definitely enhances a familiar formula. As you progress through the game’s campaign, accomplishing achievements and getting better, you may find new cards or earn supply points to unlock even more additions to your deck.
With a variety of different cards at your disposal, you can create decks that complement your playstyle effectively, or go for insane combinations that add to the mayhem. Become a merciless killing machine that eats enemy weak spots for dinner, or a precise sniper that gains more damage with every shot hit.
It is not just about the damage either, as those who prefer a support role can also benefit the rest of the team with increased resource gain or better stamina. Combining Offence, Defence, Utility, and Mobility cards add a fresh roleplaying-like element into the proceedings, providing another layer of player-driven enjoyment to Back 4 Blood.
The decision-making extends further into the game when it comes to spending copper, the in-game resource meant to bolster your Ridden-killing prowess. When you find copper lying around the various chapters, you increase a shared pool that can be spent on buying new weapons, attachments, or other useful items like bandages or tool kits.
Communication is key here to ensure everyone is equipped well for the challenges ahead, and like any other good team game, you can always mess things up by hoarding everything for yourself. You might not impress your friends, but you sure can be the last one standing.
Although Back 4 Blood is already quite fun on Recruit difficulty, all of the lessons learned and decks built truly show their importance when things get kicked up a notch with Veteran and Nightmare.
As players continue to collect cards to craft a powerful deck, the game also gets some help in the form of Corruption cards that can throw new challenges at your team. It could be armour-wearing Ridden, or a giant 20-foot Ogre that is a headache to deal with. On Recruit, you can more or less power through it usually, but for the other difficulties, things can get messy in an instance.
More special Ridden show up, synergising their attacks in horrifying harmony that can easily decimate any team of Cleaners. Corruption cards also become more of a nuisance, so you have to be prepared for anything. It is clear that Turtle Rock is keener for players to ramp things up sequentially, rather than jumping in blind into the higher difficulties. Without the right cards or knowledge, you are only going to suffer.
At the very least, the entirety of Back 4 Blood’s campaign is well worth revisiting. Each chapter is broken up into different instances, offering unique scenarios to play through and plenty of Ridden to kill. You might be defending a local bar from the hordes at one point, while another mission might require you to hunt down items as the clock ticks down.
It is refreshing to see new elements being thrown in every once in a while to spice things up, and for a game that requires players to constantly replay chapters, it helps to have different things to do throughout the entire campaign.
If you much rather do something else, Back 4 Blood also packs in a Swarm mode, where teams go head to head in 4v4 matches of Cleaners against the Ridden. Players will already be familiar with how the humans work, but it is the Ridden that provides more engaging opportunities to wreak havoc. Certain team setups have already begun dominating the game mode, and it remains to be seen just how much more the developers can switch things up.
Then there is the whole issue of solo play being actively discouraged in Back 4 Blood. While you most certainly can enjoy the game on your own, the lacklustre AI is not going to be helpful. Plus, you are not going to be earning precious supply points, there is no stat tracking, and no progress towards accomplishments are made. Basically, it is a subpar way of enjoying the game.
While much was made about Back 4 Blood being able to be played solo, this is not the full experience that players would want. The developers have since shared that they will be looking into addressing the issue, but it is a huge blow for the longevity of the game at this moment.
Overlooking that, Back 4 Blood is an excellent team shooter that has a strong core of fun thanks to its diverse campaign, the strategic depth of deckbuilding, and the silliness of it all. A familiar genre it may be, but Turtle Rock has managed to infuse new ways of doing things and freshen up the formula. There are definitely kinks to be worked out, but at the very least, there is still life yet for such games to succeed.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
With fresh new spins on familiar elements, Back 4 Blood brings the idea of team-based zombie-killing fun to a whole new generation with some caveats.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 9/10