Left 4 Dead 4 Today
HIGH Tailored playstyles via the mix-and-match card system.
LOW Difficulty levels are either too easy or too hard.
WTF Why’d we have to wait more than a decade?
Let’s get this out of the way — Back 4 Blood may not revolutionize the gold standard set by 2008’s Left 4 Dead and its sequel, but it is an evolution.
It has all the bells and whistles of contemporary team-based shooters with the solid foundation of its predecessors. Players will still be chopping and blasting through hordes of zom — er, “Ridden” — but this time with an arsenal of modifiable weapons and tantalizing progression mechanics.
For the unblooded, the core game is a cooperative first-person shooter where four players battle their way through post-apocalyptic levels filled with swarms of zombies, specialized mutations and the occasional boss monster. Surviving through thirty-three chapters spread across four acts will require players to help each other out of jams and pick each other up when they go down.
Mileage will vary. Singleplayer exists, nominally, but bot AI is terrible and the mode doesn’t accrue the in-game currency needed to progress. This is a title best experienced alongside friends, but when player numbers fall short, matchmaking will help find other twitchy trigger-fingers.
It should come as no surprise that queuing with randoms is a mixed bag, as communication and planning is integral, especially on the higher difficulties. This brings me to my first somewhat sore spot.
There is a formidable gap between the first two difficulties — Recruit and Veteran — to the point that it actually hampers enjoyment. When I first booted up, I was playing on PC with three other friends adept in the FPS genre and we were absolutely crushed within minutes on Veteran.
We switched to Recruit and although there were still some highlights — defending a bar playing punk rock over the jukebox was one of those fantastic moments where things are firing on all cylinders — much of it was easy to the point of tedium.
Recruit difficulty does level out later in the campaign — the final chapter is a giant boss fight that I really dug — but it can be a slog to get there, but on the other hand, there were some chapters that were over so quickly and so easily I was caught by surprise when they were over.
I think the intention is to encourage multiple playthroughs as players will improve both in skill and upgrades through the card system (which I’ll get to in a moment). I did hit that sweet spot after a full Recruit playthrough and, although challenging, my crew and I were able to have a grand ol’ time gunning through a few chapters on Veteran with some careful communication and planning.
I have not touched the third and final difficulty, Nightmare.
As for the card system, it’s nothing short of brilliant. Players use Supply Points (gained through successfully completing missions and objectives) to purchase new cards and skins along pre-set progression tracks. They’ll then arrange a 15-card deck to bring into each match, activating more cards at the beginning of each chapter or through pick-ups.
The cards give buffs, sometimes with added drawbacks, but with 156 cards built into Back 4 Blood, there are a myriad of permutations to power up and tailor to a preferred playstyle. For instance, I typically like to use a melee weapon to chop through hordes, so I’ve built a deck around it that increases stamina for swinging and even heals me with every close-up kill.
For the campaign, an AI Director also selects “Corruption” cards that can punch up enemies, including upgrades like exploding commons and armored mutations, giving each playthrough a slightly different flavor.
Each card has a unique illustration in keeping with Back 4 Blood‘s generally high level of polish. With the exception of a few chapters built around a town (portions of which are recycled) the variety of settings and scenery are lush with detail and keep the experience from going stale. Sound design — character quips, mutation growls, the satisfying rat-a-tat of a rifle — is consistently good, while the music does a fine job of kicking up adrenaline during the fray. For visual flair there’s also the now-standard selection of unlockable outfits for the eight playable Cleaners and skins for the 32 weapons.
There is some character value that I feel has been lost compared to Left 4 Dead, perhaps a result of an ongoing story rather than individual campaigns mimicking B-movie schlock. Cutscenes can be a bit too self-serious and while Cleaner conversations certainly keep it lighthearted, I would’ve liked to see more goofiness throughout — this is still within the zombie genre, after all.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the “Swarm” mode — essentially a multiplayer versus. Teams switch off between controlling Ridden mutations or the Cleaners, trying to beat their opponents’ time surviving a shrinking play area beset by waves of enemies. There’s some depth here as the Cleaner team will scrounge around for supplies as they do in the campaign, while the Ridden side builds up mutation points to upgrade aspects of their parasitic monstrosities to better crush their opponents. Left 4 Dead developed a competitive scene around its own versus mode and I hope Back 4 Blood does as well.
All in all, Turtle Rock Studios’ latest effort is a solid, well-polished co-op shooter with only few blemishes, and some minor tweaking could transform it from a good game to a great one. With more content incoming and the card system offering new and fresh twists, Back 4 Blood is one I expect to be playing for a long time to come.
–– Stephen Cook
Disclosures: This game is developed by Turtle Rock Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4, PS5, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Four hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The official description reads as follows: This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the roles of human survivors in an apocalyptic world infected by zombies. Players use machetes, machine guns, sniper rifles, and shotguns to kill waves of enemy creatures in frenetic combat. Gameplay fighting is highlighted by screams of pain, explosions, and large blood-splatter effects. Cutscenes depict further instances of intense violence: zombies tearing out a character’s throat; zombies mowed down by machine gun fire; heads exploding when shot. One sequence involves finding a character’s severed arm in order to solve a puzzle; once located, the arm can be used as a melee weapon. During the course of the game, cards can be used to give characters skill boosts; one such card is called “Meth Head,” and depicts a figure blurred by speed. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the game.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and resized. Deaf and hard of hearing players should still be able to react to enemies and events that use sound cues, as there are options to have all of those conveyed through text. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. Both mouse and keyboard as well as controller are options.