While the highly anticipated Back 4 Blood doesn’t come out until October, fans have been given their first taste of the game with two recent betas. While I missed out on the initial closed beta I jumped into the open beta to stream all of the available missions with my streaming group LPDeathray over on Twitch.
What Is Back 4 Blood?
For those who haven’t been religiously following the game’s news cycle since it was announced last year, Back 4 Blood is a post-apocalyptic co-operative first-person shooter. The game is being developed by Turtle Rock Studios, the studio responsible for developing Left 4 Dead. Due to the studio’s history and similar gameplay, Back 4 Blood has been hailed by many as th spiritual sequel to the Left 4 Dead franchise.
The similarities between the two games are numerous. The core gameplay is nearly identical, with four players (empty slots being filled by AI) jumping into a series of missions, fighting through hordes of zombie-like creatures. Like the special infected of Left 4 Dead there are numerous special Ridden with unique abilities.
Back 4 Blood isn’t just a rehash of the studio’s earlier game, though. While Left 4 Dead had four playable characters, they were mechanically identical. Each playable character (Called Cleaners) in Back 4 Blood has a unique ability that benefits them and another that benefits the whole squad. This helps the characters feel distinct and adds a layer of strategy to choosing who you’d like to play. The other major change is the deck building mechanic. Each player builds their own deck of cards, which they will choose from between levels, each card conferring a different bonus. This, along with the character abilities, allows for a good amount of character customization.
It’s always difficult to judge a game based on a limited beta. Only five of the eight slated survivors were available for play and only the first act (consisting of eight levels) was playable. Nonetheless, it offers a good idea of the game’s core gameplay loop.
The shooting, movement, and character-building elements of the game all come together in a nice, incredibly fun package. Even in beta form, the game feels polished. The character customization is substantial enough to add a small degree of strategic thinking to the game, but it always feels in service of the core shooter mechanics.
For better or worse it’s evident the game was designed with co-op as a priority. This results in a great co-op experience, with all the expected modern features like easy pinging options and easy item sharing. However, while I haven’t played the game solo, it seems like it would be a much less enjoyable experience. The gameplay is at its best in moments where the whole squad has to coordinate and communicate, something that can’t be done with an AI.
There are a few things that feel underbaked in the beta. One is the ledge mechanic. Most of the game’s movement is very good, allowing players to mantle over things, climb onto structures, and jump from object to object. This makes it even more frustrating when getting too close to certain ledges instantly throws the character into a downed position, as they cling to the ledge until a teammate comes to pick them up. This was especially frustrating in a moment when another player walking past was enough to throw my character into this position.
The other area that feels like it needs improvement is the special Ridden. While the massive Ogre feels like a fully fleshed-out boss fight, the more abundant special ridden are underwhelming. The special infected in Left 4 Dead became iconic partially because they required a unique approach whenever they appeared. That’s didn’t feel like the case in the Back 4 Blood beta. While these enemies hit harder and took more bullets to kill, their abilities didn’t feel mechanically unique enough to change the group’s tactics.
I, for one, was sold on Back 4 Blood by the beta. While I don’t think solo gamers will get much from the experience, it’s a fantastic co-op experience that I can’t wait to play again. The full game comes out on October 12th, 2001 on PC, PS4, PS5, X-Box One, and X-Box Series X.