The new online multiplayer first-person shooting game developed by Turtle Rock Studios has garnered good impressions following both its open beta and official game release. With its replayable campaign, PvP, deck-building, and great graphics, Back 4 Blood is a must-play, especially as it can be seen as a spiritual successor of the beloved title Left 4 Dead.
As someone who wasn’t able to experience Left 4 Dead back in its heyday, I found Back 4 Blood to be a wonderful surprise. For someone like me that lacks a skillful aim, I have to say that I still greatly enjoyed Back 4 Blood, even if FPS games aren’t always my usual go-to. It changed my views for the better on how FPS games are usually like for hesitant beginners like me, especially when played on a console.
In this multiplayer FPS game, you play as one of the trained survivors called the Cleaners against zombies called Ridden. A certain parasite called the “Devil Worm” has infected humanity and turned a vast number of the population into the undead. The Ridden are not only these ghoulish hordes of grabbing, biting, dead people, but they are also these ghastly monstrosities which sport horrid mutations and uncanny powers. These are called Special Ridden and they come in many types: Stingers, Reekers, Tallboys, Snitchers, Sleepers, and even some boss-types like the Breaker, the Hag, and the Ogre.
The primary game mode of Back 4 Blood is a four-player cooperative story campaign which you can play on solo, on public servers, or privately with friends. You don’t have to complete the full player team of 4 in each campaign for there will be AI bots to substitute anyone missing. You cannot play two similar characters in a campaign, however, so it’s good to decide properly with your team. There are eight (8) playable Cleaners to choose from, each with a certain set of perks and attributes unique to them alone:
- Evangelo, the youngest recruit out of the Cleaners, has breakout against grabbing, stamina regeneration, and added team movement speed.
- Walker, a former Army Ranger that takes on a leader role of the Cleaners, increases accuracy for precision kills, damage, and team health.
- Holly, a brazen fighter with her trusty bat named “Dottie”, sports stamina recovery with every kill, has damage resistance, and boosts team stamina.
- Jim, a seasoned hunter and marksman, has a +1 on ADS speed, increased damage for precision kills, and increased team weakspot damage
- Mom, dubbed as such for her maternal attitude as well as the eldest Cleaner, can instantly revive downed teammates (once per campaign), has a +1 for support inventory, and provides the team an extra life should the campaign fail.
- Doc, the group medic and scientific expert, can heal low-health teammates despite lacking items, has increased healing efficiency, and amps the team’s resistance to trauma.
- Hoffman, a skilled, conscientious conspiracy theorist, provides a +1 for offensive item inventory, makes ammunition spawn after kills, and more ammo capacity for the team.
- Karlee, a mysterious lone wolf survivor, can sense hazards, has a +1 for quick inventory and +1 for the team use speed.
It is great to consider all these perks by every Cleaner because they can greatly help your campaign run, especially since they have abilities which are beneficial to the team as a whole. Do you prefer an expansive inventory? Are you keen on support and healing? Do you enjoy melee, or do you prefer a bit more distance while you fight? I began with Holly for I tend to lean more into flesh-battering action instead of staying out back as firepower support.
Each Cleaner has the potential to make the team’s synergy flow well, and choosing the best one to fit your team makes every campaign run unique and enjoyable. Proper team composition is key to making the most out of every map run, especially when you try Veteran and Nightmare modes. We find that including Karlee, Mom, Hoffman, and Jim to the team to be the most optimal for such difficulty runs.
Karlee takes on the point-person for her hazard sense and extra quick item slot. Mom takes care of support with her instant revive ability and additional slot for a medkit. Hoffman takes care of the team’s ammo stock for his ability to make Ridden spawn bullets when killed and has another offensive item slot for grenades. Jim has increased damage for precision kills, most especially with a sniper rifle.
Back 4 Blood delivers excellent eye candy, with good-looking playable characters, gameplay, and environment, both on PC and console. Its game interface provides a clean and sharp look which is easy to navigate and remember. If you are playing with a huge monitor or tv screen, you will definitely appreciate the effort put into the elements of the game once you have tweaked the most optimal settings of your preference.
The sheer explosions, the spatter of fluids and gore, as well as the rendered weather conditions in-game are highly impressive. Imagine getting through hordes of the undead while it’s intensely foggy! You can barely see a zombie pop out!
Speaking of zombies and the undead, there is also a noticeable degree of varying designs for them. Of course, you will be too busy shooting to save your life than taking note of their individuality. But, hey, that’s still great game production!
The CG cutscenes, the unlockable logos and rank profile images, the card designs–these are also proof of the game’s visual masterpiece. The playable characters’ cosmetics are also remarkable and fun to customize.
It is worth noting though, that while most of the visuals are indeed pretty, there are moments where some animations don’t exactly carry the polish that other parts of the game have. For example, there were a lot of times where an Ogre would throw a ball of us flesh / rock at us and it would sometimes hang in place for a second in midair and then proceed to roughly travel to its designated target. Hopefully, issues like these can be patched soon.
Deck the Hordes with Cards and Planning
For players who are familiar with Left 4 Dead, you will come to find that Back 4 Blood features a highly similar gameplay: Team Up. Loot. Survive. Do the Objective or Find the Safehouse. It has three difficulty modes called Recruit, Veteran, and Nightmare. Normally, you’d think that these can be easily translated as the Easy, Normal, and Hard modes, but in Back 4 Blood, each difficulty level ramps up by 1 meaning ‘Recruit’ would better translate to as Normal mode and so on.
The game’s main story campaign has four Acts with various mission objectives that you have to achieve to proceed. Whether it be to eliminate enemies, to seek safehouses, to resupply camps, or to survive until backup arrives, the game has a lot for you. Each campaign run differs in duration and difficulty as well. And it’s not just simply because of the provided game difficulty modes. Why is this so? Because Back 4 Blood has its all-new feature called the Card System.
The game makes use of an AI called the Game Director, which oversees each player’s health, choices, and actions in-game such that every campaign run will never be similar with each other. This is the core point of the game’s difficulty and replayability, because the Game Director ‘deals’ random Corruption Cards at the beginning of each map or campaign. These Corruption Cards may issue different challenges for the team for bonuses, toggle environmental settings such as the state of the weather and easily agitated fauna, increase the hordes, and throw in more Special Ridden your way if you’re today’s [un]lucky team.
You can counter these Corruption Cards with your own cards, of course. The game introduces you to a whole new deck-building system featuring cards that give you and your teammates advantages in every playthrough. Each card that you unlock (via consuming Supply Points and looting maps) can be set into numerous types of decks depending on the playstyle that you want to do. You can create a deck that helps expand your inventory, shorten your reload time, and many more. Each player can set their decks at the beginning of each map, choosing their preferred cards to appear and get activated first depending on the sequence they are arranged in.
Setting up your cards for every play is vital in Back 4 Blood, especially in higher difficulty modes because each card might mean the difference between the life and death of each player in the team. There is an introductory starter deck that you may check at the beginning of the game to give you a feel on how a 15-card deck may be, but it is still advisable to try to experiment and be creative with your own. Because each card you collect and every deck you set up bring forth a multitude of possibilities in every campaign run you do.
Do you want a healer-centric deck that’s more resilient to attacks? A melee fighter with increased speeds? A shooter-focused deck with little to no reload time? The game makes it all possible for you. And it is the real magic that makes Back 4 Blood a unique and compelling FPS game.
The Team that Slays Together, Stays Together
At the beginning of each run, you can shop for supplies in the safehouse that you and your teammates are huddled in. The Vendor features a multitude of available firearms, healing items, weapon attachments and even upgrades for the team. These upgrades are buffs similar to the cards that you customize in your deck. Though they are usually expensive, they are still definitely worth getting as these upgrades persist through your entire run. It is important to note, however, once you are out of the safehouse, you will no longer be able to have access to the shop after a few minutes so it is better to stock up as much as your current money will allow on important, useful items.
While scouring the map, you may find loot in the form of money, random new buff cards, and rare weapons with higher stats and other items. More of these are available in special secret rooms marked with a crosshair symbol which can only be unlocked by toolboxes. I find these secret rooms beneficial in increasing your arsenal advantage and replenishing your health. Most wall heals (red and white medical cabinets) appear in these rooms and they cost nothing to heal.
It is fun just nosing around looting rooms in hidden nooks and crannies, but never will you be able to go around without encountering Ridden. They can respawn many times and when you think you can take all of them, they’ll just pop out like annoying mushrooms when you least expect it. I find too many a jumpscare on certain runs, coupled with a handful of wasted bullets. It’s crazy–it’s thrilling–and it’s absurdly amusing. Since I played the game with fellow UnGeek friends, the sudden gasps and shouts for spotting Special Riddens shakes my core every single time. But that’s the charm of an online multiplayer game, I’d say.
Despite having the option of a solo playthrough with AI-controlled teammates and immediate access to all cards at the beginning, playing Back 4 Blood live with friends is a whole different experience. It’s so fun to contribute thoughts and plans on taking out the Ridden on voice call while playing. Communication is so important in this game, especially if you’re up on the more difficult modes like Veteran or Nightmare. Those modes have friendly fire damage and stronger enemies that pack the most painful punch! It’s so much better knowing when someone has your back when you’re down and close to dying.
If you did die though, and there’s an AI-controlled character in your team, you may be able to control them for a while, but I find it to be pretty useless because the character did not have ample provisions and equipment. Plus, if you aren’t familiar with that certain character, it’ll take some time to get acquainted with what they are equipped with. And you may lose your focus most especially if you’re already being swarmed by hordes of Ridden.
Inasmuch as Back 4 Blood allows you to play solo campaigns, you will find that playing alone does not give back the same impressive experience and satisfaction as compared to playing with friends and communicating on voice chat. You may try joining a random international public server, but doing so is a gamble since it can get really laggy and communication might be difficult for strangers.
If ever you get bored in playing with your friends in clearing out campaign objectives, Back 4 Blood also utilizes its online coop playability with a PvP mode called Swarm which pits 8 players against each other alternately as Cleaners and hordes of Ridden. The Swarm mode has a Battle-Royale-ish circle that shrinks in proximity, therefore forces players to engage each other. So, if you want to experience being a Ridden and to unleash hell on others, Swarm is a good mode to try.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Back 4 Blood exceeded my expectations for an online multiplayer FPS game. It is a great, enjoyable game even for beginners like me who have never tried it before. Despite playing on a controller for PlayStation with aim assist, I still find that there is a need for grit in striving to shoot enemies better.
While it’s not exactly a perfect game given some visual bugs and the fairly lackluster solo play option, Back 4 Blood is a fun time, especially when playing with a full team of friends. The multiplayer party experience definitely makes this game a stand-out title. Coupled with the nifty AI Game Director and unique card system, there’s a lot of fun to be hand in this Left 4 Dead spiritual successor.
This review was made using game codes for PS4 and PC provided by the publisher with the primary reviewer using the PS4 code.