If you’re wondering why Back 4 Blood looks very similar to the ever-popular Left 4 Dead, it’s because both co-op shooters come from the same developer – Turtle Rock Studios. Back 4 Blood is as close to a direct sequel as you can really get, the direct lineage to those original games helping it to stand out from a crowd that has sought to adapt that formula.
Still, is a spiritual successor even needed? Have games llke World War Z, Vermintide, and Payday 2 surpassed their inspiration? With the Back 4 Blood Open Beta just about to kick of this weekend, it’s your best opportunity to dive in and answer that question for yourself.
Honestly, if the Turtle Rock name wasn’t attached to this upcoming game, Back 4 Blood might not have anywhere near as much excitement surrounding it. If Left 4 Dead’s creators think they’ve found a way to build on that winning template then we’re all ears.
Back 4 Blood touts the same core formula Turtle Rock crafted all those years ago. You and up to three fellow survivors (whether AI or real players) will gun your way through infected gauntlets, crossing off a list of objectives as you go. The missions here are expectedly linear, each nudging you down a trail paved with ambushes, roaming hordes of mutant zombies – dubbed the Ridden for this game – and the occasional set piece.
One new twist Back 4 Blood brings to the table is Decks. This fuses the frenzied co-op shooting with a layer of strategic customisation. Throughout your infected hunting career, you’ll earn supply points, a currency that can then be spent on unlocking cards. You’ll then use these to construct Decks of gameplay modifier card that you’ll draw and play cards from whenever you hit a safe room checkpoint.
These alter all kinds of stats from sprint speed and duration to ammo clip size, giving players a way to create character builds that hew toward certain roles for your team to succeed. Back 4 Blood will also force you to draw negative cards, this system giving it a somewhat roguelike quality.
Without Decks, we’d honestly struggle finding ways of differentiating the game from Left 4 Dead. The pacing of missions, satisfying shooting, and splashes of character humour come together with an identical seamlessness.
Playing with friends, gradually turning the up the difficulty and expanding your Decks – Back 4 Blood will have no problem finding hardcore groups of survivors. However, much of that appeal is lost when riding solo or matchmaking with randoms.
You might have read all that and assume that Back 4 Blood’s versus multiplayer offering would also follow a similar formula to Left 4 Dead. For better and for worse, you would be wrong. Where Left 4 Dead versus had you playing through the campaign levels while trying to survive the combined efforts of an AI director and human controlled special zombies, Back 4 Blood does not feature such a mode. That’s the “for worse” side of the equation.
The “for better” side comes from the canny blending of a horde mode with the kind of attack and defence multiplayer that you might find in games like Overwatch or Rainbow Six: Siege. The human team is given the chance to scout out the map, hunt for weapons and pick ups, before trying to set up and stave off the incoming waves of zombies and human-controlled specials, trying to survive for as long as possible as a damage circle pushes everyone closer and closer together.
Each team plays as humans and zombies on one map, the round going to whoever can survive the longest, before moving to the next map in a best of three match. You can see that there’s going to be a real competitive edge to this, as cards come into effect between rounds, and as the zombies are able to tactically spend points to buff themselves and the regular AI Ridden. Still, that won’t appease those who want more of Left 4 Dead’s versus campaigns…
Where a lot of games in this genre can fall down is content, not having enough missions to play or rewards to keep players coming back. Back 4 Blood looks primed to avoid this pitfall. There may not be much in the way of style or flare from what we’ve seen in this pre-release build, but it’s astill fun romp and one that could have us playing on a loop if the Decks, card collecting and class creation really take hold.