There is no doubt that Back 4 Blood had a monumental challenge ahead of it from the moment Turtle Rock Studios announced its existence. I mean, you can’t appear 12 years after dropping one of the greatest co-op survival titles (Left 4 Dead 2) to ever grace our screens, and not expect to be put under the microscope. Of course, those years were filled out with Evolve, but that hardly fits into the same structure as the zombie-slaying shooters we’re currently discussing. I believe the team has certainly crafted a potential successor by way of solid gameplay and intuitive ways to keep the gameplay feeling fresh, ensuring that your runs always feel slightly different — and extremely brutal.
Back 4 Blood follows a group of human survivors known as the Cleaners, who are attempting to save their settlement from the monstrous zombie-type creatures called the Ridden. You have access to eight playable characters, each with very different personalities, and all sporting unique buffs that give them an edge in certain situations. I found a couple that I really clicked with — Jim, the hunter, and Karlee, the rebellious rocker. Their buffs stack with the bonuses you receive from your card loadouts, so you can create builds that completely suit your playstyle of choice. For instance, I enjoy rocking an assault weapon with a semi-automatic marksman rifle, and favour mobility over high health. By using the 15 card slots, I was able to knock up a build that suited that playstyle perfectly and even countered some of the Corruption Cards that were added in.
Corruption Cards are by far one of the defining mechanics of Back 4 Blood. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, the game director will randomly designate a Corruption Card (or multiple cards) at the beginning of each mission. These cards can completely change your run each time around — maybe this time it’s completely dark, and special Ridden appear in trios… or maybe you’re going to have to face off against an armoured boss called an Ogre. It’s these small adjustments to each mission that really helps make multiple playthroughs a bit more interesting for the casual player, whereas those players that develop a fascination with the game will find new challenges to overcome every time. The mutators can turn a fairly breezy run into a nightmarish slog by dropping a series of difficult cards. Recruit difficulty is a challenging ordeal already, even though it’s the easiest difficulty, but once you step up into Veteran or even Nightmare, just one less-than-ideal Corruption Card can end your run.
Progress takes place over four Acts, with Acts One to Three containing over ten missions each. Act Four is only one mission long but wraps up the story with a quick and pretty tough conclusion. When running through a full Act, the real kicker comes in the fact that your group can only wipe a couple of times before the run is over. You will unlock starting checkpoints as you progress through each Act, so if you’re in a party you can easily get back to where you were, although starting fresh. If you’re not in a party, though? Well, it’s back to the Quick Play matchmaking and hoping you can find a match close to where you were — unless you start your own run and wait on other players. This is one of the biggest issues with Back 4 Blood, and one that could do with being addressed sooner rather than later.
You can start your own runs, but the problem for me, during early access at least, was the fact that you can’t guarantee that players will join your run, therefore making it unplayable — without an option to start with bots, I had to resort to Quick Play to make my way through the game. It’s all rather frustrating, and while it’s not overly game-breaking, mixing that with the various crashes and system shutdowns I encountered, it felt like I was walking on thin ice at every step. Although let’s be honest, the technical problems will more than likely be fixed soon, and the team has already noted player concerns regarding the solo capabilities of the game, so I won’t judge too harshly on that front.
Playing as the Cleaners will have you trotting around and attempting to find supplies, eradicating the Ridden, and locating possible remedies. It’s the usual storyline for any good post-apocalyptic game, but the set pieces make it stand out. Some missions will have you clambering over death pits, barricading yourself in a church, or defending a bar while listening to rock music. Even better is the fact that your objectives aren’t just a replica of every title in the genre. Some missions will have you just making your way to the next safe house, while others require you to perform certain objectives first, like destroying nests, defending against a horde of enemies, or finding supplies. Much like the Left 4 Dead games, it’s all built around co-op and requires a team effort if you hope to pull off your goals successfully.
Well, co-op and some awesome weapons, of course. Back 4 Blood comes loaded with a multitude of weapons that covers melee, assault rifles, shotguns, and the like. You can even find attachments along your way to customise them, in the form of muzzles, scopes, stocks, and mags. Each has a rarity level which helps bolster your gun’s stats and allows it to continue being useful as the carnage intensifies throughout each Act. Just don’t expect to be holding on to your hard-earned attachments, because once you switch out your gun, they stay on the old one — there’s no way of stripping weapons to keep hold of your better mods, unfortunately.
No matter your playstyle or the weapons you choose, there is no quick way to get through Back 4 Blood’s achievements. Sure, there are plenty of miscellaneous ones that can be picked up along the way, along with a few secrets to unlock (for which there are already guides). The time-consuming beasties are obviously the Nightmare difficulty completions and the ‘Good Riddence!’ achievement, which requires you to slaughter 53,600 of the dribbling flesh-munchers.
Back 4 Blood is the co-op survival shooter that we’ve been waiting for since Left 4 Dead took the world by storm. The introduction of Corruption Cards really helps the game stand out, while offering players varied gameplay that doesn’t feel stale at any point. The current issues surrounding solo play are certainly a turn-off, but not enough for me to not recommend playing it, especially if you have a group of friends ready to go. With a little TLC, Back 4 Blood has every ingredient necessary to flourish, and perhaps even dethrone its predecessors… maybe.
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