Back 4 Blood is one of many Left 4 Dead-inspired games released recently, but it has one major strength : Back 4 Blood is made by the same developer as Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios. This loose connection between the games is obvious, as it’s easy to see the greatness of Left 4 Dead in Back 4 Blood. However, the latter comes with a serious headache.
In terms of gameplay, Back 4 Blood is probably the best Left 4 Dead-like game on the market. It offers players a lengthy campaign, especially for a game of this type, designed to be very replayable at its core. The core game loop used in the campaign is simple and straightforward, but full of fun : Complete each mission to defeat hordes of “Ridden” zombies and reach the next safe room.
Some of the quests in Back 4 Blood use this formula, providing enough variety that the player doesn’t get bored by doing any one thing too often. At times, players must take a defensive stance and fight off hordes of infected. Other times, players must find a specific item on the map, spend time preparing for it, and survive the Horde’s raids. The most common variants seem to be enough to immerse players in the gameplay while making certain levels more unique.
It helps elevate Back 4 Blood’s gameplay above mindless zombie killing by making sure every objective variation in the game isn’t overused (although there’s a lot of that too). Diverse mission objectives, coupled with excellent level design, make each mission as fun as the last. Players may find themselves trapped in the woods, at a school, or in a mass grave by zombies, and while players will sometimes revisit locations more than once (such as the area around Fort Hope), each environment is unique.
“Enough variety” to keep Back 4 Blood players engaged seemed to be the goal, and it worked. The same goes for the various enemies players will face. While common infestors are most common, even these creatures can be modified in-game to make them more challenging. Whether facing normal zombies or any of the variants such as Tallboys, Retchers, Ogres or Snitches, players will find enough variety to keep the game engaging – especially when corruption cards are present hour.
This pairs perfectly with the game’s gunplay and various card challenges. Players will find a wide variety of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, LMGs, melee weapons and more in Back 4 Blood, each with a different feel and way of shooting. For example, it’s easy for a game like Back 4 Blood to make sniper rifles feel out of place, since they’re usually ineffective against hordes of enemies, but that’s not the case here. They can be just as destructive as an LMG in the right hands, but that’s not to say that sometimes a particular weapon isn’t better in a particular situation.
Additionally, Back 4 Blood features a card system that modifies each round, giving players boosts and affecting the undead in various ways. These cards can reveal low power or dense fog, it can modify how each zombie type in Back 4 Blood works, or it can give players new quests, such as completing them in X amount of time. Normally, cards in a video game like this might seem out of place, but the truth is that Back 4 Blood is better because of them.
Turtle Rock Studios could theoretically include Left 4 Dead 3 in this game, and at its best, it would definitely shine as a proper trilogy of the past two games. It grabs some itch, and despite being a new title called Back 4 Blood, it’s loaded with nostalgia. However, Back 4 Blood is hit hard with something that the Left 4 Dead series doesn’t have : lack of respect for player time.
First, the complete lack of support for single player is incredibly disappointing. Back 4 Blood players who don’t want to go online to play with strangers or friends will be penalized for not doing so, as a key component of the single-player experience is missing. Essentially, players can’t complete any progression-oriented quest in the game, keeping them out, from cosmetics to new Back 4 Blood characters to achievements. A good example is an achievement that requires killing 53, 600 zombies, but any kills in single player don’t count towards the achievement.
According to reports, Turtle Rock Studios is working on this issue, and it is expected that sometime after launch, these issues will be resolved. However, it’s undeniably a huge flaw in the game, and one that feels punishing. That’s not the only weird decision in the game, though, and it comes with other problems. Some of them are minor, like there’s no way to remove an unwanted weapon attachment without replacing it with another. Others, like the PvP mode Swarm, feel like a relentless attachment to the base game.
Back 4 Blood, meanwhile, is about putting together a viable build to make a run. If the player struggles at any point during the run, losing all “continues”, then they can repeat the same level, but with a handicap on cards and weapons. This should add a “roguelike” element to the game, but it’s replayable enough without forcing the player to end at a certain point, or go back some to get a better start, or play the same level that was just lost without Build everything so far.
Back 4 Blood’s story isn’t revolutionary, and doesn’t have to be. It essentially takes the “here’s a zombie, shoot the zombie” approach, which is fine. This is another zombie apocalypse game about ending the zombie apocalypse without reinventing how it happened, why it broke out, or anything like that. It just has no real character. The main NPCs who give all the commands are haunting, and while the Back 4 Blood Cleaners are well designed, they lack real charm or appeal. There are occasional dialogues that highlight some of their past and their connection to each other, but it’s underused throughout the campaign.
Back 4 Blood could have put more polish on bugs, technical issues, and more. Its technical issues have never been a big deal, sometimes causing zombies to crash into walls or become unresponsive to the player’s immediate presence. But when they get big, players can be miserable. Watching an NPC stand still and accept the death of a horde of zombies is confusing and frustrating, and the game crashes before the final mission and resets to the beginning of the previous mission is an even bigger problem. Overall, it’s got a lot of bugs, and whether they’re acceptable or not, they’re clearly there.
Back 4 Blood remains the best Left 4 Dead game in recent memory, taking the core design and innovating on it just enough to keep everything fresh and interesting. Where Back 4 Blood gets things right, it does well, but what’s not is often obvious.
Back 4 Blood is available now for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. For the purposes of this review, Game Rant obtained the Xbox Series X code.