By now anyone interested in Back 4 Blood (teased at Bethesda and Xbox’s E3 keynote a few months ago) will know that it’s made by Turtle Rock Studios, and serves as the spiritual successor to the co-op zombie first person shooter, Left 4 Dead. Stuff was given the opportunity to enjoy the closed early-access beta, which concluded on the 9th of August.
Now, before I go on, let me quickly explain that I am not a Left 4 Dead veteran. In fact, I played it for the first time leading up to the beta as prep. So I can’t offer in-depth analysis of how the systems in both games compare and stack up. But what I can give you are my first impressions of a very solid co-op shooter with room to grow.
Back 4 Blood, back to basics
The premise is simple and easy to get behind. In the campaign mode, you and four other characters are plopped at the beginning of a level, tasked with ploughing your way through vast swathes of enemies, picking up supplies and keeping each other alive along the way. The most common zombies (called the Ridden in this particularly apocalypse) will cave in a few shots or hits, but you’ll run into more complicated enemies as the campaign acts and individual levels go on, including some truly formidable boss monsters.
You and your pals get a variety of weapons with which to punch holes through rotting flesh, such as rifles, shotguns, pistols, axes, and baseball bats. You also get a handful of grenades and the ever useful utility items, like ammo pouches and health kits. See, just like in Left 4 Dead teamwork is the order of the day here.
The PvP mode pits 4 Cleaners against 4 Ridden in an ever shrinking arena. Cleaners get some time to scavenge for materials and equipment before the Ridden spawn in. Players on the Ridden side can choose to play as one of four classes, each with special abilities and utility tools to play around with. Ridden in these classes can be upgraded into stronger variations of themselves too.
From there the Ridden will push to overwhelm the Cleaners. Once all of the Cleaners are wiped out the first round ends. Both teams switch sides, and then the new Ridden are tasked with beating the previous’ finishing time. If they can do it, they earn a point. The first team to reach 2 points (best of three) wins.
Back 4 Blood looks great. Have a look at the trailer for evidence. And gameplay is extremely solid. Guns feel weighty, responsive, and there’s nothing more satisfying than blowing a Ridden’s head clean off of its shoulders.
Things get a bit finnicky past that. See, there’s a card system for players to make use of as Cleaners both in the campaign and PvP modes. In PvP they dictate your class, whereas in the campaign they provide useful buffs and tweaks. There are 60 to unlock and customise your deck with. Now, all of them are at least somewhat useful but I found them a little superfluous at times in the campaign. But that might be down to the beta’s limited scope. See, with 4 human players no part of the campaign felt significantly challenging, not enough for me to wish I’d opted for a 10% damage boost over a different melee attack for example. With three bot teammates that’s a different story.
Now, that’s not damning. It’s early days for Back 4 Blood after all, and a full release will undoubtedly include more challenging enemies, bosses, and areas to fight through. Which is something to look forward to. See, the crowning factor of Left 4 Dead is the fact that co-operating with teammates isn’t advised, it’s pretty much mandatory in later and harder areas. That wasn’t really the case with my beta experience, but I’m certain a full release will see that fixed.
I’d also like to see more of the loose story with a full release. The story of Back 4 Blood‘s apocalypse is told in quick snippets at the beginning of each level. That’s… about it for now. Otherwise there’s some banter between characters as you fight through levels but not a whole lot. That wouldn’t matter so much when you’re on coms with your mates. But still, it’s something I hope to see improved.
Back 4 Blood may have a few things I hope to see improved with its release, but aside from that the beta is solid. Nothing particularly special or mind-blowing, but maybe we’ll see something of that calibre in the full release too. And for its sake I hope it does, because as solid as it is right now it doesn’t have much more than nostalgia going for it to separate itself from the waves of co-op shooters available to gamers currently. Fingers crossed.