Back 4 Blood Review: Left 4 Dead resurrected with innovative mechanics
Played On: PS5 (Original)
Difficulty: Recruit (Campaign)
Outside of Half-Life 3, which continues to go farther outside the realm of possibility, fans have been hoping to see a third entry in the Left 4 Dead franchise for years, but Valve has shown no signs of delivering anything with a “3” at the end. Original Left 4 Dead creators, Turtle Rock Studios, resurrect their vision to answer fans’ prayers with a spiritual success that lives and breathes Left 4 Dead’s DNA – Back 4 Blood.
Structurally, Back 4 Blood is clear as day the “Left 4 Dead 3” that Turtle Rock has likely wanted to make for years. There are so many visual components and gameplay mechanics that are pivotal part of Left 4 Dead’s DNA that are seen all throughout Back 4 Blood. The HUD basically has the same kind of layout, the game retains the same kind of four-player cooperative combat, and even the overall concept of campaign missions is the same in having squads survive through dreadful hordes of “The Ridden” to try and get to a safe room. Hell, even the animation of a character’s hand hovering out to grab an item or gun is the same and the different types of Ridden, a possibly extraterrestrial parasitic force that’s been infecting humans and turning them into horrific monsters, are nearly carbon copies of zombie types in Left 4 Dead.
Exploders are basically Bloaters. Retches are Spitters. Stalkers can grab players like Smokers expect that they don’t use a tentacle. Stingers are essentially like Hunters with how they leap on players. The Witch has essentially been split into a horde calling Snitch ridden as well as a boss ridden known as The Hag. The abilities and characteristics of Tanks and Chargers can be found in the Tallboy types and a boss ridden called The Breaker. There are some new ridden that do change things up and are nice additions to the roster. There are these ridden called Sleepers who hang on walls acting as landmines with how they wait until players are close and then suddenly leap at them. They certainly scared me and my teammates plenty of times and kept us on our toes throughout the campaign. Also adding bosses like The Ogre, a towering monstrosity that’s a powerful bullet sponge, nicely challenges teams as they try to fend off other ridden.
Normally, so much copy and paste would be seen as lazy or not that inspired, but it’s actually a pivotal part of what makes Back 4 Blood identify as a Left 4 Dead successor. All these aspects really make Back 4 Blood feel like the reemergence of a classic and gives it a nostalgic feel. Plus, there are some new aspects that Turtle Rock includes that evolve past efforts. The gun selection is much more detailed than just grabbing an assault rifle or pistol and every weapon can be tested in a firing range in the survivor camp. There are also some new support items, like the stun gun that give you a chance to break a stalker’s grip without needing the help of a teammate.
The survivors, called Cleaners, have more defined personalities and purpose in the story and gameplay. There are a total of eight Cleaners that players will be able to choose from and choosing your Cleaner has greater impact past just picking someone you like. Not only does it affect what guns and items you start with, but each Cleaner comes with unique abilities and advantages that help define a role they play on the team. For instance, players who like being a medic will probably like playing as Sue, aka Doc, as she can give each teammate a free heal and has higher healing efficiency while players that prefer to be more weapon efficient will likely like Walker’s ability to up his accuracy with precision kills and that he automatically comes equipped with a frag. Even Mom’s motherly instincts come through in her being able to instantly revive an incapacitated teammate once per level and personally, Hoffman’s perk of being able to find ammo in corpses is always clutch.
Just because each Cleaner has their own specific perks and abilities doesn’t mean that players are stuck to defined rolls though as Turtle Rock implements a game-changing card system that redefines class-based systems. Throughout the marketing of Back 4 Blood, Turtle Rock heavily emphasized the impact of this card system, and they really weren’t kidding. As players play through the campaign and earn supply points, they can use this currency on supply lines that give players new cards and character cosmetics. Cards are a big deal because they can give characters certain perks that excellently mix and match roles and can offer big advantages in the form of extra ammo, damage, healing efficiency, and team-based perks. There’s a card that lets players deal no friendly fire when crouched, which is pretty big for harder difficulties where friendly fire could wipe out your whole team, and even a card that automatically reloads your weapons when they’re holstered wiping away the big detraction of LMGs.
Players can create their own decks and edit them with ease making it incredibly easy for players to mold their Cleaners how they want and prioritize certain cards. With how you’re always getting new cards in your collection and the impact of them being clear when playing, this card system is truly the next evolution of class-based games and plays an interesting role in the campaign. Before each level players are able to choose cards from their deck to bring into the game and with each player bringing their own cards into the game, there’s a lot of great coordinating and strategizing that can come from groups picking out their cards. Given that there are some cards that affect one individual versus others that affect the entire team, there’s an immense depth to this system that lets players create basically create their own characters and define their purpose. It’s a sense of freedom that’s incredibly satisfying and works well in tackling harder difficulties.
Now, players aren’t the only ones who gets cards as the Ridden will also get some cards that influence the layout of the level. These cards can influence the kind of enemies that players will encounter, add in bonus objectives or obstacles that will put murders of crows in the field that will alert hordes, and even a timer where hordes of zombies will come every few minutes or so. It’s a nice way to constantly throw new challenges at players and is generally pretty fair. Cards are pivotal part to Back 4 Blood’s identity and a big reason to play and replay the game’s campaign.
As a whole, Back 4 Blood’s campaign is a lot of fun with the level of challenge it offers and has a bit of a nostalgic feel to it. The cutscenes are a nice way to get to know the characters a little better and act as epic ends to campaign acts that are akin to arcade cutscences seen in games like House of the Dead. Campaign is a reasonable length with fun missions that are very reminiscent of Left 4 Dead’s campaign chapters and features some fun in-game banter that changes based on who your team is made up of. With the Ridden cards, it always remains a fun challenge and the way you pick up new cards along the way makes the trek to tackling harder difficulties more rewarding and earned. Campaign will certainly fill up your time just fine, but Back 4 Blood can feel a little empty.
Campaign can only last so long and the fact that the game isn’t built around solo play might turn off some that don’t have a full crew or don’t feel like dealing with strangers. Currently, there is no offline mode as it seems to be getting worked on and frankly, the game just seems a little too much in later levels to take on solo with bots. The bots can work just fine, but they don’t fill the void of having a real player by your side. Also, it’s a shame there’s no timed survival mode or some kind of creative other mode just so there’s more to do and at the moment, there’s no word if other campaigns are being made like Left 4 Dead had.
However, there is a really fun multiplayer mode called Swarm Mode that lets players take control of the Ridden. The multiplayer mode is a survival game where each team will swap between Cleaners and Ridden to see who can survive the longest in a best of three game. The Cleaners are pretty much the same as they are in the campaign, but it is nice that you can create a separate deck for Swarm Mode.
The Ridden are real talking point of Swarm Mode as there are some great team-based mechanics that come into play. Every Ridden, aside from bosses, are available to play and are pretty easy to pick up and learn their skills, and players can upgrade different classes of Ridden as well as the A.I. controlled common Ridden through points earned in play. It’s great that you can upgrade Ridden right in the moment and it’s even better that each player has their own set of points and that upgrades are shared. This means that there can be real strategies made for taking down opponents and it makes Swarm Mode slow-growing chaos that’s a blast to be a part of.
Back 4 Blood is a worthy successor to Left 4 Dead with the innovative additions that Turtle Rock has made through the game-changing card system. Its core harnesses the DNA of Left 4 Dead excellently making its cooperative multiplayer horde killing gameplay a ton of nostalgic fun.
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