Certain games are so iconic the experience is associated with them. That is absolutely the case with Left 4 Dead. With over a decade since the last installment, many games have attempted to capitalize on this void. Many of them, like Earthfall, fell short but with several people behind the popular franchise working on Back 4 Blood, there is a lot to be excited about. With changes, improvement, and lessons learned, is Back 4 Blood the spiritual successor fans are hoping for, or is should it have been left for dead? Here’s our Back 4 Blood Review.
Back 4 Blood is narratively in a weird place. At some point in the past, there was an outbreak that caused the vast majority of humanity to turn into a zombie-esque creature known as Ridden. With the world falling apart, those who remain to step up and becoming Cleaners, a group known for killing Ridden. Beyond the initial set up there is a small narrative that doesn’t venture far from zombie tropes.
Being aware of your surroundings is a must
After going from location to location, typically saving people, killing something, or helping them defend, players meet a doctor who develops a powerful weapon that can be used to defeat them. It gives humanity hope of survival, assuming cleaners can work together to come out on top.
Teamwork and choices is are the most important things in Back 4 Blood. This begins with picking one of the eight Cleaners currently available. Each falls into some kind of general role, with none of them having a distinct advantage or disadvantage, assuming players know what they can do. Evangelo is a rusher who can easily break out of grabs; Holly is perfect for melee fans who want to lead the charge; Mom and Doc are different takes on a healer class; Hoffman can generate ammo; Karlee makes it easier to see incoming threats; with the remaining two being perfect for anyone looking to kill things.
Even if certain characters are more useful than others, like Jim is a rather selfish character that is only useful if you’re good at headshots/avoiding damage, and extremely skilled Jim can easily make up for lacking Mom and her instant revive/extra life. Everything, be it the most fundamental aspect or most hardcore Nightmare level hinge on knowing what your team has, needs, and building around it.
Cards can have a massive impact on what and how a run goes
Beyond simply selecting the right characters for your team/situation, cards/decks make a massive difference. Initially, they seem like fun perks that add random modifiers to Back 4 Blood. Your melee attack uses a knife, a certain resource is highlighted, things like that. Long term it’s in your best interest to create decks best suited to whatever the team needs.
One of my favorite cards is Ammo Stash, a powerful card that gives you unlimited secondary ammo at the cost of reloading being 20 percent lower. The initial benefit is obvious. I am no longer consuming as much ammo and can take on more of a support role. This pairs really well with damage mods and a sniper to quickly defeat enemies or can be built in such a way secondary can hold its own. With certain secondary weapons lacking a scope, disabling aim-down sights (ADS) is less of a detriment.
With over 150 cards that do a wide variety of things, players can make most builds work. Levels can sometimes throw curveballs, as every level has a wide variety of conditions/modifiers, that might change your build. Instead of getting Confident Killer, damage increase for each mutation kill for the level, whereas on another map I might use Battle Lust, melee kills give two health, as a way to supplement my life.
Corruption cards make every run a little different
However, this massive strength also hurts Back 4 Blood. Despite veteran and nightmare starting unlocked, the odds of someone winning either mode on a fresh save is almost zero. To put it into perspective, at the time of this review, PlayStation reports only .2 percent of players have beat Act Two on Veteran or higher, with no one beating nightmare past Act One. The reason why I bring this up is longevity, matchmaking, and the whole gameplay loop.
Similar to an MMORPG, Back 4 Blood doesn’t view recruit, the lowest difficulty, as easy mode per se, it’s meant to be something you grind until you’re able to grind veteran or higher. That is basically the whole gameplay loop as well. Beat all the stages multiple times and then do it with more negative modifiers, friendly fire, and other negatives. This might not appeal to everyone, but the real issue is players who don’t understand these limitations.
I’d be lying if I said a single person can’t cause a team to fail. Going up ahead, shooting a car that sets off an alarm, even activating hoards too early can destroy a team. With newcomers constantly trying to match on higher difficulties, it ruins both parties’ experiences for different reasons. Players who might’ve done it had this person joined are now at a disadvantage, with the newcomer getting overwhelmed in seconds. I worry it will get worse with time, especially since the higher difficulties require a lot of teamwork.
Just casually attempting it with random players has resulted in way more failed runs than successful ones. It makes me worried matchmaking will eventually die off or gets replaced by third-party services. Not to mention alienate players who simply don’t have the time, skill, or interest the next level requires. This is a shame since Back 4 Blood’s actual experience is a lot of fun.
Going through a level, seeing what items randomly spawn, coupled with trying to figure out the best way to progress. Sometimes birds will force players into stealth, other times there are too many alarms to avoid, with some runs just going flawlessly. This alone can scratch that itch, especially with the lowest difficulty pulling no punches, it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Back 4 Blood Review Verdict
Back 4 Blood is a fantastic entry in this genre that is held back by a couple of bold choices. Builds are a lot of fun until it becomes overly robotic and anything short of a really bad modifier puts you on a set loop. It also benefits from strong mechanics that make even the lowest difficulty feel unrelenting, along with rewarding team players. As much as I applaud Back 4 Blood for catering to a specific hardcore player base, it is a choice that will alienate certain players. I suggest asking yourself if you’re looking for a game to grind heavily or if a moderate challenge on a lower difficulty is enough. If you answered yes to either or just love the genre, odds are you’ll love this too. However, if you’re not looking for a massive team-based shooter, this is one experience that will leave you frustrated and disappointed.
[Editor’s Note: Back 4 Blood was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes. The game was tested as well on Xbox Series and PC.]