Zombie survival games are a genre which has seen many entries in different forms over the years. From the games modes of the Call of Duty franchise that started way back in World at War days right through to the new titles such as the recently released World War Z Aftermath. Now the newest entry into this category is Back 4 Blood and it brings the question, does Back 4 Blood survive the constant onslaught of survival titles or is it something that should be Left 4 Dead?
Back 4 Blood is an apocalyptic survival First Person Shooter title that comes from Turtle Rock Studios and has been self-labelled as the spiritual successor to arguably their biggest title in Left 4 Dead. Although this game is a zombie survival title, the enemy takes on a different form in the Ridden. Humans have been infected by a deadly parasite and in turn become the Ridden, taking on various mutations and forms, while varying in size and having diverse deadly abilities, such as exploding on contact or spitting at players from far. It is the player’s role as a Cleaner who are brutally tasked of removing Ridden from their part of the world and helping humanity survive through various military and survival driven missions. The player takes on the role of one of the eight Cleaners and works in a team of four across a four Act, 31 mission story. Each mission can be played solo or with a team of up to 4 human players in a cooperative campaign. If players cannot find a full squad, Back 4 Blood always ensure a full squad and the remaining team members are replaced with AI characters who can be taken over upon the death of your character.
One significant note at this point in time that Turtle Rock Studios has flagged for attention is that solo mode does not offer any progression towards any of the characters with accomplishments, earning supply points and even unlocking achievements/trophies. To earn these Back 4 Blood is currently forcing players to play with others and avoid solo for now.
As the player starts each of the 31 missions, they are present with modifiers that affect the way each missions plays. These range from heavily armoured and highly aggressive enemies through to dense fog with strange mutations and will vary each playthrough. The player is required to address these and the other challenges of the level by making significant decisions prior to mission start. This involves choosing a favoured character based on their perks and the use of the perk card system.
The player is required to select one of 8 characters (4 initially and 4 unlockable) who bring a passive skill and a different secondary weapon into the game. Skills offer unique team-based perks including the addition of extra ammunition or health for all players, increased weak spot damage and even an extra life.
The second decision revolves around the games perk card system. Player progression is through the completion of levels within cooperative play rewarding players with supply points that can be used to purchase cards for this deck building side of the game. Each run allows a player to select their prebuilt deck of 15 cards which are provided for the player to choose from at the start of each level. These cards offer a range of enhancements allowing the player to customise their own playstyle and decide on how to approach each level. At the start of each level players are able to select perk cards and as the player progresses through an Act these cards continue to stack until the Act is complete, or when the team fails to complete the mission within the allocated attempts allowed. One note, when deck building is that the top card within your deck is automatically applied and then the cards are presented sequentially throughout the act. If players do fail a run, the game has addressed this and a restart at a later point within the act will allow the player to select multiple cards for the run through. Players looking to play through solo will not have to worry about unlocking perk cards though as they all will be available to customise their deck prior to the first mission.
Once the modifiers are set and the above selections are made, the mission begins with the squad of Cleaners preparing within a safe zone at the start of the level. This area provides a shop and random tactical items to equip. This shop requires players to collect copper throughout the mission that is used as the in-game currency for purchases. Each player can equip a primary and secondary weapon, offensive accessories such as a grenade’s and molotovs, support health items and a quick slot item such as a tool kit for opening locked doors, defibrillator for reviving Cleaners and much more. All of these items support players to tackle the challenges on offer which will have the player collect, protect, test and survive on their way to and through the hub world of Fort Hope. As a game targeted at cooperative game play, it is important to mix and match perks, equipment and weapons across the team to ensure ongoing success. Watch out though as the horde will come on thick and fast and as the players get further, the enemies will get stronger, requiring many tactical decisions to be made.
Back 4 Blood’s gunplay is smooth, tight and satisfying. It offers similar controls to most first-person shooters with a few slight differences including in the way the player uses their offensive accessory. The game brings a range of weapons for players to take down the Ridden that can be placed into two classes. These are:
- Primary weapons including SMG’s, assault rifles, shotguns and snipers, and
- Secondary weapons including pistols, one-handed shotguns and various melee-based weapons.
Each weapon can be found in one of four rarities identified by the colour of the description (white, green, blue and purple) and can be upgraded with one of 5 different attachments to improve its ability in the fight. It is best to mix and match weapons and attachments to compliment your fighting style and perk card selection.
The gameplay is well supported by the audio and visuals of the game, immersing players into a world full of blood, gore, explicit language and friendly banter that will make the player feel like they are out there trying to survive the apocalypse with their friends. From the details of the blood splatter across the player, the gruesome mutations of the Ridden and the worn-down nature of the world, the game makes players feel like they are humanities last hope. Just be aware that voice chat will need fine tuning before you play when parties up with friends on the Xbox. This game plays all voice chat (whether in a chat party or not) through in-game audio which will create an echo for those using a headset to play the game. Settings can be adjusted to rectify this.
Back 4 Blood also offers something for those players looking for more than just a campaign-based experience, or for those looking to understand the world through the eyes of the Ridden in Swarm. Swarm is a round based PvP mode that sees two teams of 4 competing to stay alive the longest. The game is best of three rounds and sees players take the side of the Cleaners and the Ridden each round, competing to see which team of Cleaners can survive the longest. The longer the Cleaners survive the more challenges the game throws at them. Win two rounds and win the game. This game mode provides Cleaners with all of the tools seen throughout the campaign while providing the Ridden with team-based upgrades to support their character selection. The maps are based on various in-game locations, and it is a fun game mode if you can get in with a group of friends.
This game is an apocalypse survival title that is rated R18 and therefore is not one to play while the kids are around. Online co-op play is available and this one is well worth jumping into with some mates who would have your back in the event that the world does take a turn for the worst. Plus, the game has been built to be played many times over through increased difficultly and a perk card system letting players tackle the game their way, and over and over again.
8 – Great – this is a standout game where some minor changes would make it amazing. You could easily justify your purchase of this game.
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Back 4 Blood was reviewed on the Xbox Series X and is also available on Xbox One/Series S, PlayStation 4/5 and PC as well as available day one on Xbox Game Pass.
The code was provided by Koch Media for the purpose of this review. Our thoughts are ours and ours alone.