Back 4 Blood First Impressions – A Bloody Good Time
Back 4 Blood is everything I had hoped out of a Left 4 Dead 3.
When I first picked up my controller to play Left 4 Dead 12 years ago on my trusty Xbox 360, I thought that it would be the kind of game that would just tie me over in between playing GTA 4 and Fable 2. Little did I know that it would become one of the best games I’ve played and how much time I lovingly poured into it. Weekends sat with a giant pizza and friends screaming “Watch out for the witch!” while popping zombie’s heads have been some of my best gaming memories. When I found out that Turtle Rock Studios, the developers behind the original Left 4 Dead, were developing a new “co-op zombie genre”, I couldn’t tell you how excited I was and now, here I am, playing that very project in Back 4 Blood closed alpha. To say it met all my expectations so far is probably an understatement.
Jumping into the closed alpha, I was greeted with the usual array of menu options where you can tweak things like your gameplay difficulty, accessibility options, and game controls. Thankfully for me, Back 4 Blood does offer players controller support and even though, initially, I was somewhat concerned if it would be fluid enough in a high-action game like this, I shouldn’t have worried as I found out later when getting stuck into a match. Regarding modes, the game plates up either a ‘Campaign’ where four-players run-and-gun their way throughout different post-apocalyptic environments or ‘Quickplay’ if you fancy jumping straight into a random match.
The most notable change for Left 4 Dead fans coming in is a brand new rogue-lite element of a card system that it dishes you out at the start of each match and then incorporates throughout your playthrough. Replacing a skill tree, these cards give players an opportunity to design their very own perks and boosts. You can construct your deck how you choose and pick certain cards at the start of each game to give your character a bit of a buff-up to help maintain your survival. The cards are broken up into four categories: Reflex, Discipline, Brawn, and Fortune. Not only are you designated 15 card slots that are then shuffled up, allowing you to then pick three cards at the start of each match and then one card at a time after completing a round, but you can also find randomly placed cards in-game so looking around each room can be a big bonus.
Just like in Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood has a Game Director, and instead of an AI, this mechanic is now placed right into the hands of the player who presents Corruption Cards at the start of each match. This adds in elements such as fog, making it harder to see oncoming dangers around you or making ammo more scarce. It also changes the world around you so not every match will be the same. Zombies and other creatures don’t spawn in the same spots, and can actually pop up in surprise locations. This helped keep away that dreaded repetitiveness; at least so far in the alpha.
The closed alpha test allotted me four Cleaners that I got to choose from. Each character follows a certain archetype which is familiar in the Left 4 Dead series. Walker, Holly, Evangelo, and Hoffman have each their very own personality akin to Coach, Ellis, Nick, and Rochelle, as well as their own weapons and perks. Heading into a match and finding myself in that all too familiar safe house, those nostalgic feelings came rushing back instantly. It was apparent from the very first moment I entered into the gameplay that Turtle Rock Studios have passionately poured out what they have been wanting to do for so long, and that is to create a Left 4 Dead fit for today. The familiarity to it all had me feeling like I had never left, like putting on my old, comfortable jeans. And as soon as the door opened up, I was back to what I loved most and that’s popping zombie’s heads.
As I mentioned earlier, I had doubts about whether using a controller would make me feel at home in Back 4 Blood but, surprisingly, it worked perfectly. I was more than capable of fast responses and aim control whilst keeping up with my keyboard and mouse using companions, although from what I could tell, not many inputs can be reassigned on a controller. What I noticed within the first hour was how dense the hordes were. Don’t even think about taking a little break as there just isn’t time. Zombies gush in from every opening you can think of from doors to windows but thankfully, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have supportive teammates that have your back so things don’t get too overwhelming. For me, this is the true meaning of Back 4 Blood, gathering together a solid group of teammates and working methodically to survive so we can all safely get to the next safe house.
Of course, zombies aren’t your only enemy in Back 4 Blood. As you run and gun your way whilst coated in copious amounts of blood and guts from one place to the next, you’ll come across special infected like The Stinger. Just like The Hunter from Left 4 Dead, The Stringer hides and then jumps around but this time it sprays globs of phlegm at cleaners that glues them to the spot. You’ll also come across Retch, like Boomers, they vomit acid over players. The Tall Boy or Bruiser is an extremely horrifying sight to see as it towers over players with its huge arm but probably the most dangerous infected that I could see from playing the alpha is The Ogre. This 20-foot beast eats bullets for breakfast, and while I couldn’t bring one down in my playthrough, my guess is that you need to arm yourself with some serious equipment like bombs and molotov’s.
The level designs throughout the Back 4 Blood alpha are similar to that of Left 4 Dead in structure and what your main objectives are. Weaponry felt impactful and a pleasure to hold, especially the squishy sound when driving a bullet through a near-by zombie. One of the main differences I could tell in this area in regards to similarities with Left 4 Dead is that you now can have weapon add-ones like iron sights which you can purchase by collecting cooper coins, found within the missions, before each match or finding some scattered around between fighting hordes.
All in all, I’m extremely impressed with what I’ve played so far. Back 4 Blood exceeded my expectations and then some. But, if I had to nit-pick at any doubt I have, then it would be that the developers keep a keen focus on the all-around player experience and that they will continue to add new and interesting features to keep this game alive and kicking for as long as possible so that it doesn’t fall into a pit of monotony.