Back 4 Blood Review – A Bloody, Messy Time

Let me answer the question I know you’re going to ask right off the bat. Yes, Back 4 Blood is basically a visually updated, slightly less balanced Left 4 Dead. Review over.

No? You want me to actually dive in and break down why I said that? Well, I guess.

Back 4 Blood is a Warner Bros Games published and Turtle Rock Studios developed Co-op First Person Shooter Zombie game. It is available on Xbox series X and S, Xbox One, PS5 and 4, and PC through the Microsoft Store, Steam, Epic, and Gamepass on the 12th all with crossplay enabled. That’s where I played on PC through the Microsoft store. You might have heard of Turtle Rock Studios, they are the creators of Left 4 Dead 1 and Evolve. I also want to give a huge thank you to WB Games and Turtle Rock for the Ultimate edition code that allowed me to make this Back 4 Blood Review.

B4B is set after an outbreak has left humanity on the edge. Most of humanity is dead or infected with a parasite called Devil Worm. Civilization has been overrun with Ridden the in-universe name for the zombies and they are hellbent on wiping out the last of humanity. War hardened and ready to fight the cleaners or our last hope to stop the ridden, fight back and reclaim the world.

I want to point out that while the audio has been improved from the beta a new issue has arisen. There is copyright music in this game. Turtle rock themselves have stated:

Easing Into Things

I started Back 4 Blood on the recruit difficulty. The difficulty levels range from recruit to nightmare which brings new challenges like friendly fire however the rewards more than makeup for the struggle. Now before you judge me I knew this game has an AI controller or Game director and I know how punishing it can get when it’s not properly balanced. So I started on recruit to see just what the Director was going to do and I‘m glad I did. My squads and I got either cornered, tons of enemies dropped on us, or just got taken down multiple times. The amount of time I went down with nearly full health while healing is kind of nuts. Ironically, I have been playing a lot of zombie games lately with the latest being Zombie Army 4 Dead war. So I’ve been tuned into the keep going down stop, look at the ground or something might get you mindset, and still, I was blindsided more than a few times.

It also didn’t help to play with randoms. This is a friend squad type of game. Now not to be harsh on the randoms I actually met some dang cool people but there were others that wouldn’t wait for the team. They would then be hurt too far away to help then quit like the 3 people that stuck together were the problem. You need to stick together here. It’s so easy to get cornered and swarmed. As the slogan says Stay together, Slay Together.

Day 1 Rage

Now I was so excited to dive in on Day 1. I started in the solo campaign as I do for most games so I could slow down, try things out, listen to the audio and write notes down. You know, do my reviewer thing. However, not only did I forget there is no pausing I didn’t know that Solo campaigns will not unlock anything and the game doesn’t tell you that, or maybe I missed it. Not the 4 other characters, supply line points, customization nothing. You may then ask what it is for. You can play it to learn the maps, where loot can spawn and it does unlock the areas so you can start any run from any area after that. It has been noted by the devs they are working on “fixing” it. I have no idea what that means but it seems silly to me the devs believed the solo campaign isn’t as valid as co-op play.

I figured all this out after playing for 5 hours in the campaign though. Now I can hear it already saying I should have figured it out when no achievements triggered. However, I’ve reviewed games before launch where the achievements aren’t unlocked yet so they won’t trigger and give things away. I honestly thought I was doing something wrong and with it not being fully out I couldn’t just look it up. It wasn’t until the next day after I walked away and slept that I dove into the co-op and the achievements started rolling in.

There definitely needs to be a permanent warning in the description of the solo screen that states “Hey this is basically just for fun.” At least until they “fix” it. Anyways, once I figured it out and started playing the co-op I quickly found my 2 favorite characters. The first is Mom the hardass nonsense semi leader of your ragtag group who provides instant revives and team extra life. The other was Doc who can heal without items and provides the team with some trauma resistance. Trauma is a harder-to-heal type of damage that semi-permanently takes away from your health bar. The only way I’ve found to heal trauma is the red wall-mounted health boxes.

I definitely went healer-heavy here and most times I was the only one to. Healers aren’t super important in the difficulty I played but it is nice to have someone heal you without using all the supplies sometimes. I didn’t use all the characters in the time I had, unfortunately. All of the 8 characters have their own perks, unique cards, and different starting weapons so there are plenty of deck combos, weapons, and strategies to try out.

It’s Time To Duel! Bring Your Strongest Deck!

The most confusing thing when this game was announced was the deck system. Now that I have time into the game and explored the deck building I can say it is just a fancy modifier system. We saw something like it in Rise of the Tomb Raider and a few other games. Some cards are positive through and through while some give great gains with some hefty costs. Cards range from offensive to defensive and everything in between. Do you want a card that won’t have enemies slow you when they hit you? Do you want a card that multiplies your copper? There is really no wrong way to build your 15 card deck.

The game will also give negative modifiers or corruption cards at the start of every run. Decks work on a draw system so the order you build it is the order it will draw from. A little pre-planning and thought will need to go into just how you want to have your decks. While you start with a limited number of cards you can unlock more through supply points, finding them, or buying with copper in the world. Copper is used in the shop at the start of levels and can be found in the world by exploring. You can also earn copper by completing secondary objectives and having cards in your deck that can multiply your copper earnings. The secondary objectives could be killing a boss or finding a blood sample to carry to the safe room or whatever the game decides to throw at you. 

The shop is your one chance to spend that built-up copper and pick up any health, weapons, attachments, and other goodies before you start the run. At the end of a run, you will get supply points that are used in the supply line at Fort Hope, your home base. Supply lines unlock rewards from more cards to customization items. I have yet to see if they unlock weapons skins and character outfits as I’m not as far into the lines as I’d like to be. The devs have stated microtransactions could be brought in at a later date so for now I would assume that would be the spot to unlock all the available customization options.

Stay Together, Slay Together!

There are so many ridden types that no matter which types of zombie you fancy mowing down there is something for everyone. There are exploders, snitches, stalkers, stingers, and more all of whom can cause various types of damage and trauma to your team. There are also tons of environmental hazards that can harm you like flocks of crows that can cause hordes and car alarms that can also draw hordes. That doesn’t even include the horde alarms you must sometimes trigger yourself.

Sometimes it feels like the AI Game Director is out to get you and everyone you have ever known and loved. Back 4 Blood is a game where you NEED to keep moving. Now, this does not mean to rush through most times your stamina won’t let you, or the ridden hitting you slowing you down means you won’t be able to. You can collect all the copper and other goodies a level has to offer but you mustn’t linger. Enemies will constantly spawn even when you clear an area out and it feels like the longer you sit in an area the more red or special enemies spawn. It’s a good thing those special enemies have red glowing areas that just scream shoot me here. 

This brings up my second big issue with Back 4 Blood. The first being the solo campaign issue. There are some balancing issues with the AI Game Director. While not unfair most times it is very easy to get cornered or overwhelmed and the game spawns 3 or more special enemies that while having noticeable weak points are also all trying to bash your head in or burn you or crush you. It feels like there is no rhyme or reason for the spawning of most of the special enemies. Luckily this seems like this is a simple fix on Turtle Rock Studios’ part especially since Left 4 Dead came out in 2008 and had a similar system in it. Remember I played on recruit which should be a cakewalk.

In general, the overall AI could be better throughout the whole game but especially in solo play. They aren’t terrible it just feels like they needed to be herded everywhere. I know they are designed to be close to you and your team but they really get in the way sometimes especially with friendly fire turned on. However, when playing with others is when I saw the AI show its flaws. For me an AI should have 2 goals: pick you up when you go down and shoot at everything. In solo, they do those well but not fantastic. Playing with others it’s like they don’t know you. So many times the bots would walk by me and not revive or not unpin me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled playing the Avengers so much. One player I was talking to said you have to ping them to do actions and I’ll have to test that but in the middle of getting my head almost taken off, I’m not thinking of pinging the bot for help.

There is also a nice PVP for those looking to challenge their skills even more. Swarm mode is the PVP section of Back 4 Blood. Two squads of four will face off against each other in a best of 3 matches. Teams are divided between the cleaners and the ridden. Each round will offer more perks, upgrades, and more with each side getting unique weapons and abilities. I’ll be honest I only played a handful of matches and it’s not my favorite mode but I can see tons of people loving it. it removes all the AI balancing issues because you’re not fighting a computer (hopefully). Maybe with some friends, I’ll like it but then again I’m not picking up a game like this to play PVP.

Shoot em Dead

Back 4 Bloods gunplay is solid and feels so good with my mouse and keyboard. The animations for each weapon type are unique and on point even when you crouch there’s a cool tiling of the guns to the side animation. Additionally, when you have a card that speeds up the reload the movements feel natural. This has never been a point of contention for me though even from beta that was something that I really enjoy with Back 4 Blood. On PC at least there is an option to return to the point you started shooting when you let go of the trigger. It’s not an aim assist or recoil compensation. I would call it a recentering it helps bring the gun back to center and I did like that feature.

Back 4 Blood and an immense variety of weapons for any one of the characters to play with. No weapon is locked from anyone’s use and each weapon sounds so good. To be fair though most times you are not paying attention to what the gun sounds like over the ridden smacking you. Most times I found myself not buying weapons in the shop and praying I found a good sniper or assault rifle mid-run. Sometimes it worked out for me, other times not so much. Players can see the whole offering in the practice range at Fort Hope and you can test them all out with whatever attachments and goodies you want.

With the variety of weapons and characters, there must also be a way to make them your own and add some spice. Each weapon and character has a minimum of 3 appearance customization options. Again since the devs have stated they may bring cosmetic microtransaction in the future. At the time of writing this everything should be able to be unlocked through natural play. There are also a few other customizations like banners, sprays, and titles. Everything I unlocked at the time of writing this was through natural play and the ultimate edition.

There are 3 planned DLCs that the Ultimate code is going to give me access to so if you’d like to see those let me know. Anyway, Turtle Rock is making a bold and frankly much-needed decision with the rollout of the DLCs. Essentially, if you’re partying up with someone who has the DLC content and they’re the leader of the party, for as long as you stay together, you will also be able to access that content whether you own it or not. Now, this is a decision I can get behind.

Some Minor Things You Should Know

There are some minor things you should know about Back 4 Blood. I would also recommend watching this video before you dive in as well:

Firstly, voice chat is recorded and it lets you know that on the first launch. It’s for moderation’s sake and I know most will be playing in groups on discord or party chats but it might matter to some people. It also can not be fully turned off you can only have push to talk and mute the other players.

For those that care about anti-cheat software and how good it is, Back 4 Blood is using Easy Anti-Cheat. That name is probably familiar to a lot of players. Easy is seen on tons of Ubisoft games if they aren’t using Battleye. You can also see it in Apex, Battlefield 2042, Dauntless, and Halo just to name a few.

I did have a few connection issues and the game even crashed once. Like a fatal error, crash had to restart my PC type of crash. However, once I was in the game there was no noticeable lag with the crossplay turned on. 

Lastly, it’s 2021 and you can’t go in the water. I thought I was playing Assassin’s Creed 1. You’ll either die instantly in solo play which then gives you the option to take over a bot body or you’ll hang there waiting for someone to pull you back up.

What Is The Future For Back 4 Blood?

I think the major thing that is going to hinder Back 4 Blood is the same thing that hindered Evolve. The price. It’s a minimum of $80 here in Canada with the ultimate costing $130. While fun if this wasn’t on gamepass half the people I will be playing with when this launched wouldn’t be playing. This would have included myself. I think with both Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 still being half the price of this and being solid games till this day and Tom Clancy Extraction coming soon this will struggle to find its place in the market. While it’s a visually impressive game with only a few visual glitches here and there looks can only get it so far.

Don’t get me wrong I had tons of fun playing even with some of the frustrating players, balancing issues, and repetitive gameplay. I will continue to play on launch with my squad and I will play when the DLCs come out but I was also very fortunate to get a code where most people won’t. I can’t let the fun I had with a free code cloud my judgment and I’ll be honest and say while you will more than likely want to wait. Unless you have gamepass. Wait for a sale. This is a fun game but not a $60-80 game at least not yet. However, it is just my humble thoughts and if you really want to play this then go ahead and Stay together and Slay together!

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Back 4 Blood

$60-$130
6.5

6.5/10

Pros

  • Solid Gunplay
  • Pretty to Look At
  • Ton of Weapons and Customization

Cons

  • Repetitive Gameplay Loop
  • Balancing Issues
  • Solo Campaign has No Progression
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