Back 4 Blood has finally released 14 years after the titular zombie horde survival staple that is Left 4 Dead. Turtle Rock Studios, the visionaries behind the all time classic L4D have gone back to the well looking to revive an already outdated and aging genre that honestly peaked with their initial release all the way back in 2008. With newly added features including a card/deck system to allow for some RPG lite elements, does Back 4 Blood satisfy the older fanbases, newer generations, and will it set the bar for future releases in this sub genre? Fuck no, unfortunately Back 4 Blood is as deep as a Bills Mafia tailgate inflatable pool filled with beer, fat hairy man sweat, and the regrets from years past. It is still A LOT of fun though, but I’ll get to that.
Back 4 Blood follows the tried and true formula of squading up with 3 other friends and trying to find your way through a “zombie” apocalypse. I have to put “zombies” in parenthesis because technically they are not zombies, they are Ridden. Regardless, they act as every zombie does in every horde game like this with a half dozen special ridden that all mostly resemble L4D specials. You have common shamblers, exploding ridden that can vomit or charge at you, Reddit moderators with one arm significantly larger than another that slam or grab you, smaller agile spitters and leapers, some lackluster bosses, but what sets Back 4 Blood apart is the corruption cards that can make these common ridden more dangerous. This is really where Back 4 Blood attempts to distinguish itself from the pervious titles in the genre.
*smirk* I Play My Trap Card
Back 4 Blood follows a similar setup to what we was in the ill fated and underappreciated Magic: Legends. You play through the game gathering supply points to spend after each Act to gain new cards in order to create decks that you can bring into your runs. There is a decent amount of variation which allows for some clever deck building designs. These decks can also play into each characters’ archetype. For example, I play as Doc and have created an entire deck around healing and support. Several of my friends already have fully functioning melee only builds as well as run n gun shotgun decks. There is definitely “something” there, but we have been testing how deep this system really goes and at later points in the game, after acquiring a bunch of supply points and cards, you start to see the seedy cosmetics start to pop up in your supply lines. They aren’t overly intrusive but always keep in mind, Turtle Rock Studios made Evolve and we all know what the fuck happened with that game. As of right now the deck building mechanics feel pretty good on lower difficulties but become a necessity for harder ones because the difficulty spikes pretty heavily, especially on nightmare.
I Went to Cornell, Ever Heard of It
Back 4 Blood currently has an 8 playable character roster, each varying a bit. Some are focused around offensive items, others around melee, some even specifically for support and healing. The problem is the characters themselves are nowhere near as memorable as the iconic casts of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Hell, I even enjoyed the cast of Dead Island more than I do any of these characters in Back 4 Blood. The dialogue and quips between them in game feels a little too forced. I wouldn’t say the writing is as bad as M. Night Shamalayan’s Old….ugh, but half the time the interactions seem so out of place and out of tune for the circumstance. I think the best example for great dialogue between characters in a post apocalyptic game setting is in the Gears of War franchise (this will not be the last Gears reference I make). The dialogue is full of grit, remorse, and depth but also has humor sprinkled in….when the time is right. You get to understand the history between Marcus and his crew as the game progresses. In Back 4 Blood you get half assed Ghostbusters 2016 jokes and psuedo political jargon added in what seems like an attempt to pander. To what audience? I don’t know, but it all seems very forced and uncanny.
The Never Fleshed Out Story
Arguably the worst part of Back 4 Blood has to be its story. Having a cookie cutter cast of cleaners (bars) does not get players engaged in what is already a very under developed story. I couldn’t tell you what the general’s name is, who the nerd in the library is or any other supporting character. All I can take away from this is there are people who are immune (like Dead Island) and they are tasked with saving humanity…I guess. You go out to like 4 different locations and do dumb menial tasks like acquiring specimen or rescuing useless NPCs who just stand in your way the majority of the time. There is no substance that would make you actually care about what is happening or why. The mission objectives are repetitive and the ending is laughably awful. Like genuinely one of the worst I’ve seen in a videogame in a while. I won’t spoil anything but there’s a Gears boss and it is fucking bad.
A Bug’s Life
I purchased the game in full w/ the season pass to play early (not worth it) and put in maybe 7 or so hours over the early release weekend. The game felt like it was still in beta. Back 4 Blood fully released today and STILL feels like it’s in beta. It is nearly impossible to reliably play without a full party of 4. The companion AI is awful, useless, and borderline detrimental on anything but recruit difficulty. It’s 2021 there is absolutely no reason companion AI should be RE5 Sheva levels of bad and no that is not a stretch, it’s fucking awful. On top of horrible AI, the servers hiccup harder than your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. Every single run I have done with my crew there are issues. Ridden will just teleport around once in a while, a tall boy will charge from across the map and after you run to the side thinking you are fine, you get grabbed and thrashed around like the first time you watched porn. Shooting at times has weird hit registration delays where you one tap an enemy and they stand there then drop. Thankfully we haven’t come across any run ending issues, but it generally feels fucking stupid when you see ridden quite literally teleport around the map and give you the ole catholic school reach around. Like I’ve said, Back 4 Blood quite literally feels like it’s still in beta. Fuck it may have even been smoother in beta.
Where’s the Meat?
The salvation to Back 4 Blood is in the gameplay loop. Before explaining how I have to give an immediate warning, the environments are reused a half dozen times and you end up going through the same areas just with new sections open for a good chunk of the story and it is infuriating to see the same starting location at the same gate at the same town for the 3rd time. That being said, throw away the repetitive zones, shitty writing, half baked characters, and dumb story in this buggy mess of a game, and you have that very same addictive gameplay loop as you did back on Xbox 360 with Left 4 Dead. The guns are pretty generic but can be customized with found attachments and purchased gear, but in general the gunplay and gameplay overall really is reminiscent of the glory days. There is just something so satisfying about cranking up the difficulty, getting battered through a run and hectically racing against a horde to get to the saferoom. The one thing Turtle Rock nailed was the gameplay and that’s why I didn’t refund my Steam pre-order then wait for it to be free on Gamepass (which I advise all of you to do). The gameplay is a wagyu beef patty stuffed between old lettuce, a greening slice of tomato and two stale buns.
Wrap it Up Already
Back 4 Blood quite literally feels unfinished. The story is in desperate need of DLC and it needs it to be released like next week. Turtle Rock needs to address the abysmal AI and shoddy servers. They also need to give us a reason to care about the characters and the world they are trying to defend. Outside of the neck itching gameplay loop and solid overall card system, there just needs to be more. I know I usually say when I want more from a game that’s usually a good thing, but this time it’s different. Back4 Blood desperately needs MORE. More of everything. More charm, more variety in the missions, more locations to explore, more reason to come back after beating the story once. The main drive for me to keep playing is to actually beat the campaign on Nightmare and we have quite a bit of card grinding to do to get to that point, but for the casual consumer the price point of 60$ or upwards of 120$ for cosmetics and a season pass is just not worth it. Back 4 Blood is a 40$ game at best and absolutely worth trying out if you have a few buddies and can play it free on Gamepass. Otherwise I can’t recommend people buy this game until Turtle rock either releases more content for it, or it goes on sale at some point in the near future. Back 4 Blood is yet another prime example of a game that needed to stay in the oven a bit longer.
Back 4 Blood Review
3 – Hentai Tentacle Tall Boy Monsters – out of 5