14 Oct 2021 10:05 AM +00:00

Back 4 Blood Review: A spiritual successor that's a victim of online play

When I first saw the reveal trailer for Back 4 Blood I was hooked. Knowing the type of game it was going to be the fact that Turtle Rock Studios were behind the project, it felt like my prayers had been answered.

Left 4 Dead was a series I obsessed over whether playing solo or with friends at my University's LAN society. To me, it was the perfect game regardless of what anyone else said. Can Back 4 Blood live up to the expectation I've set for it? In many ways, it does but it also falls well short in multiple areas due to what we can only hope was an oversight and not malicious ignorance.

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While some changes have been promised by Turtle Rock Studios, we must judge the product as it is at the time of release, so future changes will not be taken into consideration when giving our final opinion.

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Fast, Furious and Fun

The story of Back 4 Blood is older than gaming itself. A catastrophic viral outbreak has taken over and left humanity scrambling to fight for survival. In this case, it's the parasitic Devil Worm that causes the dead to return to the land of the living. They are known as The Ridden. The game respectfully draws on inspirations like Night of the Living Dead and the entire George A. Romero series.

Our heroes in this story are just normal people who are referred to as Cleaners. They're battle-hardened by the experiences they've lived through. They have created a haven in the form of Fort Hope which they plan to use as a starting block to take back the world that's rightfully theirs.

Back 4 BLood Mom
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+ 4

Each Cleaner is well written, acted and very likeable. You can't help but root for this band of brothers who all have a common goal despite very different paths leading up to their involvement with each other.

Gameplay is where Back 4 Blood comes to life. If you've played Left 4 Dead, then nothing about the core gameplay will come as a surprise and it will feel very familiar. Where the game starts to differentiate itself is with the card system.

Cards can be used to offer perks for your character throughout a campaign run while corruption cards are added at the beginning of each level to try and spice things up and either offer more of a challenge or create unique goals for you to achieve. This added factor helps more with replayability than anything else.

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Back 4 Blood Card System
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+ 4

You only truly get out of this system what you're willing to put in. Creating your own card decks can be really fun once you find certain synergies that work well together. The gamble comes down to the fact that you never know which cards you're going to choose from at the beginning of each level. This makes for some interesting situational choices that I wasn't expecting to be so difficult but really made me prioritise what my team and I needed at that specific moment.

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As you become more familiar with the game, layouts and enemies, the cards will throw little wrenches into gameplay allowing for a unique experience even when running through the same levels over and over.

You might be asked to locate a specimen container within a level and bring it to the safe house for a reward or outright buff every enemy in the level giving them 50% extra health and larger damage output.

Run, Kill, Survive, Repeat

I feel like the biggest objection many people will have to playing Back 4 Blood is that the experience is just too repetitive. I've already mentioned how cards can evolve and change the gameplay but when it boils down to hard facts, you're going to be playing the same levels over and over, so is it that fun?

Simply put, yes! It's hard to point out anyone specific feature or element that makes the Back 4 Blood gameplay loop so satisfying but as long as you're willing to challenge yourself, move through difficulties, utilise the cards and play online, the experience just never gets old.

Back 4 BLood Opening
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+ 4

Weapon play is a huge strength as there are plenty of options to choose from and you can try each one out in the firing range within the Fort Hope hub world. You'll find attachments to improve your weapons as you go but there's nothing more devastating than upgrading a weapon and realizing you may have to sacrifice it mid-run if you run out of ammo and your life depends not being stubborn. This only ever happens in the higher difficulties as resources are less generous and The Ridden are more relentless.

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Solo Struggles

The main problem with Back 4 Blood, right now at least, is that the game actively punishes anyone who wishes to play the game solo. It's an unbelievably naive decision that has alienated a huge part of the player base.

You cannot unlock all of the Cleaners when playing solo. Unlocking all of the Cleaners only requires you to reach the second stage of Act I, which means completing four levels. But if you are doing this solo, you'll see the cutscene introducing the four new characters but they will not unlock.

You also cannot earn supply points when playing solo which is a huge component for unlocking new cards.

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Matchmaking is poor at the best of times, so people who don't want to be forced to play online in the first place are going to be met with a terrible experience when trying to get into a game. This may change when the game is fully released and on Xbox Game Pass but it glosses over the original point which is that the forced online integration is achieved by punishing solo players.

Turtle Rock has already responded to these issues and promised a change but as this is not yet in place, we must judge the game based on its current state.

Online Woes

In addition to the poor matchmaking experience, I can't say I've has a single positive PvP/Swarm Mode match either. The process of finding a match is rough, to begin with, and when I was eventually able to get into a lobby, the game itself would run into performance issues and ultimately players would drop out.

Back 4 Blood Holly battle hardened
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+ 4

The game mode itself is one that, if servers and matchmaking wasn't an issue, could be a lot of fun. A lot of thought clearly went into the concept but the final product just couldn't deliver due to various circumstances.

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Verdict

Having tried out every aspect of Back 4 Blood, I can only truthfully recommend the campaign experience and only as either a solo mode with no progression or if you can get some friends together to play with.

This leaves me with a sour taste because these are issues that we should not be having with the studio that perfected this formula back in 2008. Taking steps backwards after over a decade is disappointing, to say the least.

Maybe, in time, Back 4 Blood will become a more complete experience where there needs to be no worrying about online connectivity and server stability. However, right now, that part of the process takes up way too much time and energy to power through, and it takes away from the overall game as a whole.

RealSport Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 5.

Our review copy of Back 4 Blood was provided by Turtle Rock Studios