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Hands on: Back 4 Blood Review

First Impressions

Back 4 Blood is a promising co-op zombie shooter, with a card-based perk system and wonderfully satisfying gunplay building upon the fantastic foundations of the Left 4 Dead series.

Availability

  • UKRRP: £59.99
  • USARRP: $59.99
  • EuropeRRP: €59.99

Key Features

  • Available on multiple platformsBack 4 Blood will launch on PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PS4
  • Release date:Full release scheduled for 12 October

Introduction

Back 4 Blood is an upcoming co-op survival game, from some of the masterminds behind Left 4 Dead.

This is a very big deal, as Left 4 Dead was the one of the last real games from Valve. It remains one of the best co-operative experiences around, and enjoys an ongoing, loyal player base to this day.

So suffice to say, I had very high hopes for the game when jumping into the Back 4 Blood beta. It looks like a sequel to Left 4 Dead 2 in everything but name. I mean honestly they even used the same colour and font for the 4 in the name! Read on for my early impressions.

Gameplay

Back 4 Blood takes the same direction as Left 4 Dead, tasking you with fighting your way through a story campaign in teams of four, blasting hordes of zombies while desperately trying to make it from one safe room to another.

The aesthetic and early gameplay is pretty much pure Left 4 Dead. But things soon got a lot more interesting. Creating a match for the first chapter of the campaign’s story mode, I was asked to pick which “cleaner” I wanted to play as, before then having to pick my “deck”.

This is a key difference between it and Left 4 Dead. While character choices were previously purely aesthetic, here, the cleaner/survivor you pick has different perks, which can be customised using the game’s card system.

Back 4 Blood Squad
Back 4 Blood Squad

These randomly generated cards are drawn at the start of each match, tweaking the game’s mechanics or offering randomised perks. For example, I could pick between gaining more health from medipacks, or increasing my stamina. Next I had a choice of cards that let me get more ammo, or boost my stats when low on health.

Back 4 Blood will eventually let you pick between eight characters, but the beta only has a limited selection. I ended up going for Hoffman, the average middle-aged white guy with a penchant for conspiracy theories.

The game then dropped me in an apocalyptic small town, tasking me and my intrepid teammates to enact various tasks before getting to a safe room at the other end of the map.

While this sounds distinctly familiar – as games have been following this format since Left 4 Dead 1 launched – everything about Back 4 Blood felt fresh, with the Turtle Rock Studios teams adding lots of subtle nuances to the format.

Back 4 Blood deck builder

For starters, weapons are now much more diverse and customisable. This means there are a variety of different SMGs, shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, sniper and melee weapons to find. They’re even colour coded by rarity. Each gun can be further customised using attachments, adding a looter-shooter element that’s similar in feel to Borderlands 3. With new loot always on offer, there’s a great incentive to repeat missions at higher difficulties.

This is aided by the card system, with the game rewarding you with new perks to add you loadouts at the end of each successful run.

The game’s stellar shooting mechanics add to the game’s replayability, with each gun having a distinct weight and satisfying firing mechanic that makes blasting the arms or face off an incoming zombie super entertaining. Left 4 Dead feels really outdated in this regard, so it’s a welcome step up.

Back 4 Blood fighting

Though the beta is far from complete, I was also impressed with the variety of enemies on show. The game features various “hero” Ridden (the game’s name for zombies). The beta doesn’t include the full roster, but so far I’ve seen ‘Stinger’, ‘Reeker’, ‘Tallboy’ and ‘Snitcher’ types, plus a few special bosses, including a giant three-story high Ridden that could walk over monster trucks.

Each hero Ridden comes with its own special attack, just like Left 4 Dead. For example the Tallboy is basically a giant with a club for an arm that can send cleaners flying with a single whack.

Versus play

The variety of hero Ridden on offer left me very hopeful about Back 4 Blood’s player-vs-player multiplayer, even if it does lack the same variety of the modes on offer with Left 4 Dead.

The beta and initial launch only offer a Swarm PvP mode that’s completely separate to the main campaign. The mode splits you into teams of four, alternating between playing as Ridden or survivors on a round-by-round basis. The human’s goal is to survive in a sandbox map for as long as possible, while the Ridden try and kill them. As an added stress point, the map size reduces the longer you survive, as a locust-style swarm moves into the area.

Zombie giant

The map is littered with weapons and items to help the survivors. The special Ridden are wonderfully fun to play as too, featuring a decent set of customisation options. There’s nothing more satisfying than playing as the Reeker and taking out multiple foes simultaneously with a well-timed “self-destruct” blast.

However, the PvP multiplayer arguably lacks longevity with the maps currently on offer. Within a few hours I’d already spotted players that had figured out the best choke points to camp at as humans, making it frustrating to play. It’s also a key reason I’m yet to see players complete a full game of Swarm, with rage quits being a frequent occurrence during my time with the beta.

I can’t help but think a PvP campaign mode would help fix this, with the very nature of the mode forcing the humans to venture out and not camp. Hopefully this will be fixed in the main game.

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Initial Verdict

Back 4 Blood may be in its early stages, but it’s already a lot more fun to play than a lot of the other recent Left 4 Dead clones I’ve played. This is largely due to the RPG-like refinements the studio has made to the Left 4 Dead series’ solid foundation.

Highlights include a more developed, Borderlands-like loot mechanic and a robust card-based perks system that adds depth to the gameplay. Add to this the game’s wonderfully satisfying gunplay and I can’t help but feel Back 4 Blood may be the co-op, zombie shooter I’ve been waiting for since Left 4 Dead 2.

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FAQs

Does Back 4 Blood support crossplay?

Yes, Back 4 Blood is confirmed to feature cross-gen and cross-play support.

What console is Back 4 Blood on?

Back 4 Blood is a available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC. So basically everything but the Nintendo Switch.

Does Back 4 Blood have a split-screen mode?

No, Back 4 Blood will not have a split-screen mode at launch, with all multiplayer modes requiring an internet connection.

A 'hands on review' is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it's like to use. We call these 'hands on reviews' to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don't give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

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