Back 4 Blood could be a video game adaptation of the classic Avengers: Age of Ultron quote: "Fine, I'll do it myself." With countless villains failing to put an end to the superhero task force, Thanos takes it upon himself to show them how it's done. And after a long list of Left 4 Dead clones fell short of recapturing what Valve did so well in the PlayStation 3 era (even if the series never actually came to Sony's console), the original creator is back with a new take on that incredibly familiar concept. Instead of potentially spoiling the formula, Turtle Rock Studios is simply bringing it up to more modern standards. It's almost all of the way there.
There's really no beating around the bush: Back 4 Blood features the same sort of gameplay loop you would experience in Left 4 Dead as well as its 2009 sequel. Split across multiple stages that make up a campaign, a group of four players must battle their way through hordes of the living dead to make it to a safe house at the end of each level. There are some objectives to complete along the way, such as planting bombs or using a tow truck to clear the path ahead. But while they are pivotal to progression, they function as more of a side task — something to think about whilst mowing down the zombie hordes. And another excuse to spawn more of them, of course.
Slaughtering these undead legions is the crux of the whole game, and if you've got a couple of friends to play with, it's a good laugh. The easier difficulty levels shouldn't present much trouble, but the further you crank it up, the more communication becomes essential. Special Infected (as Left 4 Dead would call them) litter the maps, ready to pounce on you and push health bars closer to death. In turn, the zombies themselves grow in numbers and increase their damage output. It doesn't quite feel on the same level as Valve's AI director, which made repeat playthroughs feel fairly fresh, but Back 4 Blood certainly ups the ante the higher you set its difficulty. Just be sure to recruit some reliable teammates to help you on your way (Push Square contributor Simon Fitzgerald, we're not looking at you).
If it feels like we're stalling for time here, then you'd be absolutely correct. Back 4 Blood wears its inspiration on its sleeve; it wants you to know exactly what it's trying to be instead of hiding behind new and untested mechanics. For those looking for another Left 4 Dead, there's probably no greater praise. Fortunately, Turtle Rock Studios has done a few things differently.
The biggest of which is its Cards system. At the beginning of every stage, you can select a Card to play from a pre-determined deck. These essentially act as modifiers, changing your stats or tweaking a certain part of the level. This month's beta only allows for some fairly simple Cards to be played, but it's easy to see how a hardcore group could dramatically change their play style depending on the hand given to them. Examples include increasing how much ammo you can hold, boosting your health, and changing the final encounter of the upcoming stage. The new mechanic forms a core piece of the campaign, so there's no getting around it. This pre-release test sticks with fairly basic adjustments, but we're eager to learn how much of a game-changer Cards can be in the final product.
Then there are the smaller differentiators like weapon improvements that can be picked up along the way to better your loadout (weapon magazines, scopes, and barrel attachments) as well as an in-game currency that can be spent during downtime in safe houses. It's a lot like CS: GO — buy new guns, add-ons, and equipment so you're ready for the next stage. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but Left 4 Dead didn't do it. Cool, right? We guess!
With these new additions to the tried and tested formula, at least Back 4 Blood has something to call its own. Is it a somewhat mindless yet enjoyable romp through a series of campaigns that a group of friends could have a ton of fun with? Absolutely. Will it convince those who didn't like Left 4 Dead that there's something to this style of game? Almost certainly not. You likely already know if you're into what Back 4 Blood is doing, but this open beta cements that Black Rock Studios is doing something right. If you've missed the likes of Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey, you'll be reunited in spirit come October.
The Back 4 Blood open beta returns later this week on 12th August 2021, available through until Monday. Will you be taking it for a test drive, or did you have the chance to play it this past weekend? Either way, share your thoughts in the comments below.