Cooperative shooting games that have dared to replicate the Left 4 Dead formula with zombies, rats, aliens, or any other critter, many have tried, and very few have managed to do something that deserves even a comparison. Valve did not seem interested in recovering the influential series created by Valve South. Converting into Turtle Rock Studios, that firm tried its luck with the asymmetric multiplayer Evolve that did not quite catch on. Now, they return with a Back 4 Blood that is more than we could hope for. They have not settled for making a Left 4 Dead 3 but have adapted the formula to 2021.
Back 4 Blood is here to fill that long expected L4D3 void
Even so, in general, we are facing that third installment that we thought would never come. If it weren’t the same studio that created Left 4 Dead, we’d be talking about a copy. The structure is practically identical. The goal of each mission is to get from one safe room to the next. Along the way, the four players collaborate to meet the objectives of each phase while taking down hundreds of zombies, helping out when one is in trouble, healing, finding and sharing equipment …
Even the mutations, the big zombies, are almost identical, to the point that we have a hard time calling them by their new names instead of the one they had in Left 4 Dead. Of course, now there are several types of Boomer, those who explode and vomit; the Spitters and the Hunters have been united in the same class with three varieties; and there are also different Charger that requires being precise with the shots to knock them down. There are new ones, of course: the Old Women are, if possible, more tricky than the absent Witch, and another type is capable of alerting a horde of zombies. Also, there are a couple of great bossesThey appear from time to time and put things significantly uphill because they never arrive alone, although we would have liked there to be more variety of these bosses.
Yes, evolution is seen in the design of levels, and above all, they have to offer different situations in the ability they have to offer. We will visit ruined towns, churches, ship cemeteries, abandoned factories, sewers and many more scenarios, almost all of them with an idea of their own: to wall up the windows of a library while the horde sneaks into the building to face hundreds of zombies. At the same time, a harvester makes our way through a cornfield, destroys nests to find the arm of a guy that allows us to open a security door and eliminate a massive amount of undead hiding in a bar where rock ‘n sounds roll at full speed …
It is a game much more varied than we expected and capable of generating crazy, tense and practically uncontrollable situations in a much more common way than Left 4 Dead. If in Valve games you gulped when the horde began, or a character yelled “Tank!”, Wait to find yourself in a swamp where the fog does not let you see two feet beyond, listening to various mutations around you, and with flocks of birds that alert the zombies placed with nasty milk.
One of the first things we detect that makes us say “this game is from 2021” is weapons: there is no shortage of levels, rarities and accessories. The armoury is vast, with many pistols, submachine guns, rifles, snipers and melee weapons. We can customize all of them with sights, nozzles, chargers, stabilizers and other hardware. This does three things: it allows further to specify the style of play of each player; makes the preparation phase in the shelters longer than in Left 4 Dead because we will be in front of the store coordinating with our colleagues; and invites us to explore the levels entirely Because to the search for grenades, Molotov cocktails, ammunition and medicines, the possibility of finding weapons or accessories better than the ones we carry is added.
During the first moments of the gunplay, the satisfaction of shooting with these weapons is perceived as rare, but little by little, we get used to it, and the truth is that it is pretty good. Of course, we are not facing a Destiny, a Call of Duty or a Doom (although beware of the sawed-off shotgun). Statistical changes made by accessories and modifiers are visible on the trigger. Wait… did we say modifiers?
Cards and Deck Building – Long Walkthrough Progression and Customization
Back 4 Blood’s biggest revolution to the Left 4 Dead formula is in the cards. Although they go much further, the reason for their existence is to provide a progression system. Players need to unlock things. And rather than granting graffiti, skins, and other cosmetic paraphernalia (which is also available), the Turtle Rock team has introduced a versatile and essential deck-building system that gradually opens up as we collect more cards and understand the gears of the gameplay.
The importance of the cards is from the moment we choose a character. Each has a character card with its effect (more resistance, more support items, heal without items once per level, etc.) and an effect for the whole group. We can put up to 15 cards in the decks, and we soon realize the versatility they provide, the potential to create builds that allow us to play in different ways.
A tank with a shotgun that heals for every pellet it hits? Check. An accurate shooter that gets more forceful with every headshot? Check. Another capable of moving gracefully, escaping the clutches of mutations, and wreaking havoc with his machete? Check. One focused on grenades, Molotov cocktails, and more? Another check. In addition, it is easy to detect the synergies between some decks and others, and indeed in the days after the launch, we see exciting combinations on the internet.
Indeed some of you are reading this thinking: “if, letters, what a badge.” Do not worry. You can pass the standard difficulty mode without making complex decks and without paying attention to those synergies, although we already warn you that it is not a walk. Back 4 Blood can be very brutal when you least expect it to have just enough difficulty being tense. But as soon as you go to the second level of difficulty, things get very uphill: reaching the safe house is quite a feat. And in the third and last level of difficulty, each small advance is a reason to launch fireworks. At these levels, it is not enough to fiddle with the cards, but we have to look for the combinations with the decks of our friends, and of course, with the character and the weapons that we carry. But more importantly: you have to try to counter the AI cards.
The Director, that invisible hand from Left 4 Dead that manages difficulty on the fly, making each game different, is more visible in Back 4 Blood. At the beginning of each level, the enemy AI plays its cards, such as that there is fog, the presence of birds, the types of mutations, that the zombies are explosive … This information, in addition to making us say, “oh, what it comes to us, “allows us to choose more wisely the card or cards from our deck that we add to the game at the beginning of each phase – once we start a series, we cannot change the deck or character until we complete it.
If you start playing and are unsure what a series, a supply chain or how the campaign save system works, you are not alone. The primary failure that we have seen in the Turtle Rock title is how poorly it is explained. The menus are nothing short of an incomprehensible mess. It takes several games until you understand how the unlocks works. There were probably hundreds of better ways to explain that acts are made up of multiple missions. Specific actions change locations on one or more occasions, but that does not influence the saves, the possibility of continuing the game with the same group of players or anything.
Until we tried it, we did not know that the Versus mode. It works in parts like Left 4 Dead 2: a Survivor team and an Infected team. It is played over several rounds, and the team that manages to survive the longest in closed areas drawn from the campaign phases wins. It’s chaotic, and it’s fun. And there is also an element as if it were a battle royale, a toxic cloud focuses the action at a point on the stage.
Another of the game’s skating is not only for lack of it but for the failed attempts to equip it. The characters in Left 4 Dead are not precisely on the list of the most profound characters in video games. They were very little drawn, and on that sketch, the players themselves imagined their origin, alterations, and history. Here the protagonists have much more plot context discovered with conversations that happen in the middle of the game and are repeated too much. However, the interactions between the different heroes are indeed pretty good. There is also a plot so grossly poorly written, so clichéd, and so unnecessary that we can only conclude that they have tried to make a hilarious parody of the genre.
Visually, yes, the game is very picturesque, more artistic, because it can put on screen scenarios and landscapes that combine the beautiful and the decadent than anything else. Although we should not miss its ability to put several dozen zombies on the screen, and because it is very legible, it allows us to detect the type of mutation we see in the distance. A fantastic sound design contributes a helpful lot. It has surprised us more technically.
In short, Back 4 Blood is that Left 4 Dead 3 that we have been waiting for more than a decade, but with several layers of depth, worthy of a cooperative multiplayer game of the year 2021 that alternate and invigorate the formula without negatively affecting the proposal of a series that its immediacy has always characterized. If you liked the originals and have not been convinced by the many attempts to succeed them that have been published over the years, give the new Turtle Rock a try. And if the genre has never called you, you wouldn’t do wrong to try it out with one or more colleagues because you might come out with a new favourite game to fill your nights; and it’s on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC, so you don’t lose anything by trying it.
We prepared this review with a digital copy of the PS5 version of the title provided by Warner Bros.