There’s something to be said about a game that’s a really good backdrop for chatting with your mates. Something that engages you just enough that you’re enjoying yourself, but also not so engrossing or attention stealing that you can’t debate the finer points of life, like whether or not you’d make it through Jungle Run, or what you plan to have for your dinner.
Left 4 Dead, the zombie co-op shooter from Valve and Turtle Rock Studio was masterful at this, so much so that Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are still in regular rotation among players that just want to mildly hack away at the undead. Back 4 Blood, the not so subtly titled homage, is the return to the genre for Turtle Rock after their ill-fated detour with Evolve. But is it really an homage if the thing you’re paying homage to is something you made?
Back 4 Blood is a 4 player co-op shooter in which players work through levels that are separated into smaller chunks via saferooms, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Between those safe rooms, there’s an endless amount of zombies trying to nibble the edges off your hands, feet or anything else they can get a hold of.
Using guns and melee weapons, you’ll take down zombies known as “Riders”, a naming scheme that clearly wasn’t run past anyone Scottish. Joining them is a host of larger, more dangerous foes that can hit harder, but in most cases, just lock you to one spot, something that becomes incredibly frustrating.
There’s slightly too many of the larger enemies though. In Left 4 Dead, when a tank would appear it would signal that it was time to take things seriously, in Back 4 Blood we felt like we were constantly being chased by a 5-a-side team of the bigger lads, with their band of merry riders on their tail.
The shooting feels great, with satisfying impacts and decent variety making the act of killing the hordes a bit more than one-note. There’s also a host of upgrades for each weapon, as well as ranks, as you progress through a run you’ll find better guns, and the shops that populate each safehouse will yield better loot.
The mission objectives are almost universally a case of slogging through an area you’ve been through previously at a slightly different time of day, collecting something and then waiting to be picked up while you defend your position. If you aren’t playing this while also talking to someone you’d happily talk to while doing nothing, you’ll be bored stiff. It’s as brainless as the riders.
Special mention must also go to the sequence in the bar where you need to activate and then defend a jukebox. Licensed music is so rarely used well, but here it was a masterstroke that really impacted the quality of the section. It stands out massively in a game that has so few memorable moments outside of this and the final two levels.
The game also employs a deck-building mechanic. These are essentially your skills that you’ll take from level to level. Things like improved reload times, more stamina, and more proficiency with a certain class of weapons.
“Back 4 Blood is playable in single-player, but the game practically bullies you into engaging with other players thanks to the sheer volume of restrictions it puts on solo play.”
There’s also a set of cards that will provide the player with a challenge for a reward, like a time limit on the level, lower visibility, or tougher enemies. These have the potential to keep future runs fresh, but with the actual content of those levels being pretty dull, your mileage is only as long as you and your friends can hold a conversation.
Back 4 Blood is playable in single-player, but the game practically bullies you into engaging with other players thanks to the sheer volume of restrictions it puts on solo play.
Before beginning a solo campaign, the game warns you that you won’t earn supply points, you won’t make any progress towards accomplishments, and your stats won’t be tracked. Playing this game single players is a totally hampered experience, and makes us wonder why they even offered it if solo players were going to be treated as such an afterthought.
Turtle Rock have recently tweeted that they’re aware of the concerns of solo players and are looking to improve them. Our suggestion would be to improve the shockingly poor AI which often waits 30 seconds before reviving you, or sometimes just ignores when you’re being pummeled into the ground by an 8ft wall of flesh.
So if you don’t have real friends that want to play, you’re stuck with random players online, which in our experience almost always sprint ahead of you, don’t pick you up, and act as if you’re a supporting player in their speed run of the entire game. You may get luckier with who you’re fated to take on the screaming masses with, but for us, it was a bad experience.
However, if you’ve got a group of mates that you love playing with, and you’re sick of your normal game, Back 4 Blood is a lot of fun to play, and on Xbox Game Pass, it’s included in your subscription. The shooting is engaging enough, and the sight of zombies dropping as you line up head shot after head shot is strangely addicting, even if what you’re doing it in aid of is rather boring.
It seems backhanded to say that a game is only worth playing if you can find people to distract you from the actual game, but if your group wants something mindless to wind down after an intense night on Warzone or Rainbow Six: Siege, Back 4 Blood is ideal.
- Rock solid gunplay
- Great with friends
- The card system freshens up future runs
- Pointless, incomplete single player
- Braindead AI
- Extremely repetitive mission structure