Turtle Rock Studios is already warming up for the release of Back 4 Blood. Due to its beta going live as we speak, we have been able to test more of Left 4 Dead's spiritual successor. David, Magnus, Dóri and this humble servant have spent a few hours to prove that the Gamereactor squad is lethal when it is made up of zombies and, when it comes to surviving against the undead, things get tougher.
Everything in just one session, it was enough for savouring both non-narrative sides of the game: its PvE and its PvP. A perfect opportunity to discover how much fun you can have with the walking dead when you are not forced to kill them. How did we find out? Playing against other users in Cleaners and Riddens battles.
The former are the humans, who have access to a series of predetermined decks with cards, which are added in every round (ranging from more speed to equipment improvements, better items use, etc.) and always enjoy a preliminary looting phase before the meat, blood and slime parade begins. The second ones are the zombies, divided into 9 roles, with three variations and three mutations for each of them, which lead to sort of light classes and with different movement and attack abilities, all based in a comprehensive progression system.
Goals are different for each side. The Cleaners have to survive as long as possible and the Riddens must annihilate them as soon as possible. The important thing here is not scoring more casualties, but mastering the use of time because at the end of the round (two games rotating sides), the team that has survived the longest on the map gets the win. The final winner is decided on the best of three maps.
It is not easy for anyone. The maps are reduced, although some look really good, and some exhibit a really smart design, always forcing the battle. And this is crucial because the survivors have to face both other players and an ever-growing horde of zombies. Luckily, they can be revived, they have access to traps and a range of weapons that are frankly very well balanced (except for an unstoppable axe and a devastating shotgun).
The Riddens can only respawn if they are in hiding (they move around the map while waiting to respawn) and must balance their roles and communicate if they want to win. However, the key is using their Mutation Points to improve statistics or also to improve the common, AI-controlled horde. Avoiding dying and choosing carefully which monsters are the best decision is crucial on this side of the game. Playing as a zombie requires a lot of brain use. How ironic.
This is a good cocktail. As humans, the experience is increasingly oppressive because not only does the horde increase in number and danger (players can invest those Mutation points in evolving it), but also the space to move through is gradually reduced (a circle getting smaller as in a battle royale). As zombies, there is more and more room to move, but not forgetting that your human rivals have all kinds of gadgets at their disposal and clearly deal more damage than at first sight. Also, progression stacks round after round. And you can tell that.
All in all, PvP left a good impression. Except for some clipping issues in enclosed spaces (those monsters just can't fit), Back 4 Blood responds very well at all times and is quite solid already. At first, we missed the ability to slide on the ground. However, looking at the general mobility and pace of gameplay, it makes sense to renounce this typical modern-shooters move. It's a shame too, as seeing Hoffman sliding over a school bus is just an image we can only dream of.
Still, the real attractiveness of Back 4 Blood is its PvE (and perhaps the first place to go in the beta, we'd advise). Frankly, a challenge, supported by a system that we did not expect at all because, in case there were any doubts, at B4B the cards are the rulers. The classes don't define so much here (they act more like starting points), and although choosing between Mom "Sarah Connor" or "The Hoff" might make you hesitate and makes a small difference, in the end, it is the decks we build which determine our possibilities. It is a shame that is not explained or highlighted when starting to play, because the system promises depth, although the initial contact is kind of overwhelming.
Cards that change your melee blow for the use of a knife, others that heal you when you annihilate an enemy with your fists, some can enhance the use of medicines... There are many options and, in PvE, they add up to one in one after completing a task of your mission, or if you all die and try again, although you can also run into corrupted cards which add challenges to the game. In our case, avoid hordes being alarmed by birds or alarms or even reach the end of the game with everybody alive. Spoiler: we didn't make it.
The whole co-op aspect in Back 4 Blood has been a surprise because, far from being limited to surviving hordes, it is deployed in missions with a slight narrative touch, even if we're not talking about the campaign itself, which is not present in the beta. Throughout the game, you must reach shelters that act as control points where you can buy weapons or equipment, reload and collect items. But the progress is like in any single player title, with the difference that here you are accompanied by three friends, or even by bots.
Leaving aside some crazy hitboxes and somewhat slow animations (especially in contrast to reloading, which is excessively fast), the cooperative experience is enjoyable and very tense from the get-go. Everyone should be careful when dealing with zombies because there is friendly fire (at least in our harder difficulty mode), and mostly since things can get worse in seconds.
The undead can be taken down easily, it's not that. The problem here is that they are tireless and frankly many in numbers. In addition, the levels are designed in such a way that sooner or later you have to provoke the arrival of a horde, meet dangerous enemies in enclosed spaces, and many other headaches that remind you are in a zombie apocalypse and they will devour you in seconds. Is it challenging? Yes, it is. And fun? Undoubtedly.
We did not have much time to further experiment with the PvE, although we had already talked about it when we tried the B4B alpha. However, it was clear that cards and weapons should be chosen wisely. In this mode, both things are scarce, still, you can find more if you explore the levels. Decisions matter, as does companionship and teamwork. Especially with the twist of the corrupted cards, which can completely shape the experience and complicate it even more. You have to be prepared in every moment.
After our few games, we are left with the feeling of trying a practically finished title. Beta already targeting cross-play and having voice dubbing in different languages is a sign that the job is almost done. Maybe some animations should be polished, even if there are some great ones such as throwing grenades and fixing bugs like the one that comrade David suffered (being punished with being unable to cycle weapons in the lobby). For the rest, it has been a very solid experience, very demanding, and, above all, entertaining gameplay.
Thanks to this session, we have learned two things: first, Back 4 Blood aims to be much more than a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead. And the second? If we were to get involved in a zombie apocalypse, we would rather be on the undead side... for now.