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    Back 4 Blood review


    What is it? A co-op FPS from the makers of Left 4 Dead.
    Released October 12, 2021
    Expect to pay $60/£50
    Developer Turtle Rock Studios
    Publisher Warner Bros
    Reviewed on RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 2600 3.4GHz, 16GB RAM
    Multiplayer? Co-op up to 4 players, competitive up to 8
    Link Official site (opens in new tab)

    $0.99 (opens in new tab)View at Amazon (opens in new tab)$12.99 (opens in new tab)View at Best Buy (opens in new tab)$49.99 (opens in new tab)View at Adorama (opens in new tab)See all prices (9 found)

    Remember when Left 4 Dead established the run-and-gun co-op genre as we know it, and then Valve stopped making them after hitting the number 2? I love Left 4 Dead 2 and still go back to it because no other co-op game has managed to scratch the same itch. World War Z wasn’t my thing. Payday 2 was meh. Deep Rock Galactic is great, but different. Killing Floor 2 and Vermintide are fine. Back 4 Blood, which was made by the original Left 4 Dead studio that Valve gobbled up and then spit back out years ago, is a remarkably fun shooter that manages to out-zombie Left 4 Dead, which I was starting to believe was impossible.

    Back 4 Blood recaptures the tempo of 2009, where I’m lining up headshots by the dozen while I shoot the shit with friends. Turtle Rock has faithfully resurrected the fun, heart-pumping zombie slaying that others have only attempted. Just making an unambitious Left 4 Dead 3 would’ve been enough for me, but Back 4 Blood is also a deck builder, a looter, a hero shooter, and even a bit of a roguelite. It’s a game that Turtle Rock couldn’t have made 10 years ago, and it’s the addition of these smart, modern ideas that make it great.

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  • Right from the jump, Back 4 Blood flips the premise of Left 4 Dead on its head. You’re no longer average-joe survivors scrambling to escape crumbling cities. You’re zombie-killing mercenaries who hunt down infestations, rescue trapped civilians, and gather supplies for surviving settlements. Each bundle of levels begins with your party leaving the safety of the Fort Hope hub world to go look for trouble. It’s kinda like skipping straight to later seasons of The Walking Dead in which everyone still alive is a superhuman murder machine.

    This describes Back 4 Blood’s Cleaners, eight tough characters with unique stat bonuses for themselves and the entire team. These aren’t Overwatch heroes with splashy ultimate abilities, but the Cleaners do invite interesting, slightly different playstyles—Holly is a melee specialist who earns stamina back on each kill, Hoffman carries an extra grenade and gives the whole team more ammo, and Mom gets a free revive once per mission. As I mentioned in my initial impressions, I’ve enjoyed maining Doc for most of my runs. Not only can she use medkits faster and heal everyone for free, but she also starts with the M9 pistol and MP5, two of my favorite guns.

    Picking a survivor in Left 4 Dead is mostly about whose voice quips you’d like to hear. Back 4 Blood’s Cleaners quickly won me over, not because they have a ton of personality, but because it’s fun to play a specific role in this sort of game. Even more depth emerged once I started combining Cleaner abilities with the game’s other standout mechanic—deckbuilding.

    Stacked deck

    Between runs, players can build 15-card decks from 100-plus unlockable cards with effects that range from minor health bonuses to major gameplay changes. Each player can handpick a few cards at the start of a run, but after that they only draw one per level. If a run ends with zero continues left, everyone’s deck is reshuffled.

    The starter cards are a bit boring (+10 stamina, hooray), but before long I was unlocking transformative skills that encouraged me to specialize. Over 20 hours I’ve crafted one hell of a support deck that pairs nicely with Doc. By the time I’ve drawn all of my cards, I can carry more medkits, heal teammates better than they can themselves, and tank a ton of damage while I revive others. Another favorite card is Buckshot Bruiser, which grants temporary HP for each shotgun pellet that hits an enemy (very lucrative against Back 4 Blood’s lineup of durable special zombies).

    Some of the coolest cards also come with a significant drawback, like Admin Reload, which will automatically reload guns when you holster them at the cost of 15% of your ammo carrying capacity. Or Killer’s Instinct, which heavily increases weak spot damage but disables aim-down-sights. Here’s a brief sample of a few other cards that show how varied builds can be:

  • Headband Magnifier: +125% use speed, but when you take damage, you have a chance to be blinded for 1 second
  • Ammo Mule: +75% ammo capacity, disables support slot (medkits, bandages, etc)
  • Combat Knife: Turns your standard melee attack into a powerful knife attack
  • Quick Kill: +50% hipfire accuracy, disables aim-down-sights
  • Mean Drunk: +75% melee damage, melee attacks cleave through enemies, disables sprint
  • Down In Front!: While crouched, you neither take nor deal friendly fire, +10 health
  • Honestly, I was ready to hate the card system when I first read about it. It seemed like a way to artificially extend the replayability of Back 4 Blood, and as an FPS player, I was worried all these passive bonuses would create a bunch of invisible math for me to fret over. Who wants to fiddle with cards in an action game?

    I’m happy to admit that I was wrong and grumpy—I’ve spent at least an hour of game time building five distinct decks, and I keep going back to shift them around as I unlock more cards. It definitely helps that it’s only 15 cards to a deck, though it would’ve gone even faster if the deckbuilding menu were designed exclusively for mouse and keyboard.

    Aim true


    back 4 blood

    It wouldn’t be a Turtle Rock game without some ominous wall graffiti. (Image credit: Turtle Rock Studios)

    Playing the Ridden is a lot more fun, because of the whole ‘being wildly overpowered’ thing, but the arenas are so small that it’s hard to ever catch a breath and plan your next move. You’re better off running straight into a cluster of Cleaners at the same time as your teammates and hoping for the best. It’s good for a few laughs, but not much else.

    Swarm sits in stark contrast to the thrill of limping half-dead into a safe room just as a Hunter is leaping at your face. Left 4 Dead leveraged the strength of its campaigns in Versus, and it’s a wonder why Back 4 Blood hasn’t done the same. Thankfully, Back 4 Blood is a big game and Swarm isn’t its heart and soul, but if PvP was the main appeal of Left 4 Dead for you, Swarm will just ruin your day.

    It speaks to how strong of a game Back 4 Blood is that one of its modes can suck so hard that it barely detracts from my overall fun. Back 4 Blood is its co-op campaign, and it’s best played with friends. That’s how I’d recommend you play it as well if you’re able (it’s on Game Pass and has crossplay, if that helps). It’s definitely not the same with randos and bots, but the ping system does help bridge the communication gap if mics aren’t plugged in.

    I’m lucky to have played Back 4 Blood the way it’s meant to be, because it’s some of the best co-op fun I’ve ever had in a videogame. And while it’s a bummer that Back 4 Blood likely won’t have the same mod support that spawned incredible player-made content in Left 4 Dead 2 (it is a live service game in 2021, after all), I’m excited to see what’s ahead on Turtle Rock’s annual pass. Apparently there’s a new story, Cleaners, and special Ridden types on the way. Count me in.

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    As seen on PCgamer

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