Turtle Rock Studios has returned alongside publisher Warner Bros. Games to give us their spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead series, Back 4 Blood, which seeks to take the format and features that made Left 4 Dead exciting but update it all to more modern game sensibilities. Turtle Rock Studios got the game out just in time for Halloween, as the game asks you to enter into a co-op, PvE structure that plays out much like an interactive zombie movie where you fight zombies called “The Ridden”.
On the surface, the game plays out much like its predecessors, centering on a four-player, online co-op campaign, where you play as one of eight playable characters. The game breaks down into four acts, each then broken down into individual levels, which get grouped together into short two-to-four level sections. Throughout the levels, you face hundreds of Ridden, mowing them down with all sorts of different weapons and skills, which all feel really good. The gunplay is snappy and the game requires you to move around constantly, as Ridden come from all directions, and all the different guns feel very responsive. Playing around with the different types of weapons will let you find a weapon that you click with and enjoy playing.
On top of the Left 4 Dead structure though, the game adds a few other mechanics to make the game more dynamic and fresh, notably the card/deck mechanic. As you play through the story, you unlock “Supply Points” which you can then spend in the HUB world to unlock cards that give you all sorts of different buffs and abilities, ranging from ammo capacity increases to skills that let you earn hit points back from kills while low on health. You then sort these cards into “Decks”, and the cards in your deck gradually come into play as you pick cards at the start of each level to add to your build. To someone less invested in the game, the decks can feel a little overwhelming and not overly important, especially on the easier difficulty, but if you plan on playing the game for longer and getting more into it, the decks add a good degree of replayability and customization to the gameplay experience.
The deck mechanic does have one major issue though: the Supply Points you need to unlock the cards can only be earned by playing the campaign online. If you plan on playing the game solo, then the game effectively shuts you out from one of the main features of the game. Again, if you plan on getting a little deeper into the game, or you plan on playing the game online with some friends (which is not hard at all because the game is available on Xbox Game Pass), this will probably not be an issue, but if you want to play the game more casually offline, then the game quickly grows a little repetitive, as it blocks you from the main way it makes a more personal experience. While not a huge issue, it does feel a little silly that the game made this decision. Tactics like this generally make sense in newer online games, especially ones that structure themselves using the games-as-service model, but Back 4 Blood doesn’t particularly stand to gain anything from it.
Because the game centers so heavily on its PvE campaign, allowing players to grind out solo instead of online doesn’t really change anything in the game. I played a few of the levels both solo and multiplayer and noticed no major differences. If anything, the solo campaign is, at times, a little harder because you have to work alongside AI and not other players, which doesn’t always give you an advantage. Even something like reducing the Supply Points earned in the solo campaign by half or something like that would solve the problem while helping with whatever balancing concerns the developers had.
Ignoring the differences in Supply Points between the online and offline versions of the campaign, the campaign is still really fun, though. I already mentioned the gunplay, but the overall level design shines as well. In a marketplace full of open-world games with heavy RPG mechanics, playing a linear FPS that doesn’t dwell too much on minuscule stat increases and skill trees is an extremely cathartic experience. Back 4 Blood does have some of those stat increases (often the difference between guns amounts to tiny stat changes and some cards use similarly small increases), but the game lets you more or less ignore most of those parts of the game, and instead focus on whatever appeals most to you as a player. The game does an excellent job of moving from level to level quickly and the levels themselves are also designed to keep you moving forwards and held in the action.
Stepping back from the gameplay for a minute, the game is available for most modern platforms (Xbox One, Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC), and is also on Xbox Game Pass, and the design of the game shows. Back 4 Blood feels tailor-made for a player who has Game Pass and wants to casually play some co-op games with their friends, who also have Game Pass. Playing this game mostly solo on PC was fun, but even I could easily see how satisfying this game would be for people in a Game Pass-centric situation.
Anyone looking for a fun, casual co-op FPS will find something to enjoy, but for a group of people with easy access to the game, it will blossom into one of the more enjoyable multiplayer games out right now.
Score: 8 out of 10
Reviewed on PC