With their first new title in six years, Turtle Rock Studios are back in the saddle with a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead. Emblematic of the top-to-bottom likeness to its classic forebears is the *rolls eyes* title, Back 4 Blood. As somebody who spent many hours with mates avoiding witches and yelling “pills here” in both earlier titles, this is not the OG studio stepping sideways to make their own Left 4 Dead 3 under a publisher that isn’t Valve. Instead, Back 4 Blood is confidently a revival and reintroduction to the original Left 4 Dead phenomenon. Together, B4B and L4D share a gruesomely compelling co-op campaign, laughable bots, satisfying tools of slaughter, and a single player that serves absolutely no purpose. What may not convince L4D2 fans to make the jump is the questionable addition of a competitive horde mode in Swarm, in lieu of the utterly fantastic 4v4 campaign versus mode where two teams assume the role of survivors and special infected.
If the marketing has not given it away already, B4B is every bloodied first-person inch of the core L4D experience but with enough generic rebranding to not draw Gaben’s sexy gaze. The flagship mode, a co-operative four-player horror shooter played over a campaign of four acts, evokes a strong sense of deja vu for any L4D fans. The tried-and-true formula of a squad of survivors cleaners clobbering and spraying down hordes of infected ridden will again lead you down a path stacked with limbs from one safe house to the next.
The campaign watermark is the small selection of set pieces involving mazes and musical bar rooms, but the repetitive pimple-popping infected nest terminations and bizarre difficulty spikes make for a rocky long-term investment. The campaign recycles levels which is damning considering they already look indistinguishable from practically any given L4D map. Corruption cards are a new system that fools you into thinking that there is a dynamic, random element to any given run of a level. The corruption cards themselves are just a fancy way of presenting modifiers/mutations that might slightly alter the environment, types of enemies, and traps that might appear. Yet it becomes obvious after a few replays, even on harder difficulties, that there is very little random variation here and the supposed modifiers might only have a one in two chance of appearing anyway.
It is 2021 and having your bloodied character enter a cutscene still amuses
To spice up runs, players can build a personal deck of stat and ability bonus cards with currency earned from multiplayer. They can select from a hand of cards at the start of the chapter, and those bonuses remain until the act finishes or the party dies twice.
As previously mentioned, the bots are useless. They will get stuck in every other doorway, go complete levels with an inability to shoot a single enemy, refuse to participate in a team-wide objective, and won’t shut the fuck up. If you, like me, are unlucky enough to want to play a harder difficulty later in the campaign and find yourself in matchingmaking for half an hour only to get stuck with the bots – you will want to uninstall. It was a problem in the beta, but the dialogue appears to be toned down when with a full party – until you shoot somebody in the back. With a party of bots, their four brain cells fuse together and start talking out an episode of The Walking Dead that was written by an AI whose notion of levity was solely defined by Smosh. I hate it.
Welcome to my reverse kanga porcelain emporium
Watch out for the WellPlayed team’s favourite line, “This is scarier than pineapple on pizza.” This is one of many I have actively tried to block from memory, delivered as a sarcastic observation of an oncoming horde that is supposed to elicit a chortle while the game is trying to instil dread. The consistently blunt-force humour is about as welcome as a clown at a funeral since almost no other element of the game takes a humorous tack.
The world building of Left 4 Dead was subtle and often relegated to graffiti and posters in the environment, with a couple of reserved observations to be made here and there. Turtle Rock attempts to make B4B’s story a bit more front and centre with much chattier characters, some NPCs that bark exposition at you in the safehouses, and a sprinkling of brief in-engine and pre-rendered cutscenes. Having gone through the campaign a couple of times now, I am confident in saying no story would have been better than what we got. Turtle Rock may have felt pressure to present a narrative that gradually builds some stakes in the final act which hopefully sees the start of a growing new franchise, but it is a shame that they didn’t leave the plot open for organic and emergent stories more in line with L4D.
WellPlayed’s own Holly gave the Hag a deep gastrointestinal cleaning
Single player is a pointless endeavour where currency cannot be earned, bots are relied upon, and all the cards are unlocked. Without any guidance in the cards system given, having all the cards to play with will only appeal to the most experienced of deck builders looking to explore this system. I don’t think anyone would hate themselves that much, though.
Swarm mode makes up the other stinky third of this package. I won’t spend much time on this, as Turtle Rock likely couldn’t either. Maps are the size of my thumb, usually involving a parking lot, a section of freeway, or a tiny farm. Four players will survive hordes on a timer, with the team that survives longest as cleaners declared winners. Four opposing players will each play as a special ridden, all of which lumber and have one interesting gimmick which often isn’t even unique. When the cleaners are eliminated, the sides switch, and cleaners become special ridden. Think L4D2 Versus but shrunk down to 10% and with a lot of downtime as special infected.
You’ll soon tire of popping zits and ‘cleaning’ nests
A poorly explained shared upgrade system allows the ridden players to upgrade the horde, themselves, or others. Everyone upgrades themselves, rendering the shared upgrade pool useless. Ridden players can spawn anywhere on the tiny maps if the line of sight is broken. The worst sin is that the new special infected resemble the far more iconic boomers, smokers, and hunters of old – but with zero of the mobility and map advantage that made playing them fun.
Most damningly, none of the other seven people I ever played with enjoyed this – winners or losers. Teams would disconnect on winning runs, as the handicaps given to losing teams meant an unfair turning of the tables that detracted from the competition. It is a horde mode with barely functional special monsters that filled a gap that a successor to L4D2 needed, but it is abhorrent and made me forever long for Versus mode instead.
Like the coarse and sturdy comfort that comes with wielding your favourite spiked baseball bat, diving into Back 4 Blood is a punchy delight for anyone who enjoyed L4D. Go marching into the swamps with a shotgun as a ridden horde descends, your trigger finger is going to fatigue from the workout. The adaptive triggers here make PlayStation 5 the easiest platform to recommend, with the DualSense almost vibrating out of your hands as you try and squeeze off shell after tight, chunky shell. Better yet are some of the greatest and most satisfying melee weapons in all first-person gaming – a title few games can confidently contend for beyond marketing.
Would rather sink a dozen tall boys before playing another match of Swarm
If you’re new to the fast-paced, arcadey gorefest and manage to bring along some mates, Back 4 Blood tempts with a wildly tense and bombastic co-op campaign that provides a shared carnival of chaos. Whether this title will hold your attention beyond your first campaign run is going to depend on how enthused your regular group is with the rapidly diminishing returns.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Turtle Rock Studios
- Warner Bros. Games
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
- October 13, 2021