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Card-Carrying Survivors | Back 4 Blood

Matt

It’s probably not *that* bad out there…

Back when I played the Back 4 Blood beta I had a few concerns about the way that the performance of the game and the gunplay handled. It felt a little off and unsettling. I also, despite liking card games, get nervous when a non-card game implements card systems and due to the limited time I spent playing it during beta it didn’t feel like the card system made too big of a difference to the gameplay. I was very much on the fence about whether I would like the game, but after playing upon release and sinking a fair few hours into it, my concerns were mostly sliced with a large machete and shot with an silenced MP5 in the head.

On release, a lot of the concerns I had in the beta were ironed out. Turtle Rock Studios did well in creating and tweaking the gunplay system. It felt more akin to the Call of Duty series and other modern first-person shooters, breaking away from the now outdated hip-fire gunplay that the Left 4 Dead games had. Now we’re working with moddable weapons and sweet, sweet aim down sights. It felt fantastically fun, fluid, and easy to use the nice variety of different guns. The mods make a fine addition to tweak the guys to your liking. I mostly stuck to the MP5 and M9 Beretta, but swapped between shotguns and LMGs depending on the map. I did find that having two guns of the same ammo type quickly put me at a disadvantage, as my ammo drained like hot lead; however, this was something that the card system could easily fix.

As I said, I was hesitant with the card system, but the more I played, the more I saw myself getting into the customisability of my character and playstyle. As I played, I got more supply points to spend on additional cards and customise my deck for a focus on health, defence, offense, mobility, ammo, melee, or just a balanced all-round playthrough. Working through the card system and picking a certain character made every playthrough just different enough to feel fresh. That’s not including the Corruption cards which also give slight changes to the map that you’re playing—giving you randomised secondary challenges, different enemy challenges, and even environmental ones. Fog, alarmed doors, consistent horde waves: every time we lost a level or went back to play it, it felt different enough to feel fresh. My curiosity is how long that freshness will feel until it turns zombie-stale.

Which leads me to the one and only gripe that I have for Back 4 Blood: the lack of modding support. Over time, Left 4 Dead has accrued countless amounts of custom modded campaigns, levels, models, graphics, and tweaks over the years—something that has made Left 4 Dead near-timeless, with an endless stream of content. I just hope that if Back 4 Blood doesn’t end up providing modding support in the future, that they can keep up with the communities hunger for new content.

…mistakes have been made.

Sali

Back 4 Blood is a solid experience for those who played Left 4 Dead and have been craving the next instalment. While not officially considered Left 4 Dead 3, the game certainly presents itself as the successor to the series (or the closest thing we have as of yet). We experienced the game in beta phase, and at full release. There were no huge gameplay changes between either of these states, but there were huge optimisations—and that’s honestly most of what was needed. The game went from a framerate-filled mess to smooth and playable. The gameplay itself was essentially what you’d expect from a team-based zombie survival game. Pick a character from the roster, team up with three other friends (or join in using public multiplayer) and play through all the acts, from the start of the level to the end, usually with a second objective to complete on the way. There are many good things about the game, but if I had to nitpick, there are some aspects that could have been more wisely implemented.

Firstly, the flashlight. Why not make it toggleable by the user? It seems odd that the developers decided to hardcode in an automatic flashlight to turn on in areas that they deemed to be “dark”. There are some spots in each level where a flashlight would be nice to have but, alas, that is not an option.

You also can’t freely remove weapon attachments until you replace them with an entirely different one or swap out the gun completely. This means that if you pick up an attachment, use the gun for a short while, and decide that you don’t enjoy playing with the attachment on, you’ll have to wait until you find something to replace it. The game uses a lot of RNG to dictate what you’ll find from level to level, so you may be waiting a while.

Solo play does not provide any progression. This isn’t a problem for those who have a horde of friends to play with, but for those who don’t—tough luck. Most gamers (not all) like to work towards unlocking and achieving things through gameplay, but in Solo mode, the card system is completely available to use in its entirety, meaning there is little reason to play if you enjoy the feeling of progression.

What the game does do well is fostering teamwork to the greatest degree. The game does not work kindly to those running off from the group. It throws hordes at you promptly and without much warning. A team effort is required to get through most things unscathed, and those straying from the group will often cause the team’s downfall. The game is best played as a team, with strategies well thought out in advance. And it’s most fun that way too—the feeling of getting through massive hordes and waves of zombies is satisfying—when the group can pull it off. Difficulty levels vary, so there is a range for everyone. Our group played on “Easy” to get a hang of the game, and it was fun at that level—even still, being a challenge.

I’d recommend the game if you’ve got some loose change and are into similar games in the genre. I’d recommend it more strongly once the developers add in modding support (if they do!), as that will really expand the replayability. I wouldn’t strongly recommend Back 4 Blood for solo players—the lack of progression is disappointing.

Arguably, not the worst thing to find in the sewers.

Kane

The dead have risen and they are back for blood; they’re also really hip and can rap with the kids, so they’re actually Back 4 Blood. Is the title actually referencing how teams of four face down the apocalypse back-to-back like a bunch of cool movie characters? Probably…but my version is funnier. Still, the latter is actually true, and Back 4 Blood lets you team up with three other people (AI or regular I) to take down hordes of the dead/infected. Is it similar to Left 4 Dead? Yes. So feel free to use that as a yardstick to measure this game…then beat a Ridden’s head in (“Ridden” being the name for this particular flavour of zombie).

Character-wise, B4B provides eight options: Walker, Chris, Mom, Holly, Evangelo, Hoffman, Doc, and Karlee. Though each is capable of wielding any weapon or card (which we’ll get into soon), they each possess a unique skill that provides some variation. Mom, for example, is able to instantly pick up a teammate who has been felled by Ridden, rather than standing over them and waiting for the revive bar to fill. Though only usable once per map, it is an ability that can save a player and a bad situation. Karlee possesses a more passive example, making it so that every teammate is able to use items fifty percent faster—be it med kits, defibrillators, or even lock picks. Not essential to success, but a nice boon. The slightly beneficial nature of these character skills also means that you can mimic the effect via the card system, opening your options so you can just pick your favourite character and not feel hemmed in by optimisation.

Now, I won’t spend too long on cards—as they are a popular topic of all in this particular piece (see writers above and below)—but I definitely have to mention the system. Whether you find them hidden in levels or purchase them with points gained by playing the game, cards are really what makes B4B tick. Generic health boosts keep you alive, team skills aid all, and specific boosts allow you to tailor your character to your playstyle. For each level you play in succession, you are able to draw a card from your deck and gain its benefit for the remainder of your session; so, playing more maps in a single session nets you a gradual build up of strength. In my Ridden ridding endeavours, I constructed a deck for healing and a deck for melee combat. This allowed me to either bolster my and the team’s health as we progressed or slowly become a whirlwind of close-range carnage. The downside to this element of the game is that when you draw a card the game, too, draws a card, adding challenge. Be it reduced visibility, an increased number of horde-calling birds, or an unkillable Ridden who spontaneously pops up and tries to drag a teammate away: it’s all pretty bad. So, the longer you play the stronger you get. Nice. The longer you play the harder the game gets. Mean…also scary.

So, is Back 4 Blood good? I think so. If you’ve got a hankerin’ for some team-based zombie mayhem, then go nuts. The card system adds enough strategy that you’ll make a difference but not so much as you need to get bogged down in the fine details of it all. Honestly, lining your deck with a bunch of health boosts and reload speed increases can carry you well enough, and simply being good with weapons and teamwork can make you forget you even enhanced an aspect of your character. For example, I found one run of the game much easier than another simply by using a different gun. I had all the same cards, all the same teammates, all the same level of skill, but I had a ranch rifle instead of a shotgun. Big fan of that ranch rifle. Regardless, shuffle up a deck of stat-boosting cards, pick the character you think is the coolest (Karlee), and save the world by beating up the part of it that is all infected and evil and sneaks up on you the second you turn your back, even though you know for a fact that you cleared the team’s six, like, two seconds ago and there’s no way a Ridden could cover the distance from the spawn area to your spine in the split second that you turned around to look at your team and then wonder how one is stuck in a wall, one is ploughing foot first through another flock of birds, and the other died four minutes ago and is now trapped in a shed in that definitely haunted swamp shack. You know, like a bunch of world-saving professionals.

All the better to high five us with?

Luke

Having spent many hours of my youth playing Left 4 Dead, I had been eagerly anticipating Back 4 Blood and I am pleased to say it has lived up to my expectations. Back 4 Blood has certainly filled the Left 4 Dead–shaped hole in my heart with its balls-to-the-wall fun gameplay and co-op experience that has been so sorely lacking in the current gaming landscape.

I found the game simple to pick up but difficult to master which is exactly how I like it, as no matter whether you are looking for a fun jump in and run-and-gun experience or you are looking to explore the depths of the games customisation and different strategic possibilities Back 4 Blood caters to all gamers. On top of that, you’d be hard pressed to find a co-op experience as seamless and well put together as this on the market these days. The game is remarkably well made and it’s one that you can easily sink hours into without noticing the time pass by at all.

While the gameplay is uproariously fun, the story doesn’t offer much to write home about. It keeps things simple and doesn’t expect the player to focus too much on the story or characters. It is definitely a “gameplay first; story second type” of experience and that works just fine for me because, ultimately, you play a game like Back 4 Blood for the thrill of mowing down hordes of zombies, not to bare witness to a monumental narrative that will challenge you philosophically. This is a game that is focused on just being a damn good time—and that it is.

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