Back 4 Blood Review

Back 4 Blood Review

Back 4 Blood: A refined Zombie Shooter

Turtle Rock Studios makes a triumphant and bloody return to their run-and-gun roots with the chaotic, adrenaline-filled FPS Back 4 Blood. Back 4 Blood manages to throw something new into the mix and liven up the undead scene in a world full of zombie shooters that all feature their post-apocalyptic take on the world

While veterans of the classic Left 4 Dead franchise will find more than a few similarities between the two shooters, Back 4 Blood is a fresher take on the zombie-survival genre than many other titles of late. It brings enough fight-for-your-life action to keep players engaged through multiple playthroughs.

While the cooperative first-person looter-shooter won an award in 2021 for being the most popular new IP of the year, it didn’t stick its landing. With its lackluster Swarm Mode that sees almost no engagement, downright masochistic difficulty settings, and many lazily reskinned enemies, one doesn’t need to look long to see where the holes in Back 4 Blood‘s presentation are. 

But even after several playthroughs with different characters and different decks, our list of complaints was surprisingly short. Back 4 Blood‘s shortcomings, while easily noticeable, can easily be overlooked to enjoy a gloriously gory good time mopping up endless hordes of zombies.

Story & concept

You know the story by now if you’ve played any zombie-themed game or watched any zombie-filled movie in the last ten years. A sickness infects the population, the infection spreads out of control, governments are caught off guard and fall apart, and survivors are left to fend for themselves in what’s left of whatever country they find themselves in.

B4B follows the same tried and true formula for a zombie apocalypse with a few divergences. In B4B‘s story, zombies are called the “Ridden” since they’re ridden with the infection-spreading parasitic worms that started society’s collapse in the first place. 

The story takes place in a fictional city in western Pennsylvania and follows several “Cleaners,” the preferred term for badass Ridden-slayers. They team up with a retired general to establish some form of resistance against the Ridden hordes.

Back 4 Blood Character Selection

Players looking for a memorable story with twists, turns, and epic climaxes will be somewhat disappointed with B4B. While B4B does have a rich story, it’s told through snippets of dialogue between Cleaners and requires playing through the game as just about every character to piece it all together. 

Playing as Jim Hossler reveals his family life and his friendship with Hoffman; playing as Doc shows there are other groups of survivors in this world, and they are not friendly; playing as Mom gives hints to how long these Cleaners have been fighting together; playing as Elijah Walker drops a loose timeline of how the outbreak progressed so rapidly.

The concept and story of B4B, while weaved throughout the fabric of the game, are hidden enough that some players may never discover them. B4B is a game with lots of zombies and lots of weapons. Storytelling was never meant to be its strong point. Killing hordes of mutated enemies in creative ways most certainly is. 

Many players running through the bloody streets of B4B will find whatever story they encounter to be nothing more than an excuse to keep shooting zombies.

Graphics

Back 4 Blood - Leaving the Safehouse

Achieving the highest quality graphics in B4B is surprisingly simple with just about any setup. While 60 FPS may take a noticeable hit during big boss fights and when surrounded by hordes of enemies, the game runs consistently smooth at all other times. Even older PCs with standard graphics cards will find 1080p crisp and uninterrupted.

Those with an eye for detail will find B4B a veritable masterpiece. One can easily spend 10 minutes or more exploring the confines of each safe room, reading notes and maps and messages left behind by the game’s various survivors. And no two safe rooms are alike, with each one featuring more to discover. The splatter of gore, the rustling of leaves, and the tracking of an enemy’s shadow are all impeccably layered throughout B4B to immerse you in the struggle.

Sound & atmosphere

Audio is a significant part of gameplay in B4B. Players who listen for the unique sounds that each enemy makes–the clicking sound of stalkers, the gurgling of retches–will gain the advantage in any situation. 

Each Ridden type in B4B has a specific sound, from the armored Ridden to the frustratingly difficult breakers. Players who learn to recognize each sound will identify enemies before they appear on the screen. 

Players who don’t utilize sound will find themselves accosted by just about every sleeper on just about every level. Put some headphones on and turn the sound up if you want to survive.

Back 4 Blood - Messages on the Wall

The nigh constant bombardment of enemies thrown at you by the AI overlord makes appreciating the oppressive atmosphere of B4B relatively easy. Still, you can overlook everything else it has to offer. Spending a few minutes reading notes left behind by other survivors in any safe room will go a long way in communicating its mood. 

The levels take place almost exclusively at night, adding to the grim, dark nature of the world, and even when players travel in the daytime, they are usually plagued by dense mist or fog.

The lack of sun, the lack of resources, and the lack of long-term goals make the atmosphere of B4B feel hopeless. But listening to the dialogue of any Cleaner shows that the survivors of this Ridden apocalypse are fierce, tireless, and ready to spit in the face of anyone who says their plight is futile. The rebellious attitude is infectious while playing the game, especially in the face of endless hordes of mutated, armored, twisted zombies.

Gameplay

Gameplay in B4B is a hybrid of deck-building and first-person shooting. The priority in B4B is unlocking every card the game has to offer because building the proper Cleaner centers around building the right deck. Each Cleaner has its unique abilities and traits, and the strategy in B4B comes from optimizing a deck with cards that enhance a Cleaner’s strengths while eliminating its weaknesses. 

Some cards increase the number of grenades you can carry, and some cards increase the copper you find in each level; some cards offer massive increases in damage dealt for a trade-off in damage received, and some cards give you extra health every time a horde is triggered. There are over 150 cards to unlock and a myriad of different decks to build.

Back 4 Blood - In the Ridden Pits

While you get to pick the cards in your deck, the AI overlord selects from a set of corruption cards to play against you, each with a different adverse effect. Some may be as innocuous as slightly stronger mutations, while others may inflict damage every 5 seconds till you beat the level. And the game will stack multiple corruption cards. It gets outright ridiculous in more complex difficulties when it throws multiple bosses, damaging fog, armored Ridden, and timed hordes at you. Good luck.

With each update that Turtle Rock unrolls, B4B‘s gameplay changes. When B4B first dropped, hardly anyone even attempted Nightmare difficulty, choosing to stay in Veteran where it’s safe. But with the addition of Burn Cards–one-time use cards that take the place of regular cards in your deck–and some hefty tweaks to just about every card in the game, harder difficulties feel surmountable instead of unfair. 

With the release of its first DLCTunnels of TerrorB4B further balances its gameplay and adds a new difficulty, No Hope, for the truly insane.

Replay value

The replay value of B4B is high. It was specifically designed for lots of playthroughs. If the game ever feels stale, all you have to do is switch weapon builds, decks, Cleaners, or switch difficulties, and you’ve got yourself a vastly different game. 

Going through Act 1 as Mom with shotguns on Recruit difficulty is different than going through it as Walker with sniper rifles, and it’s wildly different than going through it as Karlee with submachine guns on Nightmare difficulty. 

Back 4 Blood Gun Range

You may find yourself playing as a tank, focusing on damage output and going through each level as quickly as possible as Hoffman, but switching to a healer like Doc and prioritizing trauma resistance and survivability can drastically change how you look at and play the game. 

If you’re playing with friends, switching roles throughout the campaign can also help vary the gameplay, as can the conquest for acquiring every skin.

Final words on Back 4 Blood

While Back 4 Blood isn’t a title that will knock many people’s socks off for the long term, it’s a wildly fun zombie shooter that should not be overlooked. Whether playing with bots or an entire entourage of warm-blooded Cleaners, Back 4 Blood is a fun and fresh take on a genre that needs creativity. The developers clearly love what they’ve created and want you to love it. With an active community of fans, developers who listen, and a team well experienced with zombies, Back 4 Blood achieves its goals while leaving little room open for improvement.

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About Victor

Writer. Gamer. Outdoorsman. Victor has written across multiple mediums, with some of his work appearing in anthologies, magazines, and websites like Nerdist.com, SFFWorld.com, and CBR.com. When not writing, he is usually gaining inspiration for writing from the library of video games he owns. If he's not indoors, Victor is outdoors climbing mountains, hiking forests, or otherwise conquering nature.

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