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Game review: Back 4 Blood (Xbox Series X)

By Damian Seeto, Fri 22 Oct 2021

Developer Turtle Rock Studios gained great recognition when it teamed up with Valve to release Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 several years ago. While we won’t see a release of Left 4 Dead 3 anytime soon, we are getting a game that pays homage to the series in the form of Back 4 Blood. 

Much like the Left 4 Dead series, Back 4 Blood brings four-player co-op to the forefront as players can team up with people online to battle hordes and hordes of zombies. The zombie genre is crowded at the moment, but Turtle Rock Studios has done a few new things to keep this game feeling fresh. 

There isn’t really a complicated backstory to Back 4 Blood because it’s mainly your usual zombie storyline. Humans have been infected by a new virus, and this turns them into bloodthirsty creatures called ‘Ridden’. It’s up to the eight heroes in the game called ‘Cleaners’ to flush out the Ridden and hopefully save the world from chaos. 

At the start of the game, only Mom, Holly, Evangelo and Walker are available. If you want to unlock the characters of Hoffman, Jim, Doc and Karlee, you’ll have to complete some of the missions in the campaign first before they become playable. 

Since Back 4 Blood relies heavily on 4 player co-op as its main selling point, it’s worth mentioning you need to be online in order for this game to work. Even if you just want to play the game by yourself with AI partners, you still need to be connected online at all times. 

Being online all the time isn’t a huge issue, although it is annoying if you cannot play simply because the online servers are down. There was even a moment during my playthrough where the game didn’t even want me to sign in, which I thought was annoying. 

Anyway, what I like most about Back 4 Blood is that it doesn’t waste time in using boring long cutscenes to tell its story. The game pretty much starts its campaign immediately where you choose to be one of the characters, and you need to fight your way through lots of zombies. 

In terms of gameplay, Back 4 Blood is pretty accessible and enjoyable to play if you have good teammates. The game’s gunplay is very entertaining as the weapons are effective against all kinds of different zombies. 

Some of the primary weapons that you can wield include assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, sub-machine guns and more. Secondary weapons are allocated to the likes of baseball bats, pistols and melee arsenal. One disappointing thing about the game is that you cannot hold two heavy weapons at the same time. In other words, you cannot dual wield machine guns or something like that!
As a co-op game, Back 4 Blood is very fun. I was actually impressed that the AI partners in the solo campaign were competent and helpful. Most of the time, they shot zombies and made sure my character wasn’t low on health. The only minor problem with AI partners is that they would sometimes get in your way. Friendly fire is turned off in the easiest difficulty, but it’s turned back on in the harder modes. 

When I played the game with random online partners, the gameplay was still fun. Most of the people that I played with were straightforward, and they didn’t talk too much trash. That being said, your online experience may differ depending on the time of day you’re playing the game…

To make the gameplay feel more unique, Back 4 Blood introduces an interesting card system. Firstly, there are the Active Cards that give you bonuses when you choose them. This could mean increasing ammo capacity, getting more health or other types of benefits. 

On the flip side of this, there are also Corruption Cards. These somewhat change the levels in the game to make your journey harder than normal. This could include increasing the number of Ridden you have to face, dropping in a boss fight or even making the whole level look foggy. Making the level foggy is a pain because your vision is impaired. 

Not to mention this game does not include a map that you can see, so walking around in the fog becomes brutally hard. Thankfully, the levels aren’t too large, so you can navigate through most of them pretty easily. Anyway, the card system is still interesting though, because it makes each playthrough feel different and challenging. 

The main thing I don’t like about Back 4 Blood right now is that it punishes solo players for no reason at all. If you don’t play the game with online friends or strangers, you won’t be able to unlock anything in the game. The new characters are locked, no achievements are earned, and you don’t even receive cosmetic items to customise your player either. 

Hopefully, Turtle Rock Studios will be able to release a patch in the near future to make the game more rewarding for those that want to play the game by themselves. As of right now, solo players get no rewards or benefits at the moment…

Another thing I don’t like about this game is that it’s buggy. I completed the entire first act, but Act 2 wasn’t unlocked for some odd reason. I had to play through Act 1 all over again just to continue where I left off before. Hopefully, this progression glitch is fixed in a future patch. 

Outside of the main campaign, Back 4 Blood also includes a PvP mode called Swarm. In this mode, you can play as a team of the Ridden or a team of the Cleaners. Playing as the zombies isn’t very fun because they’re quite slow, and they can get killed easily most of the time. Being the humans isn’t too bad, although you will have to face both human-controlled zombies and AI zombies at the same time!

Swarm is a nice distraction from the campaign mode, although I don’t think it will keep players occupied for very long. It’s a nice alternative, but I feel most players will spend their time on the campaign instead. 

Overall, Back 4 Blood can be a fun game if you are able to find some players online that you like to play with. The gameplay is accessible, and it’s enjoyable to go around killing zombies. That being said, the fact that this game punishes solo players is a bit of a turn-off. Also, some of the progression glitches are a pain too. It’s best to experience this game through Game Pass as it doesn’t offer too much content for a full-priced game, in my opinion. 

Verdict: 7.0/10 

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