Back 4 Blood
The Good: Outstanding gun feel. Looks fantastic. Solid and exciting campaign. More character and weapon variety to customize your play style.
The Bad: Buggy (for some people VERY buggy). Difficulty both across maps and difficulty levels is all out of whack. Would be nice if it could be played offline for solo runs.
The Ugly: PvP is a chaotic mess, not in a good way.
To be honest, I’m not sure I was really looking for the next sequel to Left 4 Dead. I mean, I loved L4D and have a group of friends that continue to play L4D and L4D2 just about every week online, despite the fact that they both came out more than a decade ago, but I feel like that co-op zombie shoot-em up itch continues to be fully scratched. Did I want something more? Did I need something more? Probably not. That said, Back 4 Blood is probably about as good a game as I could have not been looking for. The atmosphere and monsters look absolutely amazing (though it is often lost in all-to-frequent darkness and fog), it has a first-rate campaign, and it has a gun feel as good or better than the last Call of Duty and Battlefield installments. It is however somewhat hampered by some significant bugs, difficulty spikes, and a poorly conceived PvP mode.
B4B has taken a slightly different spin on the zombie co-op. In this go round, instead of a plucky group of strangers trying to escape the zombie apocalypse alive, you’re a group of mercenaries (known as cleaners) who are hired to accomplish specific post-apocalyptic tasks, like blowing up a bridge, taking out zombie nests, ferrying supplies, rescuing survivors, etc. This relatively small change results in a campaign that is more interesting and cohesive than just a panicky run from safe room to safe room. This also means that you begin each level at a military base where you can load up on supplies and weapons before setting out, as well as play with your card loadout. That’s right – they’ve added a collectable card system to my zombie shooter, which initially I thought was a terrible idea, but has grown on me. The cards can have minor impacts – increased ammo carrying capacity, improved health pack use, added weapon damage – or pretty major, like an extra life or significant health or weapon accuracy boosts for kills. You can sometimes find cards within the levels, or unlock them at the base, and if you have a team that actually behaves like a team, you can select cards that optimize the advantages across your team. This also means that if you just have a group of random players that you’ve been matched with, the chances of optimizing your cards between you all is probably just about zero, which I think can really hurt you.
And speaking of hurting you, this game suffers from serious brutality spikes. On rookie level, you can be moving along, cutting down enemies with ease while taking hardly a scratch, and then end up in some bottleneck or Alamo-type situation or a zombie waterfall (it’s a thing) where everyone dies in minutes. On Veteran, shortages of ammo, healing, and just the general density of enemies can makesuccess very difficult. I’ve never tried it on the difficulty level above veteran, but I can’t imagine it is survivable, at least not at my skill level. Success is more complicated in B4B as compared to L4D. You still need players to stay together – players who lag behind can drag a whole team down, but unlike in L4D, different characters have different advantages in damage, healing, stamina, and more, and a complimentary mix of characters is the way to survive. Weaponry also now comes in a variety of flavors with different stats, and you can buy add-ons like extended magazines and different types of targeting scopes. All this variability of characters and weapons results in a game that just has a lot more meat with regards to how you craft the characters you play and how your team comes together (or fails to, as is frequently the case).
The L4D PvP mode was interesting: one team playing the monsters while the opposing players try and make it through a level. Monsters could work together, try and form an attack plan that uses hoards and landscape features to separate and kill the players. B4B PvP multiplayer takes place in a small arena – a blocked off space from one of the maps – and the only real strategy of the monsters is to try and close and do a lot of damage quickly, while the players survive as long as they can. Players and monsters swap places, and the winner is the team which survives the longest, best two out of three matches.The spaces are so small (and get smaller with each wave of zombies) that the only survival strategy is to try and pick a defensible spot and hold out as long as possible while enemies close in from all sides. It’s less strategic, more chaotic, and less interesting. The only advantage to this PvP compared to L4D is that it is over quickly – a whole match will typically take less than 20 minutes (sometimes a lot less, as I played a game where two teams traded kills in under 30 seconds).
No release would be complete without bugs, and B4B is no exception. I only had the game dump me out to the desktop once in dozens of hours of playing, but there are lots of complaints online from people who can’t get past the splash screen, which is a problem I encountered as well, and they recommend the usual fixes like turning off antivirus and updating video drivers. I did all of that, and I still crash at the splash screen maybe 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time it runs just fine. Then for a while it seemed like I was doing better, and then an update made the problem worse again. It’s not unplayable, but it is perplexing, that I have to keep starting and restarting the game until it seems to take.
On the whole, I really like B4B. I’d like to see the difficulty spikes addressed and some expanded PvP choices, both of which I think can and will be pretty easily added and fixed. I’m also hoping that more people start playing it, as most of the runs I’ve joined have at least one BOT in it and is often nothing but BOTs (and when I’m playing with nothing but BOTs, why do I have to wait for online server space to play it?). The BOTs are competent shooters, and use their player advantages pretty well, but have zero ability with regards to the additional level objectives – they won’t plant explosives or carry supplies, and they tend to hang near you, which is good from a survival perspective, but doesn’t help in finding weapon and healing caches. But for a team that plays well together, and I’m hoping to get my crew to move over from L4D, it’s a fine zombie run and gun.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Back 4 Blood for the PC provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.