Back 4 Blood: Hands-on Preview
Way back when the Australian Government decided that video games were for kids and didn’t have an R18+ rating there was a game that consumed all of my online multiplayer time. That game was Left 4 Dead 2. To play the game I had to go through the hassle of getting an overseas copy of the game so I could play it without the horrible edits forced by our then (still?) backwards government. I then had to make sure all of my friends had an overseas copy, so we could enjoy the game as nature intended, with piles of dead zombies and copious amounts of blood. It was a blast, nothing complicated, nothing deep, just pure surface level shooting fun with mates.
Fast forward quite a number of years and we are just shy of Back 4 Blood hitting consoles and PCs everywhere. For those that don’t know, Back 4 Blood is a spiritual sequel to Left 4 Dead. Coming from the same developer, Turtle Rock Studios. Back 4 Blood hopes to capture that simple co-op magic that made Left 4 Dead so popular. But things have changed a lot since those heady days, the co-op shooter is having something of a golden era right now. It seems you can’t blink without another game in the genre getting released. We have Warhammer versions, Movie based versions, Alien versions, hell there is even a mining version. The genre has a tonne of competition right now so the question needs to be asked, what makes Back 4 Blood stand out from the pack.
Thanks to a media session held a couple of days ago I was able to get a good amount of hands-on time with both the Campaign mode and the PvP mode. The campaign is exactly what you would expect, four players, loads of zombies (I mean Ridden) and vast maps to do slaughter in. It is Left 4 Dead at its most basic level. That being said I felt like there was something missing. It was rather easy, at no point did I feel stressed. Even with the zombie hordes, it all felt manageable, never daunting. The game does feature an adaptive AI, just like Left 4 Dead, but it didn’t seem to be in play during my time. Perhaps it simply wasn’t being used in the beta and all will be well in the final release. The other thing from the campaign that felt slightly off was the story. Left 4 Dead had a wonderful grindhouse aesthetic that leaned into the nature of a zombie game wonderfully. Back 4 Blood seems to be playing it down the line though and I am not sure that is the right way to go. Once again, this feeling could because of the small amount of time I had exploring the story and once I have the bigger picture things will be fine and dandy.
There are some new additions to the campaign that I quite liked. There is a card system that allows players to add boosts, upgrades and challenges to each playthrough. These cards can be sorted into a deck that you bring with you, drawing a new one for each mission. There are also random cards that are dealt out before each mission with particular level challenges. Complete the challenge and you are awarded in-game cash to improve your weaponry. Speaking of the in-game store, this is another new feature I quite liked. Currency is found throughout the levels which allows you to refill ammo, buy a better gun or upgrade your entire team by using the shop at the safehouse. It gave me a feeling of being a bit more in control, rather than relying on the luck of the draw to restock ammo and improve weaponry.
In PvP things were a little different. It consists of two teams of four. One team plays the humans, one plays the ridden. The goal of the match as the humans is to last as long as possible without dying, while the team of Ridden want to take you down ASAP. Once the round is complete, players swap sides and try to defend/beat the previous set time. It is a simple concept that works quite well but I think the real joy here will be with friends playing. I can see it become frustrating rather quickly if you are just playing with random folk from around the world. To be successful requires a good bit of strategy and that is something that is almost impossible to coordinate with someone that you just don’t know. Playing as the Ridden was a nice change of pace, with the majority of the selected characters being melee focused. The Ridden are also played from the 3rd person perspective so it really does mix things up from the more standard 1st person, human-based shenanigans.
In all my time with Back 4 Blood was positive. There is still the joy of mowing down zombies with friends and the PvP is trying something fresh, which is much appreciated. That being said there are a couple of small things that I feel need tweaking before launch, most notably the difficulty. If the team at Turtle Rock Studios can use this beta period to get the balance right, we will be in for a grand old time. If it misses the mark, Back 4 Blood runs a real risk of getting forgotten about rather quickly. I have my fingers crossed though, I really want that Left 4 Dead feeling to hit me once again.