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Back 4 Blood Turns The 'Valve' On Co-Op Zombie Survival

Back 4 Blood First Take
Back 4 Blood Title Screen
Courtesy of Turtle Rock Studios

Back 4 Blood

Release Date: October 12, 2021
Available as: Digital and Physical

Back 4 Blood Revives A Legacy That Was 'Left 4 Dead'

Before I was able to sit down and give Back 4 Blood the first look, I was curious about the game long before the betas and its release. This was due to the developer itself, Turtle Rock Studios, and its history. Before Back 4 Blood, in 2008, Turtle Rock Studios, then known as Valve South, released a little game known as Left 4 Dead. The game would go on to be one of the company's best-selling titles at the time. This would join the likes of Portal, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, and other Valve classics. After the company's fallout with Valve, they resumed operations as Turtle Rock Studios shortly after the release of Left 4 Dead, leaving the development of Left 4 Dead 2 under Valve. Although they would support Valve in its development as well as bonus DLC for Left 4 Dead, the company was on its own.

They would release titles such as Evolve which, while praised, failed to receive a sustainable player base like Left 4 Dead. Years later, Turtle Rock Studios began development on Back 4 Blood as an attempt to recreate the magic that L4D brought to the co-op zombie survival genre. Following a renewed interest in the games thanks to new content for Left 4 Dead 2, it seemed the stars aligned for a successful release. So, is Back 4 Blood worth more than its weight in its original developer's reputation? Or is it a case of Turtle Rock Studios trying to use their legacy as leverage for some quick sales?

back 4 blood cutscene
Back 4 Blood - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Meet Your Fellow Cleaners In Back 4 Blood

Moments after the player starts Back 4 Blood, they are thrust into the campaign immediately via a cutscene where the four introductory survivors---cleaners are introduced. Walker, a smooth-talking veteran, Mom, a hardened elderly woman with an edge, Holly, an energetic young woman with a spiked baseball bat, and lastly the plucky Evangelo. Compared to Left 4 Dead, Walker, Mom, Holly, and Evangelo are virtually Francis, Bill, Zoey, and Louis respectively. Unlike the Left 4 Dead survivors, each cleaner offers a unique playstyle that is teased in the introductory cutscene.

Each cleaner has a special ability unique to them that gives them an edge over others. Mom, for example, can revive a player for free once per run. Evangelo can break a ridden's grab once every 60 seconds. Walker increases his accuracy for every ridden slain. Lastly, Holly increases her stamina for every ridden slain. Each cleaner also begins with a custom loadout, such as Evangelo's machete and Holly's bat. This, coupled with the new card mechanic, makes Back 4 Blood a customizable experience.

back 4 blood cutscene
Back 4 Blood - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Trust In The Heart Of Back 4 Blood's Cards

Unique to Back 4 Blood is its card system which plays a central role in gameplay. Before each round, players are given the chance to select one beneficial card from their deck. These benefits range from buffs to accuracy, healing proficiency, and a bonus to health while in a critical state. Cards can also be found in the environment which can be exchanged for in-game credits. How players can gain these credits is through completing rounds and bonus objectives. These include "Reach the safe room in X time" or "get to the saferoom with all surviving cleaners."

There are environmental cards that are detrimental to the upcoming round called "Corruption Cards." Taken directly from Left 4 Dead's "Director Mode," these are cards that the team has to contend with for each round. One example of a corruption card is the abundance of crows. When crows are alerted, a horde will be summoned, gravitating groups of ridden to the player's location. Other cards include thick fog that obstructs the view of players. These cards can be played around with and turn negative effects into beneficial ones, offering a layer of strategy.

back 4 blood corruption gameplay
Back 4 Blood - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Cards also allow players to build around their archetype, an example being the cleaners themselves. Mom's starting deck is a supporter/healer role while Holly's deck revolves around her melee abilities. Depending on a player's playstyle, each deck can be edited to tailor suit their needs.

Back 4 Blood's Giant Ogre In The Room

Right, so, now we talk about the glaring elephant in the room and that's the gameplay. There is no offline play as B4B is exclusively online. Now that's out the way, let's talk about obvious comparisons. The reason behind my huge spiel about Turtle Rock Studios' earlier success with Left 4 Dead is simple. There are already players who are writing this game off as a "L4D clone." If a developer of the original game makes a game that's just like it in nature, is it being a "clone?" While this is meant to be a First Look and not a philosophical piece, I stand on this hill. Back 4 Blood is not Left 4 Dead but rather its successor.

Players will notice the flow of gameplay including collecting materials and ammo. Going through waves of zombies (now called the "ridden") while going through blockades. Activating said blockades will trigger "Crescendo Events," much like in L4D where survival is needed until the event concludes. Party members will have banter about their surroundings and their included quips. Even the enemy types are similar to L4D including Exploders and Tallboys. Players used to the Left 4 Dead formula will feel right at home in Back 4 Blood's world with the bonus of replayability. This is because of the mentioned card system, allowing players to customize their character as they see fit.

B4B gameplay Ogre
Back 4 Blood - Xbox Series X Direct Capture

Sometimes Your Biggest Critic Is Yourself (And A Fast Food Chain)

For the unaware, the comparisons between L4D and B4B are paramount to whether the latter is better than the former. This is where Turtle Rock Studios should give themselves a pat on the back. Developing a game so good eleven years ago that many players will pass off your newest project as a mere imitation of its former self. Perhaps the best example of this is a rather peculiar tweet from, of all accounts, KFC Gaming.

A number of the replies had pointed out that both games share the same developers, to which KFC Gaming had never replied in response. Some, myself included, denounced the tweet as a troll tweet. The number of replies who were in unison with the tweet was startling as many had assumed Valve worked on the first Left 4 Dead. Perhaps the most amusing part of this call-out is Turtle Rock Studio's own clapback towards KFC.

Overall, Back 4 Blood is a great game in the co-op zombie gameplay that the developers helped populate over a decade ago. While there are some glaring issues including an "online-only" mode, Back 4 Blood is a fresh experience. Due to the nature of the game, playing with others online is what gives B4B its soul. Despite the lack of offline play, B4B aims to be a long-term live-service game for months to come.

Back 4 Blood is now available on the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One.

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