Back 4 Blood review in progress: Left 4 Dead successor balances on house of cards - Dexerto
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Back 4 Blood review in progress: Left 4 Dead successor balances on house of cards

Published: 11/Oct/2021 5:00 Updated: 12/Oct/2021 9:10

by Isaac McIntyre

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Back 4 Blood, the co-op zombie shoot-em-up title from Turtle Rock Studios ⁠— and for many, the spiritual successor to the much-loved Left 4 Dead ⁠— has finally arrived after 12 years of waiting. Here is Dexerto’s review-in-progress.

Back in 2008, an ambitious team of devs at Turtle Rock Studios, who would eventually pivot to working under the Valve South banner, released Left 4 Dead to the world. The co-op survival horror game, and its upgraded sequel a year later, took the gaming world by storm, and left fans wanting more.

In the past 12 years, however, no game has come close to the magic of the original East Coast zombie outbreak, fighting as Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey, then later Coach, Rochelle, Nick, and Ellis in two quip-fuelled, mayhem-heavy zombie adventures.

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Finally, we may have a game that scratches the itch.

We’ll be updating this Back 4 Blood review-in-progress over the coming days as we play more of the game, so be on the lookout for our fully scored verdict soon.

Back 4 Blood – Key details

  • Price (Standard Edition): $59.99 (USD) | £49.99 (GBP) | $79 (AUD)
  • Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
  • Release date: October 12, 2021
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One & PC

Back 4 Blood trailer

Modern Left 4 Dead, for better and worse

At the time of writing, Back 4 Blood is on the eve of its major release on Oct. 12. Some have already got their hands on Turtle Rock’s new high-energy adventure via early access in the Ultimate Edition, but for most, the story begins in 24 hours.

There’s one question many will be asking as they prepare to take on the third Turtle Rock apocalypse in a dozen years; does it hold a candle to Left 4 Dead?

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Right off the bat, we’ll say it straight ⁠— not really.

That’s not a bad thing though. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 captured a very special moment in time in 2008 and 2009, and even as the franchise’s graphics begin to look more like its zombie hordes as we roll into the 20s, the game has infinite replayability as both a party game or for hardcore speedrunning.

What Back 4 Blood does best is understand it will never be Left 4 Dead. Instead, it copy-pastes all the best parts of L4D with a modern spin; you’ll recognize all the usual mechanics from the zombie series on display here.

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Four Back 4 Blood cleaners prepare to open safe room door.
Turtle Rock Studios
Even the iconic safe room door has made the transition to Back 4 Blood.

First loading in, you’ll be greeted with a staging area, where you muck around with your Corruption cards (the new mechanic Turtle Rock has thrown into the mixing pot) and get to choose your characters. These two are perhaps the facelift to the L4D2 formula and we’ll get to those in a second.

Shortly after, Back 4 Blood throws you into the deep end.

And this, more than anywhere else, is where all my 2009 feelings came rushing back. Characters load into what looks like a pretty iconic L4D safe room, complete with ammo, a locked and barred door, and a half-dozen stories told through the ruins, rotting corpses, and tongue-in-cheek graffiti markings.

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Cracking open the door and getting into the muck keeps that familiar feeling, while winding the clock forward for new gamers too. Gunplay feels more like a recent Call of Duty title than the Left 4 Dead of old, but still fast-paced and crisp.

More than anything, it felt like the arsenal was good no matter what you took too and you weren’t pigeon-holed into scooping up an assault rifle every time.

Back 4 Blood cleaners shoot Bruiser zombie.
Turtle Rock Studios
Back 4 Blood’s gunplay is closer to Call of Duty than Left 4 Dead.

The Director is back for blood

My first encounter with a special zombie ⁠— twelve years ago, “Infected,” now called “Mutations” ⁠— was the biggest reminder for me that I wasn’t just playing a remastered Left 4 Dead expansion, but rather Back 4 Blood and its own story.

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We stumbled across (or rather, it hunted us down) a Charger redux: the Bruiser. The hulking zombie had the jump on us, and we were immediately skittled like bowling pins.

Turtle Rock was clearly having a lot of fun expanding the Mutation roster, hitting nearly a dozen in the title, and they’re the real energy of each level. Cutting through waves of zombies feels good, but relatively easy in stages. The same cannot be said of the Special Ridden, who pride themselves in picking apart your party with ease, and from a variety of angles, with different tactics, and surprising precision.

I am convinced the entire charm of the Left 4 Dead franchise revolved around The Director, an artificial-intelligence composer that dictated when Infected appeared, how many zombies players would face, and what loot they’d be given.

Nick from Left 4 Dead 2 shoots at horde of zombies.
Valve
The Left 4 Dead 2 director was influential to the franchise’s success.

Thankfully, Turtle Rock seems to be just as convinced, with The Director shining bright with its Mutation spawns, and the rises and falls of its bloody, Act-based compositions.

This time too, the Back 4 Blood developers have given The Director its very own deck of cards, similar to the players’ Corruption boosts. At the start of every run, the Back 4 Blood mastermind draws one of its own, giving its zombies better perks, alerting more hordes, or even giving you a special mission to complete.

Don’t worry though, Turtle Rock has given players their own cards, complete with perks, damage boosts, and even wall-hacks, to deal with The Director and its minions. Players add these to their deck as they play, building an arsenal of benefits.

Unfortunately, while these cards can feel fun in the moment, they’re the biggest reason I still have a simmering feeling of worry for Back 4 Blood and its future.

Cleaner aims at blood-splattered wall.
Turtle Rock Studios
Playing Back 4 Blood gives players more Corruption cards to upgrade their Cleaners.

Back 4 Blood built on house of cards

The biggest change on the famous Left 4 Dead formula in Back 4 Blood is its Corruption cards. These roguelite elements mean players walk away from every run with something gained. They basically act as power-up cards for Cleaners.

In theory, this is a great mechanic means you play out every Act and campaign attempt with a few new aces up your sleeve. Only, that robs Back 4 Blood of the same great feeling Left 4 Dead had ⁠— when you broke through an area and finally defeated that last-chapter horde to escape via car/boat/truck/chopper, etc, you had earned that feeling via lessons and skills.

These cards take all that away, replacing the feeling of improving at any level, building your understanding of where fights may happen, and where loot will spawn, into just slapping a powerful new card on your Cleaner and calling it a day.

Corruption cards from Back 4 Blood.
Turtle Rock Studios
Corruption cards are the major new mechanic Turtle Rock Studios brings to the mix.

There’s a lot of potential here for the Corruption cards. Right now, however, it almost feels like the true experience for Back 4 Blood and its Expert Realism equivalent will be turning them off, and winding that difficulty right up to eleven.

I don’t begrudge anyone piling the cards on their characters. Turning your Cleaners into instruments of death to finally beat The Director, and clear the levels will be fun. It does leave me worried though that people won’t come back to Back 4 Blood again and again and again the same way they do Left 4 Dead and its now-iconic adventures and campaigns.

There’s also the monetization concerns that could come with the Corruption cards. But, for now, that’s just a “waiting and watch” concern ⁠— they’re all free for now.

Cleaner Holly stares out of frame.
Turtle Rock Studios
There’s still a huge question mark over Back 4 Blood’s monetization roadmap.

This Back 4 Blood review is still underway. Dexerto will lock in a review rating and verdict on Turtle Rock’s modern Left 4 Dead successor in the coming days.

Reviewed on PS5