Within 30 seconds of starting Back 4 Blood‘s campaign, our characters were soaked head to toe in blood and zombie – sorry, Ridden – guts. If this was real, you can only imagine what that would smell like.
It sets the tone pretty wonderfully for what you can expect in Back 4 Blood, though. This is gory, completely over-the-top, and a whole lot of fun. Missions are short and sharp, allowing you to get straight into the nitty-gritty of what you’re there for: blasting your foes to smithereens with a range of weapons. You’re never more than a few seconds away from something ready to rip a hole in you.
Currently in beta, we’ve been hands-on with a slice of Back 4 Blood, and frankly, we can’t wait to taste more. As we already knew, this is basically Left 4 Dead in all but name – even the stylised ‘4’ in the title gave that away – but that’s no bad thing. It doesn’t need the weight of an existing franchise to sell itself, though; Back 4 Blood should have no problem standing on its own two feet. If you want to get in the blood-soaked action of mindlessly blowing through zombie-like creatures, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Back 4 Blood is multiplayer-focused, and while there will be a single-player option available in the full game, the beta required at least two human players in a lobby, or for a single player to matchmake to find other humans. We tried both, and never had any problem getting into a game. Our connections remained perfectly steady throughout, even in beta when technical issues are more likely.
A smooth connection bodes well for the game, because this is one extremely slick shooter to play. Whatever type of weapon you’re wielding, it’s satisfying to fire, and everything feels super-responsive. The only things that’ll slow you down are what you’d expect: reloading, and changing weapons. Even swinging a melee weapon – we found a fire axe and a ‘Lucille’-like baseball bat – is incredibly satisfying. Perhaps a bit too satisfying; we have a feeling they may be a little overpowered right now. But it proved a good way to dispatch crowds of Ridden when they got a little too close.
As mentioned, each mission of Back 4 Blood is fairly short – no more than 15 minutes, but there is room for a bit of extra exploration if your team’s up for it. The brevity of each level means you’re unlikely to get bored, and you don’t have to worry about wasting time moving around or taking in needless exposition. The game wants you to get straight to the main course, and as soon as you open the door from the safe room, plenty of enemies will be waiting for you.
Being a multiplayer game, teamwork is key, and you’ll have more success in Back 4 Blood if you work together. Wander off course by yourself, and nobody is there to save your bacon should you stumble across an elite enemy who grabs you, rendering you useless unless a teammate frees you. If you’re playing in a team with AI players – our first game consisted of two humans and two bots – expect a fair bit of glitching, but for the most part they get the job done. We had to pick them up off the ground more often than we’d like, and we’d often find them trying to walk into a wall, but they also picked us up more than once, and always made it to the exit.
Outside of Back 4 Blood‘s main campaign, there’s Versus mode – a fun team-based game that gives you the opportunity to play as a Ridden of your choice. You and a rival team will take it in turns, once playing a human, once as the enemy, with the goal being to survive as long as possible. When you’re a human, that means tactful positioning, keeping your wits about you, and keeping your weapons pointing in the right direction. As a Ridden, though, you’ll get to try out random skills – each type has their own abilities – as you sneak up on unsuspecting players. As you’ll be accompanied by a swarm, your rival players won’t necessarily know who’s real and who’s a computer-generated enemy.
For us, Versus mode feels like nothing more than a distraction from the main campaign, but it’s a fun one that we can see ourselves dipping into every so often. It’s not every day you get to take control of a zombie – sorry, Ridden – and the wealth of skills to discover as you try out each different type makes for an enjoyable experience. Jumping great distances, pouncing on your human foes, firing deadly projectile vomit; none of that is fun when you’re on the receiving end of it, but if you’re dishing it out it’s another story altogether.
At the backbone of both of Back 4 Blood‘s game modes is a deck-building card system. We’re not fully sold on it yet, but some cards offer interesting perks, like extra health or ammo. Others can provide a greater challenge, or a bigger reward for completing a task. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock more cards, allowing you to put together your own deck. Some affect just your character while others will benefit the entire party. It could be an interesting way to change up gameplay – it certainly adds a tiny element of strategy in an otherwise all-out bloody action game. But in the beta it’s poorly explained and choosing cards before each mission feels a little out of place.
All things considered, we’re very impressed with what we’ve experienced of Back 4 Blood so far. If you enjoy a bit of gore, like shooting your way through dozens of zombies and revel when playing in multiplayer, this should definitely be high up on your watch list. We can’t wait to play more.
Back 4 Blood is coming to PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC on 12th October.