When I previewed Back 4 Blood back in August based on its beta, I sang its praises. Unfortunately, the more time I’ve spent with this Left 4 Dead-a-like, the more problems have reared their ugly, zombified heads.
It’s a real shame too, because I want to enjoy Back 4 Blood. Of course I do; shooting so many zombies that you end up covered head-to-toe in blood and guts is the literal definition of ‘bloody good fun’. It’s not that Back 4 Blood is a bad game; it’s more that enough hasn’t been done to make this a good game. To me, it feels like developer Turtle Rock Studios has decided the concept is enough to sell the game – which, in fairness, maybe it is – but then didn’t bother to give it any personality or really consider how engaging its levels might be to play.
Here’s the first problem: if you like to play games alone, Back 4 Blood isn’t for you. This is designed to be played co-operatively with four players. Yes, there’s a Solo Campaign mode, but it’s placed more as a ‘practice’ run. The cards and progress you unlock there remains separate from the ‘main’ (i.e. online multiplayer) campaign. You’ll never be truly solo, either; you’ll be placed with three bot teammates. And the AI here is so incredulously stupid that you’ll absolutely not have a good time with them.
Practically every level has some sort of mechanic that requires multiple players, which feels like it’s shoehorned in to prevent single-player enjoyment. There are enemies that grab you, or pin you with some sort of webbed goo – and you simply cannot escape unless another player frees you or kills the enemy that has you. Can you rely on AI teammates to do the job? Maybe. But there’s just as much chance that they’re currently glitching into a wall at the other side of the map. Yes, the AI really is that bad. Almost every time I looked at my AI teammates, they’d be stuck on something in the environment, haphazardly running around and generally not being particularly helpful.
It can also be an ordeal setting up a private game with two or three players and bots filling in the gaps thanks to a convoluted menu system and privacy options that don’t quite seem to work correctly. Set to ‘friends only’, if there’s less than four of you, you’ll never begin a match. You’ll need to set to open first. Bots will fill in the gaps, but they’ll eventually be taken over by real players. Even if you set to friends only or private after starting a game, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a completely baffling choice.
While I’ll never understand why developers don’t choose to cater well for people who prefer to play solo, that’s ultimately the least of Back 4 Blood‘s problems. Most of the issues I’ve found with the game are small, and by themselves wouldn’t ruin the experience so much. But piled on top of each other, they equate to a game that’s disappointing at best, and infuriating at worst.
There’s the fact that, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, it throws a ridiculous amount of enemies at you. Yes, shooting through as many zombies as you can is literally the point of the game, but when there’s so many of them, it quickly becomes a chore. Especially when there’s an endless supply of special enemy types, too. The threat of a hulking Reeker or a giant Tallboy soon wanes to nothing but an inconvenience when you can face several of them in the space of a minute or two. It means taking in the game’s environments – which, for the most part, are nicely designed – is something you absolutely don’t get time for. And forget about trying to explore to find hidden caches.
Annoyingly, enemies seem to spawn out of thin air, too. Stare at the same area for too long and you’ll see them just materialise. It ruins any suspension of disbelief and adds to the frustrations. You’ll find special enemies suddenly spawning in rooms that were empty when you entered them, and swarms appearing from all directions, surrounding you in a matter of seconds. You can never put yourself in a position of advantage, because you never know where enemies are going to spawn in from. And, considering the game forces friendly fire on normal difficulty or higher, you’ll constantly be damaging your teammates when you’re in the thick of it. Try as you might, when things are so hectic, it’s impossible not to.
Some levels you’ll breeze through, no problem at all. Other levels feel like they take forever because making progress is an impossible ask when your teammates are constantly getting pinned by enemies – or, worse, dragged to their death by a huge Hag that appeared from nowhere. There’s also the issue that ammo isn’t easily available. You’ll find lots of it dotted around, but with each weapon type requiring specific ammo you can guarantee that you’ll never find the type you need when it’s most critical. Sniper rifle ammo? Tonnes of the stuff. Assault rifle or SMG? Not so much. It’s likely your teammates will favour the same type of guns, so you’ll all be vying over the same ammo. After all, what use is a sniper rifle in a game where enemies constantly spawn right in your face?
One of Back 4 Blood‘s unique features is its collectible card system. You’ll find some as you play and, by racking up points, you’ll unlock new ones after every play session. It’s an interesting concept, with the idea being that no two runs of the game will ever feel the same thanks to how your cards modify the gameplay. You may have cards that give you a special ability, like melee hits that heal you, or bullets that deal extra damage to enemies. Some of them will offer something simple, like a small health or stamina boost. You’ll create your own deck, then cards will be dealt to you after completing each level.
It’s a decent addition, and the perks you’ll accumulate from your cards certainly do help. But the problem is: the card system has been designed for a game that’s infinitely replayable. And I’m just not sure that Back 4 Blood is. Its acts are far too long for a comfortable playthrough. If your whole team dies you’ll be thankful to find that you have one chance to continue, but if it happens again it’s game over. You can start again from your last level, so losing progress is never an issue, but you’ll lose the perks from your cards and anything else you’ve accumulated while playing, like weapons and mods. Ultimately, by the time you’ve finished the game – which takes 8 to 10 hours minimum – you’re not going to feel like jumping back in any time soon.
I’ll reiterate: Back 4 Blood isn’t a bad game. But it could have been so much better. Its difficulty needs balancing, as does the amount of enemies thrown at you at any one time. Ultimately, most levels simply have too much going on to be enjoyable – and each Act would have benefitted from being substantially shorter. Get a competent group of friends together and you might have some fun, but chances are zombie fatigue is going to set in long before you reach the end of the campaign.
Back 4 Blood Review – GameSpew’s Score