Friday, August 06, 2021
By now, you may have been lucky enough to experience the Back 4 Blood open beta for yourself, shooting hordes of zombies (sorry, 'Ridden') with reckless abandon, perhaps banding together with a group of allies for a spot of co-op survival. If you haven't, don't despair – there's still time, and another round available for all players is due to arrive next week. There's enough infected shooty fun for everyone!
Playing as a group of human survivors known as ‘Cleaners’, Back 4 Blood takes the baton from Left 4 Dead and puts its own spin on things, such as a card system for various buffs, new types of infected, and loads more weapons of differing rarity to experiment with. The AI Director also returns (renamed as the ‘Game Director’) to dictate how each run through a level plays out, ensuring that no two are ever quite the same. And you can enjoy all of the Ridden-blasting bliss as an intrepid co-op crew of up to four players.
Before it launches, this October, we had a nice and thorough delve into the Back 4 Blood open beta, rooting around in the deck builder (did we mention it has cards?), messing about with the weapons, pissing about in the hub area, and ripping our way through the available portion of the campaign and PvP 'Swarm' Versus Mode. As developer Turtle Rock Studio's spiritual follow-up to Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood is already a hugely enticing prospect, but we thought we'd go ahead and list a few reasons (six of 'em, to be precise) why it could end up eclipsing its still remarkably excellent forebear.
1. All Hands on Deck – Everyone loves building their very own deck of cards, right? Back 4 Blood adds a neat little wrinkle to its wanton Ridden slaughter with a system of collectible cards that provide a litany of buffs. You can create a custom deck, then before each co-op or versus match, choose the boosts, advantageous tools and whatnot that best suit you, while a Corruption Card then brings a random modifier to proceedings. It's a nice way of injecting a little dynamism and unpredictability to the ensuing run, and selecting the ideal cards that chime with your playstyle quickly becomes second nature. In Left 4 Dead and its sequel, you had to be well-organised, skilful, and persistent to beat the hardest difficulties, but, with the aid of these handy cards, you're able to give yourself an edge, and a better chance at tackling the more challenging runs through Back 4 Blood. Just give us the combat knife attack and the card that grants health back upon bagging a melee kill, and we're golden.
2. Weapons of Choice – In Left 4 Dead, you had a pistol as standard, and a choice of shotgun or assault rifle. Left 4 Dead 2 expanded the arsenal considerably, while adding melee weapons, but Back 4 Blood goes one better, adding a far broader variety of weaponry, all with flexible attachments and such. Several different shotguns, assault rifles, handguns, and sniper rifles can be improved by adding new accoutrements purchased during a run or found out in the field, and each weapon falls under a tier of rarity, like loot in an RPG. Naturally, you'll preferably want to unearth purple 'epic' or orange 'legendary' weapons, attachments, and gadgets, and, if you're team-minded, objects like the tool kit can open locked doors brimming with treats to share, or you can purchase team buffs. Speaking of which...
3. Copper Load of This – While you're in the process of pumping bullets into hordes of infected monsters all hellbent on rending the flesh from your bones, you can take some time out to have a bit of a forage. Doing so will net you piles of copper, bronze-hued coins that can be exchanged at each safe room for helpful new things that will make your life in Back 4 Blood far easier. In Left 4 Dead, it was a free-for-all to determine who could grab the best weapon and medical supplies first, but in Turtle Rock's new one, you can use your accumulated in-game wealth to nab new weapons, attachments, tools, and gadgets. You can spend copper on topping up your ammo, decking yourself out with grenades, razor wire, a defibrillator, or whatever else you think you might need. Again, if you're a team player, copper will buy you those team buffs to aid you in your quest for survival, even if they are a bit pricey. It's also worth noting that you can share ammunition, too. Teamwork makes the dream work, and all that.
4. Variety is the Spice of Death – We've already harped on about weapon variety, but what of Back 4 Blood's overall smorgasbord of stuff? Left 4 Dead spiced up its zombie apocalypse with the AI Director and special infected, like the Smoker, Boomer, and Tank, and to a large extent, Back 4 Blood does much the same. The difference is that colossal bosses, like the Ogre, can erupt from out of the ground to ruin your day (complete with glowing weak spots to isolate and punish accordingly), special Ridden types will keep you on your toes, and a range of differing objectives force you to adapt and play differently. Take, for example, having to board up and fortify the exposed windows of a safe room, or loading up a howitzer artillery cannon with shells, or causing cave-ins at mineshaft entrances to stem the influx of toothsome infected. There's loads to do in the campaign, and this is just Act 1 – no doubt there'll be loads more to discover in the full game.
5. Gnarly Sheen – While on last-gen, Back 4 Blood is nice enough, on new-gen consoles, the game really sings, with eyeball-stroking 4K resolution at a smooth and stable frame rate. Recently, this might be something we've come to take for granted (especially on new-gen consoles), but there's something to be said for the open beta's polish and sheen, despite the full version of the game being a few months out from launch. It's not just the spiffy lighting and grisly detail that's pleasing, though – it's the hearty gameplay experience as a whole; and the social hub area of Fort Hope, where you can lark about in the boxing ring punching one another, head into the shooting range to hone your aim or have an impromptu deathmatch with a friend, or spend the supply points you've earned on new Supply Line cards to add to your deck. It's all good fun.
6. Yeah, it's Pretty Much Left 4 Dead 3 – I mean, if the original developer of Left 4 Dead creating the game wasn't enough of a clue, then the fact that Back 4 Blood adopts much the same kind of campaign structure, albeit with a few smart ideas of its own, ought to put any doubts to rest. Turtle Rock is quite literally doubling down with its return to co-op zombie butchering, without losing sight of what made the two original Left 4 Dead games so enduring. Campaign levels in Left 4 Dead unfolded across several chapters, culminating in a final, frantic escape. In Back 4 Blood’s open beta, there are eight slightly more compact chapters (presumably, each campaign Act will comprise eight chapters apiece in the full game), and you can save your progress for each run to return at any time, no matter who you're playing with – it doesn't matter if you've several runs on the go. There are modern refinements to the formula, too. You can ping waypoints at the touch of a button, bark out basic commands, sprint for as long as your stamina will allow, and mantle up ledges. Little things, perhaps, but it's the little things that matter. Best of all – this is but a fraction of the full game; there's more to come.
Back 4 Blood will be heading to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on 12th October, with a second open beta for all players available from 12th – 16th August.
Friday, August 06, 2021 @ 02:02 PM
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