Black 4 Blood, from Turtle Rock Studios, Left 4 Dead, and Left 4 Dead 2, is a return to an old formula. It includes the same design found in its predecessors. A four-man squad facing off against the endless horde of zombies and its AI director, unique themed maps with a shifting path each playthrough, special infected with unique powers and a big bad boss creature that’s now even bigger. This formula worked so well there is still a small community playing Left 4 Dead 2, but how does it measure up in 2021?
What’s new about Back 4 Blood?
While the gameplay is the same, the devs have added replay value with some new systems such as resource management using copper pieces as currency, a weapon customization system, and a deck-building system. There is also the noticeable absence of any form of custom skins or microtransaction system in-game, the developers previously stated they don’t want to include these at launch.
As you travel through the map you can find copper coins, these can be exchanged at saferooms for weapon upgrades, ammo, and medical supplies/tools/grenades. This adds a layer of consideration when spending copper, should I refill on ammo, Buy a medkit or should I save up for that scope attachment?
Weapon attachments can be found or purchased, upgrading things like the range, swap speed, ammo capacity, and weakspot damage of the weapon you’re using, there doesn’t appear to be a way to trade old attachments onto new weapons right now, something that makes parting with a starting gun notably painful.
Card game mechanics you say?
The most unique addition is the deck-building system. Players can assemble a deck of 15 cards before a game. Each card gives unique bonuses with some tradeoffs to the player and or team.
When the game begins you start with the first card in the deck active, then pick from one of three random cards, each saferoom you can choose another card from three and slowly assemble a collection of active cards for your run. I found selecting a weapon card first useful here as it meant I started the game with a superior weapon I could then focus on upgrading right away, some cards come with tradeoffs, for example, there’s a card that increases normal running speed but disables sprint.
Alpha Issues and missed opportunities
As this was a closed alpha some issues are guaranteed, a gun firing audio bug that wouldn’t go away was particularly frustrating, these are to be expected and should be fixed by mid-2021 for the release date, but something I couldn’t ignore was a missed opportunity for the returning franchise. There’s no real upgrade to the core sections of the game, the same old shooter is there, same old gameplay but it’s also the same old mission system.
The original Left 4 Dead maps consisted of a single tunnel corridor with very little alternate paths, just some slight alterations each playthrough, while this was acceptable in 2008-2010 a decade later it feels substandard,
Developers have access to tools that make generating large maps far easier than in the past. As Turtle Rock has also made Evolve they’re no stranger to it either. Why was this not considered? I can’t help but feel that several large 1km x 1km maps would be better than the isolated corridor system they’re sticking to.
Such maps could have safe rooms dotted in several locations, with random spawn in and exit locations making each game feel unique, Not only would this quadruple the replay value of the game it would give it a modern look, but it would also solve the problem with the ogre boss they’ve added, He’s far too large for the small scale maps, it leaves you no room to manoeuvre. This means running away is your only real option.
Final Thoughts on Back 4 Blood
A few extra systems make for an interesting addition to the franchise but I’m not completely sold just yet, right now it feels far too much like a decade-old game, can Back 4 Blood make a triumphant return in 2021 or will it slip and fall flat on its face?
Back 4 Blood? Only time will tell.