Zombies: brainless cannon fodder, horror icons. Their alarming quantity and desire to consume brains have made them endlessly useful in pop culture, from Romero classics to the seemingly never-ending Walking Dead franchise. They’re especially at home in videogames, perfect cannon fodder for weapons of all sorts, a quality that Back 4 Blood understands perfectly. Does this co-op shooter bring life to the living dead? Or is it desperately shambling, hunting for a brain of its own?
First the elephant in the room: this game is essentially Left 4 Dead 3. Back 4 Blood makes no secret of this if the title wasn’t an indicator, then the developer’s work on the Left 4 Dead franchise with Valve would be the dead (ha) giveaway. Besides, the possibility of Valve completing a game trilogy is less likely than an actual zombie apocalypse at this point, right?
Fight of the Living Dead
As such the core gameplay is familiar. You and three buddies (or bots) have to get from A to B across a myriad of levels. These courses all have unique obstacles and aesthetic twists. Level specific impediments such as debris that needs to be cleared to progress make for excellent zombie-attracting set pieces. These stages are a hoot though performance can chug during intensive scenes.
Every survivor character (aka Cleaner) possesses unique qualities, ranging from medical expertise to movement speed. Having a specific Cleaner on your team can benefit everyone, Mom’s instant revives making her a favourite.
The Ridden have their own “heroes” too. From those that explode to those that summon more enemies to swarm you, each should be a priority target. Though some are alarmingly like Left 4 Dead stalwarts it’s the addition of enormous boss monsters that set this title apart. Though mostly optional, with running away always a viable option it’s incredibly fun to team up to take these titans down. The PVP will give you a chance to step into some monstrous roles too. Why not reverse the roles of hunter and hunted?
The card system is where Back 4 Blood comes into its own, for better or worse. Emphasising customisation to an exhausting degree with a huge amount of pointless stat changes takes away from the faced-paced spirit of the game’s predecessors. This extends to picking up guns on the fly, where Left 4 Dead had consistent firepower across all weapons, now you’ll have to make stat comparisons on the fly, dull decisions in the face of undead hordes. Endless notifications about daily challenges similarly irritate, vestiges of modern game design that would be better off six feet under.
The hub is similarly pointless, mostly offering a more interactive alternative to the game’s menu. The shooting range and boxing ring give a good space to muck around with pals but will quickly be forgotten about once the actual campaign is in full swing.
It’s a difficult job to fill the shoes of a neglected beloved series. Bloodstained helped starving Castlevania fans whereas Mighty No. 9 was a slap in the face for Megaman nuts. Back 4 Blood is firmly in the former category though not without its own problems. A loving recapturing of the Left 4 Dead spirit, Back 4 Blood is only let down by some unnecessary modernisation and technical hiccups. Back 4 Blood proves that there’s life left in the genre yet, despite occasionally falling apart.