After playing Black 4 Blood, I’ve realised I’d be terrible in a zombie apocalypse. I wear glasses, which are practically as thick as double glazing these days, and I can’t close my left eyelid on its own. In other words, I can’t aim down the sight of a gun with my preferred hand, putting me at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to shooting things. Fortunately for me, I’m not the one having to muddle through the apocalypse this time – Mom, my chosen Back 4 Blood badass is, and boy does she know how to handle herself out there.
From the moment my teammates swung the first Safe Door open, Mom made her presence known. Out she jogged, with her Ranch Rifle in hand, popping the heads of zombies – or Ridden as Turtle Rock Studios wants you to call them – like nobody’s business. At first it was easy – the Ridden in the early stages of Back 4 Blood don’t pose much of a risk. But then, we met the Ogre.
The Ogre is exactly how you might imagine it – a giant, ugly, and terrifying beast. This mutated zombie cracked the tarmac beneath my feet and stood there, looming over me. As my character made a dash for the tunnel, I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me – let’s be honest, I’d have definitely lost my glasses.
Alas, Mom, despite her old age, can still see pretty well – enough to fire a couple of rounds into the weak spots of this terrifying beast. My team starts doing the same, forcing the Ogre to flinch in pain as his fleshy body is peppered with lead. Eventually it falters, opting to burrow itself underground once again before it takes any more of a beating.
We head into one of the side rooms in the tunnel, where – surprise, surprise – more of the undead are waiting for us. But before one of us even has time to pull the trigger, my teammate is stopped in her tracks by a Hocker – a four-armed zombie that can pin you in place via a sticky projectile fired from their chest. My team doubles back, but in the process of freeing Hollie with a well-timed bash, a stray round hits an alarmed door, triggering a horde.
The first time you trigger a horde is terrifying. There’s nothing quite like hearing the sound of hundreds of zombies shriek as they run in your direction, and honestly, it’s something I’ll never truly forget. Just like in Left 4 Dead, the series the developers behind Turtle Rock worked on with Valve all those years ago, the audio design of the undead is something to be applauded.
And well, so is the combat in these tense situations. At this point, we were all running low on ammunition – more so because we’d forgotten to pick up a tool kit for the locked room at the start of the mission – so we had to rely on our secondary weapons. By this point, I’d ditched Mom’s sawn off shotgun for a baseball bat, so I was hitting home runs left, right, and centre.
During the brawl, one of my teammates went down, and it was a mad scramble to save them as we became surrounded by Tall Boys, Retches, and Exploders. While the situation looked pretty dire, it was here where I realised the true power of my chosen Cleaner. Mom is the true support character: she grants the team one extra life and has the capacity to carry an extra support item. She also has the ability to instantly revive a teammate once per level – allowing you – and your team – to escape into the sunset after a fairly close call.
This is particularly useful on Veteran difficulty, which is the middle point between Recruit and Nightmare, since the Ridden are particularly unforgiving in these playthroughs. Recruit is great for newcomers and as an accessibility setting, but Veteran is fairly challenging – even for those who’ve clocked up countless hours on one of the two Left 4 Dead games.
With that in mind, I decided to turn Mom into the team’s medic using the deck-building system in Back 4 Blood. After using my Supply Points gained during my earlier runs, I unlocked a series of cards to buff health, revive, and support stats to help my team through difficult runs. This proved to be a particularly good choice in public matchmaking, since a lack of communication with players online caused my teammates to run into all manners of trouble – from lurking Sleepers to gigantic Tall Boys.
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From all the Back 4 Blood cards to choose from, I opted for the likes of EMT bag, which increases Mom’s healing efficiency by 40%, Poultice, which heals a teammate for an additional 20 health over 30 seconds after helping them up, and Inspiring Sacrifice, which heals teammates for 25 health over 20 seconds after someone becomes incapacitated. Of course, there were a few offensive-focused ones chucked into the mix to ensure she could still be a force to be reckoned with in fights, but this deck proved to be especially effective against the AI Director.
One of the things that really help Back 4 Blood stand out against its competitors – and particularly show a clear development from the days of Left 4 Dead – is the rogue-like system it uses. Players can create Campaign Decks that’ll allow them to play how they want to play, all while the AI Director, through the Corruption Cards system will try to stop them. This means every playthrough will be distinctively different and you’ll need to choose your cards wisely to survive.
During one of my first playthroughs, the director dealt us one of the worst mixes of all-time: cards that cast a dense fog over the land and one that increases the amount of Sleepers in the level. These gnarly looking zombies jump out of their pods, which are usually found on walls, and pin you to the ground – stopping you from doing anything at all.
It was one of the toughest missions I’ve played in Back 4 Blood, and it really brought home the importance of the deck building system. Without trauma-resisting cards or cards that buff your damage or stamina, I often found myself surrounded by Ridden with nowhere to go. After just about scraping by – thanks to the help of my prepared teammates – I went back into the menu and made myself a few other decks so that I could better prepare for the world of Back 4 Blood and its horrifying creations.
It’s this deck-building element that really elevates the game to another level – far above Left 4 Dead in that sense – because the developers have spent time thinking about replayability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played Left 4 Dead, only to find that we’ve aced yet another level because we know exactly where things spawn and what to do. Although the missions in Back 4 Blood are linear, the Corruption Cards keeps things fresh.
The level design is also fantastic in Back 4 Blood. While waiting for my teammates to spawn, I often found myself reading the many notes scrawled on the walls or post-it notes in the Safe Rooms. Whether it was a note to remind someone to kill Phillip, a tribute to an adorable lizard that I can only guess perished in the apocalypse, or some tips on how to kill stubborn Ridden, these little snippets really help paint a picture of the world the Cleaners are living in. I love environmental storytelling and Turtle Rock absolutely nails it in Back 4 Blood.
However, the game – as much as I love it – isn’t perfect. Matchmaking can take a considerably long time and its progression system is flawed, especially if you like playing solo.
I also feel like the game’s quick chat function, which allows you to ping enemies, encourage your team to group up on a specified marker, or warn them about a murder of crows, could be better. For a game that weaves cooperation into its very core DNA, the command wheel leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pinged an alarmed door as a warning, only for a random teammate to kick it down a second later, triggering a horde. On Veteran and Nightmare difficulty, that one mistake can cost you your run.
Still, despite its flaws, Back 4 Blood is one of the best co-op games we’ve had in years and it’s oodles of fun with friends. With full cross-platform play, and the fact I can play it on my Xbox Series X as well as my PC, thanks to it being a Xbox Play Anywhere game, Back 4 Blood gives me the chance to be a badass with any of the Back 4 Blood characters– without the threat of losing my glasses.
Back 4 Blood review (PC)
Back 4 Blood truly is the Left 4 Dead 2 sequel you’ve been waiting for. While it might be more difficult than the average zombie co-op, its unpredictable gameplay will have you coming back time and time again.